Customs 'monster' passes Senate

Legislative amendments to extend the go-live date of the Australian Customs Service's trouble-plagued Cargo Management Re-engineering (CMR) system by a year has been passed by the Senate, but not before the federal opposition made hay in the Upper House over the delay.

While supporting the amendment, and indeed the project, Customs shadow Senator Mark Bishop was quick to condemn the size and scope of the system blowout.

"It has proven a monster and the proposal to extend the time frame is the second time it has had to be done. Industry is of course furious as its reliance on Custom's system is total. There are releases of code for testing which don't work, patches – and then more testing," Bishop told the Senate.

"Messages which under Tradegate might have taken a few minutes to transact, now take hours. The Customs service has in fact admitted that due to the lack of implementation, they didn't know enough about their legacy systems let alone the business being re-engineered."

Meanwhile, the government has also moved to close loopholes within the Customs Legislation Amendment Bill (2) that would have seen CMR system front-end interface providers – such as freight forwarders, airlines and shippers, slugged with onerous strict liability provisions for false electronic customs declarations made by importers. Left unamended, the provisions would have meant that anyone, importing anything could legally blame misleading information on a freight company and get away with it at law.

The new amendment now shifts the responsibility of electronically declaring goods squarely onto importers, who are now compelled "to keep records that verify the content of the communication; and identify the source of information included in the communication".

Originally costed at around $30 million, the Customs CMR project's last cost estimate in November was pegged at $146 million. Currently managed by Computer Associates, EDS and IBM GSA, the CMR project was first started in 1997 and has survived three ministers.

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