The Customs Act 1901 (Customs Act) provides that only the owner of goods or a customs broker licensed by the Comptroller-General of Customs for the Department of Home Affairs (the Department) can submit an import declaration to enter goods for home consumption in connection with the importation of those goods.
In Australia all customs brokers are licensed by the Department in line with Division 3 Part XI of the Customs Act.
Most importers of goods choose to engage a customs broker to act on their behalf because of the complexity of the laws governing the importation of goods into Australia (similarly to those of most other countries) and the potential financial and other implications of lodging an incorrect entry.
The Department issues licences subject to several mandatory conditions specified in the Customs Act; and the Comptroller-General of Customs may impose other conditions.
The statutory provisions for the licensing of customs brokers have two distinct but complementary purposes:
- The protection of the Commonwealth Revenue. As the Department cannot conduct a 100% check of every entry, it is essential that the Department has a high degree of confidence that customs brokers will exercise their function in a professional, correct and ethical manner to ensure that the duty properly payable on goods is in fact paid – no more, but no less – and that import and export data is entered accurately for statistical purposes
- The protection of the community. Over and above the public interest in the correct revenue being collected on any importation of goods, the public has other significant interests in the performance of licensed customs brokers, such as:
- government agencies should be able to establish the true identity of parties undertaking international trade in goods and in a self-assessment context customs brokers should take responsible steps to establish the identity of their clients for the purpose of the Customs Act
- clients who engage customs brokers should be able to rely on their expertise to provide the services they offer in a professional and ethical manner
- owners and employees of Australian businesses that the Government intends to protect by Australia's import duty arrangements should be able to rely on the integrity and expertise of customs brokers to ensure that imported goods attract the correct duty and tax
- consumers of imported goods and others affected by their use should be able to rely on customs brokers to ensure, for example, that potentially dangerous goods are not imported if prohibited or are properly identified and labelled if allowed to be imported.
Customs brokers are licensed under one of the following three customs broker licence categories:
- Corporate – a company or a partnership licensed to act on behalf of owners of imported goods. A corporate customs broker must employ nominee customs brokers to lodge customs declarations.
- Sole trader – a sole proprietor of a business operating in its own right and not through a company or partnership or trust. A sole trader may employ one or more nominee customs brokers. A sole trader cannot be employed by a corporate customs broker but can be affiliated with other businesses such as freight forwarders.
- Nominee – a natural person licensed to act as a customs broker but only as an employee of a corporate or a sole trader customs brokerage. A nominee may be employed by more than one corporate or sole trader brokerage at any time.
The Department issues licences for a period of (up to) three years, which can be renewed on payment of a prescribed fee.
Once licensed, a customs broker may operate from any place within Australia or such places specified on the licence. As the licence only operates to allow a customs broker to operate in Australia they cannot operate or lodge entries from a place outside of Australia (overseas).