Customs cracking down on eBay, online store purchases entering Australia

Three-month campaign to ensure GST exemptions are not being "abused or exploited"

Customs imports web site

A document from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service from late January details a three month campaign to crack-down on expensive parcels entering Australia marked as gifts or with a declared value under $1000, exempting them from liability for GST or duty payments. The document notes that the campaign aims to ensure that GST and duty exemptions for low-value goods entering Australia are not being "abused or exploited" by importers.

The operation, which started at the beginning of 2011, involves Customs officers performing an increased number of examinations of international mail. In addition, the declarations of air and sea cargo will be more stringently checked. With the increasing popularity of online shopping and eBay purchases from outside Australia, it is a common practice for expensive internationally shipped items from some regions to be marked as gifts, samples, or declared with a low value to avoid the $1000 GST threshold that applies in Australia. Packages that exceed this threshold require an additional 10 per cent goods and services duty payment on the value of the items, as well as Customs processing fees, before being released to the purchaser.

This crackdown comes soon after a consortium of Australian retailers called for the abolition of the GST exemption for goods under $1000 entering Australia, citing falling profits due to competitive online pricing from international stores. Similar or identical items to those available in large Australian retailers like Harvey Norman, David Jones and Myer can be purchased from online stores in Asia, USA and Europe for prices that are often 20 to 50 per cent cheaper. Electronics items are a common purchase in international online stores, with digital cameras, PC components and home entertainment products popular choices.

The Australian government will hold an online retail forum with retailers in late February to educate them on online shopping. Retailers were chastised earlier in the year by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who said that Australians who shopped online should not be prevented from doing so. The Prime Minister, along with experts, said that abolishing the GST on goods under $1000 would cost more in administration than would be recovered in revenue.

Currently, if a package is detained by Customs and is assessed to have a value of over $1000 without supporting documentation being supplied, it will be held and a notification will be sent to the addressee via Australia Post.

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Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

PC World

5 Comments

John M.

1

Great. This is going to be a huge hassle for Hong Kong online stores; I've bought more than a few camera lenses for over $1000 that have been marked as $800 or below for Customs. It's standard practice for some of the online stores I shop at; one even has an option in the checkout to mark the parcel as a gift...

Sean

2

I don't mind customs doing this for legitimate reasons, however if this ends up being nothing but a witch hunt to appease the retailers, I''m going to want the minister and his 2nd in charges job because, the amount of drugs and illegal weapons coming into this country is a far more serious threat to our people than appeasing a bunch of millionaires crying over actually having to give Australians value for money and choice.

Sher

3

Given that we cannot mark an outgoing international item as just a gift without describing the contents, and should be providing the correct cost of the goods, so that customs in other countries can apply any surcharges if required, the same should happen in reverse. If we are going to buy overseas, and say its because things are cheaper by far over there, and say its unfair for local businesses to complain because they charge so high, then we need to be fair when things come in as well. I do buy from overseas, and am not an Australian retailer, just fairness should go both ways. Up to a $1000 import tax free is pretty good, so accept that it should be used as intended.

Rene Perez

4

I bet that this new goverment aproach have to do with the big retailers Harvey Norman, Mrs Mayer etc whom want to have Australian people tight, and blind to them when come to buy electronic or any products they sell.
Other issue is the prevention of Generic oversea medicine that is also controlled by big australian pharmaceutical companies by "persuasion" through goverment officials
I hope the law reflect the need of the public.

Michael Penfold

5

I recently bought an item on the internet. I have been sent an invoice by the freight forwarder DHL for payment to them because Australian Customs wanted to check my parcel for illegal substances. Since when do we have to pay for these checks to be made? I can't find any information warning about this practice. I would have thought that our taxes pay for border protection! I am the innocent party and I still have to pay. It is like if the Police came to your door with a warrant to search your premises for illegal goods and if they could not find anything charge you for their time to search. This is ridiculous! Certainly, if there was something wrong then I might expect to pay but how many people are getting stung by this search charge that no one knows about.

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