AFP raids expose Customs drug scandal
UPDATE 12pm: The senior barrister who led the royal commission into corruption in the NSW Police Force has been tasked with weeding out corruption in the agency responsible for protecting Australia's borders.
James Wood, QC, will head the Customs Reform Board, which was launched by the Federal Government this morning following revelations of a massive security breach at Sydney's International Airport.
Four customs officials have been arrested and up to 30 are under investigation by the Australian Federal Police for allegedly helping organised criminals import cocaine, pseudoephedrine and weapons.
Some are accused of accepting bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye.
Customs Reform Board members will report to Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare and will help implement major changes including empowering the Australian Federal Police Commissioner to fire customs staff for serious misconduct and enforcing mandatory drug testing.
They will also oversee the expansion of the federal agency corruption watchdog ACLEI which has the power to compel people to provide documents, hold coercive hearings, tap phones, execute search warrants and undertake physical and electronic surveillance.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney this morning Mr Clare said while the "vast majority" of Australia's law enforcement officials were honest, the government and public could not be naive about the position custom officials were placed in.
"Because of the sort of work they do, the powers they have and the information they receive, they can be targeted by organised criminals," Mr Clare said.
"There is no place for corruption in our law enforcement agencies. Where it exists we have to weed it out. That is what this operation is all about."
Acting Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt MP called on the government to go one step further and establish a national anti-corruption body charged with overseeing all public officials and Commonwealth agencies.
He said the security breach was proof a national watchdog "with teeth" was needed and corruption could not be tackled in a "piecemeal agency by agency" fashion.
The Greens National Integrity Commissioner Bill is currently before Federal Parliament.
BREAKING: If Customs officials have allowed organised criminals to traffic drugs through Sydney Airport as reported, it would be the most widespread corruption case to plague a federal agency in decades, Opposition customs spokesman Michael Keenan said this morning.
His comments came after Federal Police swooped in on a network of customs officials accused of allowing cocaine, pseudoephedrine and in some cases, weapons, through the border.
Some are also accused of accepting bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye.
Mr Keenan said given the seriousness of the alleged security breach, Australians deserved to know "exactly what has happened and why it has been allowed to happen."
Customs and Border Protection acting CEO Michael Pezzullo said there was no place for corruption or misconduct in the agency and breaches would be treated with a "single-minded approach".
"Today's report demonstrates that we cannot let our guard down," Mr Pezzullo said.
"We identified that we had a potential problem at Sydney International Airport and took appropriate investigative acidity.
"Any officers found to have engaged in the type of conduct described have let themselves, their colleagues, our agency and the Australian community down."
At least 20 officials are under investigation.