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Facilities that deal with imported cargo now face fines for breaking biosecurity rules

New fines and penalties introduced by Customs and MPI

Individuals and businesses are now subject to a new range of instant fines and penalties if they are found breaching Customs and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) requirements.


Effective 1 April 2019, Customs officers are able to issue individuals with an instant $400 fine, and businesses with an $800 fine, for 70 minor infringement offences if they are found breaching Customs requirements. Fines may be issued even if the offending was unintentional.

Terry Brown, group manager border operations at Customs, says: “Most individuals and businesses want to comply with Customs requirements and the law. However, there will always be those who either deliberately or unintentionally breach those requirements.

“Infringement notices are an effective way of helping Customs officers protect New Zealand, and offer an alternative to prosecution. Once the fine has been paid, all guilt or liability is discharged. They are not a means of generating revenue.”

Education phase now over

The infringement notices were introduced in October last year as part of the implementation of the Customs and Excise Act 2018, with a six-month education phase to inform the public and businesses about the changes before enforcement began. Customs could issue fines for petty offences under the previous 1996 Customs Act, but this was limited in how and where it was applied. 

Offences that can now result in an instant fine include making a false declaration on a passenger arrival card, refusing to answer questions from a Customs officer, or for importing or exporting prohibited goods.

The infringement notices will affect all international arriving and departing passengers at airports and ports, importers, exporters, excise manufacturers, brokers and Customs-controlled areas. Infringement notices do not apply to offences which attract a penalty of imprisonment. Infringement notices are limited to offences where the maximum penalty is $5000 for an individual and $25,000 for a business.

A full list of all infringement offences are on the Customs website www.customs.govt.nz

Biosecurity in cargo facilities

Facilities that deal with imported cargo also now face fines for breaking biosecurity rules. Effective 15 April, Biosecurity New Zealand officers can issue infringement notices to transitional and containment facilities for actions that could allow invasive pests and diseases into New Zealand.

“Any individual or company that operates a facility without a registered operator, or who fails to comply with the operating standards for that facility, will now be considered for an infringement notice,” says Chris Denny, team manager freight and mail, Biosecurity New Zealand.

“One area we will be paying particular attention to is the movement of uncleared goods, including sea containers, without correct authorisation. This type of non-compliance poses a critical risk to biosecurity.” The infringement fee for each offence is $400 for an individual and $800 for a corporation.

“The infringement notices will be primarily used to address relatively minor breaches of the Biosecurity Act. They send a strong message about the importance of biosecurity and will deter people and organisations from breaking the rules,” says Mr Denny. “As in the past, Biosecurity New Zealand can prosecute if our officers find major failings.”

Under New Zealand’s biosecurity rules, imported cargo must first go to an approved transitional or container facility for inspection, where necessary, and other checks.

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