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Old 23-10-2011, 08:51   #1
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Australian Customs - Deterrent to Visiting Oz ?

It had been a long time dream of my other half and mine to cruise Australia. However recently I came across The Coastal Passage [http://thecoastalpassage.com/] - a cruisers' magazine in Australia. As I'm reading about innocent, but ransacked or broken into boats, rude officers who don't know the law or are just out to make big bucks on court cases, my desire to visit Australia is quickly diminishing.
I mean, we don't do any illegal stuff. We don't even smoke or drink. My drug of choice is some nice dark chocolate with phistashios. But if check-in rutinely involves "anything you say will be used against you", "interrogations", "pleading guilty"... As I'm gathering, if for some reason the officers don't like us, then they can do pretty much anything they want to us, lawful or not. By deciding to enter Australia, we risk our boat being turned over with equipment being ripped out? If this is the case, I don't think seeing Australia from our boat is worth risking the boat, well-being, and money for court cases and fines should the officers decide not to like us.

As I think of other officialdoms we didn't like, there's Dominican Republic. On one hand, you can watch the whales, explore Arawak caves, spend time in the best dolphin park, look for ghost ships in the Frenchman's Bay, hang out on sandy beaches, eat freshest shrimp still wigling in the nets, etc. But after sailing DR we decided never to return to that country [unless forced to by weather] because of all the inconvenience of getting permission to move from one port to the next, trouble if we decide to go to another port during the passage (maybe because of the weather), or the amount of officers that come to the boat at every port, sit and wait to be served something nice and expensive [reminds us too much of USSR times]. Money for treats and small annoyances add up. But there was never a question of boat or crew safety. Australia sounds like a whole another level of "inconvenience".

It might be easier [and cheaper should the customs decide to break our boat] to fly in and drive around instead...

These are some of the articles I'm reading:
Their pdf editions: Free download of The Coastal Passage
Australian Customs, like old Communist Russia?
Australian customs acting like secret police?

What is your recent experience about checking into Australia as a foreign flagged vessel?
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Old 23-10-2011, 09:04   #2
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

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Originally Posted by Katiusha View Post
What is your recent experience about checking into Australia as a foreign flagged vessel?
Many of the Australian officials unfortunately have a unpleasant aggressively para-military attitude. Unfortunately somewhat similar to some US customs officials. Although the Australians we met seems better informed and their rules more straightforward and consistently applied than for foreign cruisers in the US.

We arrived in fremantle after a 59 days passage (from Chile) and had 5 guys and a dog on board for 5 hours, including first them accusing us of 'docking in an illegal place' when we had only followed the vhf direction from the harbour control about where to dock (at 3am) and then them trying to unscrew random pieces of the boat ceilings and wanting me to raise the mainsail while on the dock beam to 30kts of wind. Interestingly, the Australian immigration officials could not have been more helpful and pleasant and willing to find a way to help us accomplish what we wanted.

But it is a dramatic contrast to NZ, when all the officials are extremely friendly and helpful, while still enforcing their rules.
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Old 23-10-2011, 10:56   #3
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

FWIW,

We have cleared in and out of Oz more or less annually since 1991, always on the East coast, and most frequently in Gladstone, Bundaberg or Brisbane. We have never had a problem with Customs, but we are careful to follow the sometimes complicated rules. AQIS (the quarantine service) is somewhat more problematical, and is increasingly expensive. There are definitely differences in application of rules between different jurisdictions, but the ports that routinely deal with incoming yachts tend to be better to deal with. There is always the chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time... in Oz or any other country!

While the Coastal Passage is an interesting publication, they seem to thrive on muckraking and anti-governmental agitation. I personally have seen articles that were exaggerated beyond recognition covering situations that I was directly familiar with. I think that they serve a useful purpose in stimulating awareness, but suggest that you view their comments with some careful consideration.

We have always enjoyed cruising in Oz, and continue to spend most of our cyclone seasons there.

Cheers,

Jim
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Old 23-10-2011, 16:22   #4
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

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Originally Posted by estarzinger View Post
Many of the Australian officials unfortunately have a unpleasant aggressively para-military attitude. Unfortunately somewhat similar to some US customs officials. Although the Australians we met seems better informed and their rules more straightforward and consistently applied than for foreign cruisers in the US.

We arrived in fremantle after a 59 days passage (from Chile) and had 5 guys and a dog on board for 5 hours, including first them accusing us of 'docking in an illegal place' when we had only followed the vhf direction from the harbour control about where to dock (at 3am) and then them trying to unscrew random pieces of the boat ceilings and wanting me to raise the mainsail while on the dock beam to 30kts of wind. Interestingly, the Australian immigration officials could not have been more helpful and pleasant and willing to find a way to help us accomplish what we wanted.

But it is a dramatic contrast to NZ, when all the officials are extremely friendly and helpful, while still enforcing their rules.
For us the worst... no, the longest experience with US officialdom was paper checking by USCG up in northern Maine (I think they have a training facility there). We were anchored by ourselves in 30' at 7:1 with only 60' of chain (that was before the upgrade) and 25 knots gusting to 35 from two different directions - the boat was doing a good half circle with the wind gusts. A CG vessel came up and indicated that they wanted to come aboard. The vessel started the approach, then aborted, then tried again, and again. And again. By that time we noticed that a young, red-faced guy was the helmsman. We tried to help by indicating that we could throw them the docking lines, but an older lady on the deck sternly refused. After 7 tries the guy finally got the hang of the boat movements and managed to drop a small team on our boat. After checking our paperwork they called the ship back, from the first try managed to get back on their vessel and left. I'm suspecting they were using us as a training facility

Thanks for relaying your experiences.
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Old 23-10-2011, 16:23   #5
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

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Originally Posted by Jim Cate View Post
While the Coastal Passage is an interesting publication, they seem to thrive on muckraking and anti-governmental agitation. I personally have seen articles that were exaggerated beyond recognition covering situations that I was directly familiar with. I think that they serve a useful purpose in stimulating awareness, but suggest that you view their comments with some careful consideration.

We have always enjoyed cruising in Oz, and continue to spend most of our cyclone seasons there.
Good to know about TCP. Thanks!
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Old 23-10-2011, 17:13   #6
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

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While the Coastal Passage is an interesting publication, they seem to thrive on muckraking and anti-governmental agitation. I personally have seen articles that were exaggerated beyond recognition covering situations that I was directly familiar with.
That is pretty strong stuff--an example would have been good.

TCP does indeed seem to have an editorial attitude that incompetence and bullying should be publicised whenever it happens.

Unfortunately high-handedness seems to be happening more freqquently than as of yore. I can not speak for TCP--I have nothing whatsoever to do with them--but they have shone a light on some aspects of officialdom we hoped never to see in this country. More power to them.

TCP are mostly concerned with the state of Queensland, which seems to have been developing a culture of imposing fines as a revenue stream rather than as a last resort.
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Old 23-10-2011, 17:37   #7
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

The Coastal Passage rightly in my view takes it up to stupid government agency behaviour. It does so somewhat stridently - but if you don't shine a light on fungus it will grow. ACS/AQIS are like most Commonwealth Law Enforcement agencies, including the Australian Federal Police, they have a tenuous grasp of the law. State QUOPS (Quasi Cops) like Boating and Fisheries are equally as ordinary. And even the real police do not get it right all the time, in large part as they are guided by policy directions from people like MSQ.

Having said all that, Australia is still well worth the visit and the reality of the commonwealth agency behaviour can be ameliorated by some sensible foreward planning. Tell ACS you are coming continually, email them non stop with you expected arrival times, the key here is the insanely stupid 96 hour rule, so if they are going to be silly about it, then play their silly game.

Otherwise ACS is pretty straightforward, have good documentation, clear statements of your intention etc and you will get along okay. Be aware that ACS will also enforce Wildlife Protection laws and similar. For example if you have a carved whale bone piece on your boat, expect to loose it. Equally AQIS can be petty, but predictable. Get rid of fresh foods before coming close to Australia, present the boat as tidy and clean as is possible, make it easy to inspect.

All common sense issues really.

Dont argue , but do be firm with your position, and if you do get charged, get competent legal assistance quickly. (where to get that is a whole other issue)

BTW you will never hear any one in Australia say
Quote:
"anything you say will be used against you",
The judicially accepted warning is "anything you say may be taken down and given in evidence", the theory being that the warning should not induce you to think that anything you say will hurt you rather that simply you know that anything you say may be given in evidence , whether it helps or harms your position.

**** DISCLAIMER*** I should point out that I contribute articles to TCP. I have written variously on ACS and their attempt to illegally prevent the recording of interviews by them, the laws on drink driving as they pertain to vessel, vessel related sewerage laws and similar. I do not receive any monetary reward for these articles, though the publishers have sent me a book or two from their library by way of thanks.

I absolutely welcome any challenge to anything I have written, I think I get it right - but happy to be proven wrong. Warning though - dont expect me to agree to - Well I was told by someone in MSQ - or any other statement, all I am interested in is the law as she is written.
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Old 23-10-2011, 18:02   #8
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

This thread is really news to me. Customs are always diligent about their inspections, but I can not say I have ever found them to be unfriendly, while yes the AQIS rules are very harsh I find they do their best to get it over with as quickly as possible.
From time to time they will want to remove a panel for which they usually have an electric screwdriver on hand, once finished they always replace it.

I guess like anything there are always horror stories to anything, we have had far more issues with rude New Zealand customs officers than Australian.
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Old 23-10-2011, 18:20   #9
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

I have been reading about the growing problem with Australian customs and AQIS for over a year now. I had always looked forward to stopping there on my journey, having really enjoyed the Aussies I'd met in various places around the world over the years. However, being the owner of a composite motorsailor and a rabid anti-fascist in political attitude, I will definitely be giving Australian a miss. I don't take kindly to to jack-booted officialdom anywhere, and it does appear on the rise. And I do not have the money to be fined and levied the thousands possible for bug inspection and/or treatment. Too bad. C'est la vie.
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Old 23-10-2011, 19:11   #10
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

Lets not get carried away folks, yes there are issues with ACS policy and behaviour, but I would still rather deal with the government here than in most other countries. You dont want to come to Australia, fine, matter for yourself - but lets not paint the country as a jack boot nazi environment.
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Old 23-10-2011, 19:20   #11
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

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Lets not get carried away folks, yes there are issues with ACS policy and behaviour, but I would still rather deal with the government here than in most other countries. You dont want to come to Australia, fine, matter for yourself - but lets not paint the country as a jack boot nazi environment.
hmmm. . . .Australia is a wonderful cruising country. We have visited on both our circumnavigations and seen almost all the coast (including tasi) except the NW corner (kimberleys) which we are saving for our 3rd time.

BUT, in our experience, its officials upon entry clearly stand out (along with America and Ecuador) as the least pleasant and most officious to deal with.

Of course in great part this all depends on the specific person you end up dealing with and whether they are having a good day or a bad day. And the official culture does vary around the country and is better in some places that others. And I see that Jim has cleared into different ports and had somewhat different experiences than we have had. But overlaying all that we got a very strong sense of a widespread and pervasive aggressive para-military approach and culture. Which, in our experience is pretty rare in all the other countries we have visited.

So, in fact as a foreign cruiser, no, I would not "rather deal with the government there than in most countries". But despite that, it is still a great cruising country (especially tasi).
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Old 23-10-2011, 19:35   #12
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

For what it is worth, I had some recent dealings with the local Customs / Immigration people here (Hobart, Tasmania), on behalf of a British friend who's boat was here, but my friend was unable to return at his previously stated time due to health issues and his boat was going to become liable for import duty for overstaying. I have to say that the local customs officers I dealt with could not have been more friendly, helpful or accommodating... the extended his boat's permit without any questions, offered advice on other related issues and were just all around helpful and easy to deal with. Not saying that this is across the board, but just offereing a counterpoint to the (mostly) negative experiences.
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Old 23-10-2011, 20:30   #13
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

I don't where all this stuff about Australian officials being hard to deal with comes from.
Australia has some very strict rules on quarantine and entry requirements but that's not their fault.
I have been told that they sometimes bear the brunt of people's frustration who have not done their homework and turn up with a timber boat from a high risk area which needs to be inspected by a termite dog.
I can only speak of my own experience which was very good.
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Old 23-10-2011, 21:40   #14
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

Australia has strict customs and quarantine guidelines to protect our natural resources, population and industry, HOWEVER, I suspect the people that you have read about have done the wrong thing and tried to import items that they shouldn't have and were likely ignorant of the rules and regulations or simply ignored them. You only have to watch our show called "border patrol" or similar TV shows to see the stupid (beyond comprehension) things that people try to do to bring in prohibited items into the country.

I'm confident that if you familiarise yourself with the guidelines and comply with them you will have no problems. Australian's are generally easy going but Customs crews and the like don't enjoy dealing with ignorance of the laws - they are every-day people like you or I.

Don't be deterred, Australia could be the best place that you've every visited and you'll never know if you never go!

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Old 23-10-2011, 22:25   #15
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Re: Australian customs - deterrent to visiting Oz?

TCP use to be a member here on CF but was pretty much asked to leave due to the bashing they gave to AU.

I find it hard to believe that AU would be as bad as they say. But from experience of drinking with them in Singapore, Sattahip, Bangkok and a few other places I know they can fly the Jolly Roger often. They are a different culture just like anywhere else, and that a Cruiser has to learn to adapt. I'm sure they would say the same about the N. Americans.
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