Australia’s
ports and airports are near bursting point today because of the
government’s new Customs processing system – and according to industry
insiders, Australian imports could dry up to a trickle over the next
week as ports and airports around the country become choked up.

Port
companies just can’t process their goods at anywhere near the speed
needed because nobody in Australian Customs or the industry could
handle the new system and its bugs, chairman of the Custom Brokers and
Forwarders Council of Australia, Bob Wallis, told Crikey today.

“If
something doesn’t happen today then this country will grind to a halt,”
Wallis said. He told Crikey that Customs has planned a crisis meeting
for today to try and resolve the situation, but they were not moving
anywhere near fast enough.

“The new system that’s been forced
in doesn’t come up to the quality of the old system,” Wallis said, who
claimed transport companies had only gained access to the software a
day before they had to go live, and that training had been virtually
non-existent. To get through to one of the 200 Customs operators
looking after the new system it could take up to 90-minutes.

The
government rolled out its new Integrated Cargo System (ICS) more than
two years late and costing more than five times the price of the
originally estimated $35 million, on October 12 and has been plagued by
problems ever since. The Customs website yesterday acknowledged that
the port companies’ systems and the new ICS were not matching data
correctly, which has resulted in processing delays.

Customs
broker Bob Gosling told Crikey that he could process less than 10% of
the shipments received and criticised the government for pushing the
system onto the industry when it just wasn’t ready. “The whole system has
never been tried and tested,” Gosling said. “The ports and airports are
spilling over.”

Chief executive of Melbourne Ports, Stephen
Bradford said that he was aware of the concerns, but it was more of a
crisis for airports than ports because ports had three to four days to
clear their goods compared to only 24-hours for airports. “It’s
certainly not an immediate crisis,” he said. But The Courier-Mail
has reported today that one of Australia’s largest ports, NSW’s Port
Botany, is at 90% capacity and could soon be brought to a standstill.

At
the time of publication Crikey was still waiting to hear back from
Customs Minister Chris Ellison’s office, but speaking yesterday to the
Herald Sun, Ellison admitted that storage areas were banking up, but
said he wasn’t aware of any ships being turned away from Australian
ports.