Guns On The Waterfront: Our Porous Borders


Earlier this year the Australian Senate conducted a Greens initiated inquiry into how guns flow from the legal market into the illegal market.  The inquiry backfired for them by finding no such connection.

It also barely scratched the surface of where illegal guns come from. In the six years the author of this article spent on the Sydney waterfront, the one thing that stood out was just how easy it is to smuggle something into Australia.  A friend of mine in Sydney was offered an Uzi submachinegun which has never been sold in Australia, except on the black market.

Here are the facts: BITRE, a federal government agency, reports that 99 million tonnes of cargo comes into Australia each year through the waterfront.  The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service has 5,358 officers.

One third of those work in the ACT, but even if we assume they were all available for searching containers on the waterfront to the exclusion of all other duties, that works out to 18,000 tonnes of cargo that comes in per customs officer, per year.  If we were more realistic about how Customs resources are distributed, that number would be closer to 30,000 tonnes.

That’s like standing in front of 20,000 cars with a key, trying to guess which one it will start.

Finding illegal imports of guns and drugs imported through our waterfront is a needle-in-the-haystack exercise.  It explains where the Uzi came from.

This photograph shows you what confronts customs officers every day. I remember walking down isles of containers on night duty having no idea of what I had just walked past, other than trusting the paperwork we were given.  We had no chance of finding contraband other than by chance or good intelligence.

Any assertion by the Greens or others who try to argue that the legal market feeds the illegal market, hasn’t spent any time on the waterfront. If they spent just 10 minutes talking to anyone who worked there, they would learn something crucial to this debate.

Physical container inspections do occur. However it took us a full day with a team of 8 officers and a dog crew to unpack, inspect and repack the contents of just one container. Even then, with thousands of boxes in each container and no desire to ruin a business’s livelihood by destroying their product, there was every chance we missed that one box that might have contained what we were after.

Without wishing to turn this into a How-To-Manual, there are even more startling facts, including those relating to mail coming through our postal system, which show how shockingly ignorant the Greens are on this matter.


  1. The figures quoted are assuming every Customs Officer does his job properly. Have a few who are slacking or have a vested interest and the amount per official is ridiculous! But the Greens and others aren’t going to let the facts get in their way, are they?

  2. IF the Government banned the lawful possession of firearms and at a later date it was found that this made no difference to illegal possession of guns on the street, would the Government reverse the decision of Bans on lawful ownership? I THINK NOT!

  3. I remember seeing a short video on facebook where a guy drove onto a Sydney wharf through an open and unmanned gate, right up to the gangplank of a foreign freighter.
    He and his cameraman boarded the ship unchallenged, and wandered around the deck. They walked in a doorway and down a passageway before they met a crewman.
    They asked to see the captain and were conducted to his cabin.
    In a short interview it was established that there was little security at Australian ports, and that almost all the crew were on shore leave in town, unchecked by customs!
    They could have taken dufflebags full of guns ashore to sell in shorefront bars, and nobody would have been the wiser!

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