Customs blames users in IT debacle

The federal government has opted to keep using a controversial new cargo reporting system, and has attacked users for contributing to delays at some ports.The Integrated Cargo System (ICS) replaced one that had been operating for more than 20 years but since October 12, problems in the system have caused massive delays to container clearances, resulting in a backlog of cargo at some ports.

The federal government has opted to keep using a controversial new cargo reporting system, and has attacked users for contributing to delays at some ports.

The Integrated Cargo System (ICS) replaced one that had been operating for more than 20 years but since October 12, problems in the system have caused massive delays to container clearances, resulting in a backlog of cargo at some ports. Common users of the application include freight forwarders and customs brokers.

Australian Federation of International Forwarders chief executive officer Brian Lovell issued an update this afternoon saying the Australian Customs Service had told him that the ICS for sea and air cargo would be left intact until at least midweek.

Customs Minister Senator Chris Ellison's decision came amid bitter criticism of the final cutover to the new system and reports electronic messages had been trapped for up to several hours, slowing clearance of imports and prompting claims from one state minister key NSW ports were within a couple of days of being forced to turn cargo-bearing ships away.

Senator Ellison is expected to chair another meeting with Customs and industry representatives on Wednesday, Lovell said.

Late Friday afternoon, Customs confirmed the move, with a spokesperson lashing out at media reports that said the new system had "failed".

"Nor is its performance solely responsible for the problems that have occurred.

"The problems experienced in part, flow from inaccurate and incomplete information being submitted by some users, which the new system is designed not to accept for security reasons," the spokesperson said.

Earlier, Lovell said Customs chief executive Lionel Woodward had told him during the call that Senator Ellison had been "led to this decision primarily by [Customs] and the stevedores who have convinced him that the 'workarounds' and contingencies [Customs] have put in place will alleviate the potential blockage at the ports".

These measures included dedicated Customs teams clearing goods at the premises of terminal operators, deployment of additional staff to support the 24-hour industry help desk and usability changes within the Customs interactive system.

Senator Ellison's move comes after he said this morning the AU$250 million ICS system would be switched off unless proposals to alleviate the situation were unsuccessful. "It was designed to make it faster not slower and that's why I've said that if by midday today it isn't working, we'll revert to the old system," he told a radio station.

Lovell said Customs had told the Minister problems which had seen some users able to view supposedly secure documentation from other users had been "fixed".

"We will be most interested to find out from our members if this is in fact the case," he said.

In a videoconference with Senator Ellison yesterday, AFIF and other industry bodies recommended the sea cargo component of ICS be turned off, and industry revert to the previous system.

"Speaking on behalf of the whole forwarding industry and, being mindful that some sectors are working well, we must say that we are disappointed with this decision and the Minister's reliance that Customs will fix the problems despite increasing contingencies to move cargo whilst the main ICS import system remains seriously flawed," Lovell said.