Customers Vs The Customs Department

laceWe all have imported something at some time. Even if it was a simple toy car bought on eBay or a camera accessory from B&H, it was an addition to what might be obtained in Australia. This has always been a source of grinding anger to the local wholesale and retail firms who want us to do all our shopping here. Which in its turn has been a source of grinding anger to people who wanted things cheaper and faster than the local supply system could provide.

I have been able to see both sides of the argument, and I agree with them. This slimy flexibility alone should qualify me for a position in the government. As it is, it gives me a sad sympathy with a friend who is trying to get a new flying camera system in from the US. The goods are not unusual nor is his experience with the difficulties of importation. I’ve been there.

He is currently trying to compel good sense and efficient behaviour out of the local Perth office of the Australian Customs and one of the large international shipping firms. The goods are not physically big, or heavy, or dangerous, or illegal, or smelly…they are just a flying camera system at a good price out of the States. But they have entered a loop of ” Not here contact our office in Sydney after the holidays but we’re shut and no-one knows what you want and you haven’t filled out form 56K/A 55.1 and you need to talk to the controller of paper in Dubbo “. It is the same sort of bureaucracy that ran the Austro-Hungarian Empire…and didn’t that end well?

I encountered this when I imported 50 metres of twill tape from England. It was red/white/blue cotton tape about a half inch wide and was used to make decorations on reproduction British uniforms. In this case the twill tape was the pattern used for the Royal Marines in 1805. Two rolls of woven cotton tape. When it arrived at the Customs House in Perth I was given a card to bring in to collect it.

I admit I made a serious mistake. I referred to the twill tape by the period-correct name of ” regimental lace “. Had I used the words ” cotton tape ” to the jobsworth at the counter I would have been out of the place in 5 minutes. When I said ” lace ” she reached for a loose-leaf binder full of rules for importation and then could not find the exact words ” regimental lace “. She, and other paid public servants then spent the best part of an hour and a half looking through all the books they had to find that exact combination of words. They drank coffee, had toilet breaks, looked in more books in tag teams, growled at me for the inconvenience that they were put to, and in the end had to decide that there was no such thing.

Only the mind-numbingly difficult task of changing the idea from ” lace ” to ” tape ” could set the caravan rolling again and eventually it was decided that there was no duty to pay and I could take away the twill tape. I realised that anyone who comes under their financial jurisdiction runs the risk of folly and meanness that beggars description.

I fully support their efforts to keep the place free of diseases, drugs, and disgusting material  –  but when it comes to dealing with legitimate imports, we are badly served.

I can only imagine that with the increase in international trade through air imports and the internet, that it has gotten worse.



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