Uncover some fascinating facts and intriguing insights into one of the oldest government departments in Aotearoa New Zealand: Customs. Its Māori name – Te Mana Ārai o Aotearoa – translates as ‘the authority that screens and protects New Zealand’.
Customs was established on 5 January 1840, and the first head of Customs was appointed on the shores of Kororāreka, Bay of Islands. New Zealand’s first civil servants started collecting Crown revenue from rum merchants, whalers, sailors, and other traders. Customs’ primary function back then was to gather revenue and combat smugglers. In many respects, this has not changed. By the 1980s, trade’s importance to the economy saw Customs expand its focus to help facilitate New Zealand’s growing international trade relationships.
Customs currently collects the second largest amount of revenue for the Crown. For the financial year ending 30 June 2023, Customs collected $18.6 billion in Crown revenue, an increase from $17.5 billion in the financial year ending 30 June 2022. Customs collects four types of revenue: Goods and Services Tax on imported taxable goods; Excise Tax on products like beer and wine; Excise Equivalent Tax on goods such as tobacco, beer, wine, and fuel; and Customs Duty on imported goods, where a New Zealand manufactured equivalent exists.
Customs detector dogs are trained to sniff out narcotics, firearms, and even cash! These clever canines are an important tool in Customs’ layered defence to identify border risks, including money laundering and drug smuggling. Customs’ Detector Dog Unit reached a significant milestone this year – celebrating its 50th anniversary. Established in 1973, the first two detector dogs entered operational service in 1974 and were trained on narcotics. Cannabis was in the spotlight back then, and the list of narcotics has since grown, but Customs dogs are as swift to adapt as ever.
New Zealand’s border isn’t just at international airports; the maritime border is marked 12 nautical miles from our coastline. And there is also a cyber border. As cross-border specialists, Customs is the only agency mandated, under the Customs & Excise Act 2018, to prosecute offending across our cyber border. The internet has resulted in an exponential increase in the amount of objectionable material, mainly child sexual abuse imagery, which is imported (downloaded) or exported (uploaded) across our cyber border. Customs works closely with Police and Internal Affairs locally, who together are part of a global taskforce dedicated to combatting this type of crime.
Customs is required to issue clearances for all arriving and departing international craft, including the various types of maritime vessels such as yachts, fishing vessels, and cruise ships, as well as all kinds of aircraft. In the last financial year, Customs issued 34,465 clearances for craft arrivals, and 34,128 craft clearances for departures. There are no Customs exceptions, not even rockets. Every time Rocket Lab launches a rocket, Customs’ Maritime Team, based in Napier, issues a departure clearance for the rocket at the Mahia Peninsula launch site. Export entry lodgements are also cleared for any cargo on board. In the last financial year, Customs completed 4.4 million export transactions for goods leaving the country.