The Government’s investment in a strong border and disrupting transnational organised crime produced record results for stopping drugs in 2019.
The illegal drugs were seized at the New Zealand border by Customs, and overseas by Customs’ international border partners before the drugs could be sent to our shores.
Customs’ preliminary statistics for 2019 indicated that 2613 separate drug seizures of various class A, B and C drugs at the New Zealand border, adding up to 2577 kilograms, 505 litres, and over 342,000 items such as pills or tablets.
This included (a) Methamphetamine: 1180 kilograms, preventing an estimated $1.462 billion of potential social and community harm (b) Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine precursors: 329 kilograms, which could have been converted into 246 kilograms of methamphetamine, preventing an estimated $305 million of potential social and community harm (c) MDMA or ecstasy: 739 kilograms and 6469 pills, preventing an estimated $686 million of potential social and community harm; and (d) Cocaine: 60 kilograms, preventing an estimated $74 million of potential social and community harm.
Another 437 kilograms of illegal drugs destined for New Zealand was seized offshore, preventing a further $477 million of potential harm to New Zealanders, based on seizure information received from Customs’ international border partners.
The on- and off-shore hauls bring the total to 3014 kilograms, or over three tonnes.
Offshore seizures were made in 21 different countries and included close to 246 kilograms of methamphetamine, 120 kilograms of MDMA, and 32 kilograms of cocaine.
The record haul by Customs is down to the Coalition Government’s record investment in the agency to fight crime at our own border with 49 extra new operational staff since 2016-2017, and 97 ‘Ship-to-Shore’ Customs officials working to stop drugs before they are sent from overseas destinations.
We have given Customs the cash injection they needed to boost their capabilities, plus disrupt more criminal networks offshore to stop illegal drugs before they even leave the export country. These overseas seizures are increasing year on year.
The government allotted an extra $58.1 million over four years in Budget 2018 to disrupt drug smuggling networks, including $3.9 million for capital like detection technology and surveillance equipment.
That investment is paying off because we are stopping more drugs at our border. Thanks to additional funding, Customs has also been working smarter through offshore collaboration with law enforcement agencies in Australia, the Pacific, the US and further abroad to stop the drug traffickers’ products and ingredients before they can leave overseas ports and airports. Our support has meant Customs has been able to hire almost 100 extra staff in the Ship to Shore project.
Evolution in volume and craft
There has been an evolution in the volume and craftiness of the criminal syndicates who seek to peddle these products in our communities.
While this is a global issue, this is partly due to the criminals who have returned from Australia as deportees, and have brought their know-how and international criminal networks. Some of those people arriving have gang connections in Australia and supplier contacts across Asia – adding a level of sophistication and coordination that is new in the drugs fight. While the criminal landscape is changing, we are making sure that they cannot out-smart Customs with its new tools and tactics for shutting down the illegal drug syndicates.
Customs’ focus on disrupting the supply of illegal drugs from reaching communities is a part of the Government’s health-based approach.
Our Coalition Government is putting more resources into addiction, detoxification and residential care services for New Zealanders who are struggling with drug and alcohol issues. For this to be effective, it’s important for our law enforcement agencies like Customs to reduce the supply of drugs like meth as much as possible, and take a hard line against the organised criminal groups that push these products.
Jenny Salesa is Minister of Customs.