Aussie threatened with $2000 fine after little-known customs mistake

An Australian traveller has recalled the “stressful” moment she narrowly dodged a more than $2000 fine after being interrogated at a Queensland airport.

Traci Chen said she was confused when biosecurity pulled her and her mum aside for 30 minutes after they returned from a holiday in Dubai in late December.

The migration lawyer said she had answered “yes” to two questions on the customs declaration form required for those entering the country because her luggage contained honey and saffron purchased overseas.

However, the process took a strange turn when a female biosecurity officer asked the pair to place their bags in the scanner, Ms Chen told her 168,000 TikTok followers.

Traci Chen and the form that almost cost her a $2000 fine.
Traci Chen narrowly dodged a hefty fine when returning to Australia after a holiday. Source: TikTok/@migrationlawyer

“She then says ‘right, I’m going to give you one last chance to declare to me everything you have brought through because I can see in the scanners what you brought through’,” she recalled.

“At this point I already told her I had saffron and the honey and I had showed her. I kept asking my mum, I said ‘do you have anything else?’ and she said ‘no I don’t have anything’.” It was then, Ms Chen said, the officer told her she could cop a fine of $500 to over $2000 because they were “not declaring things properly”.

“But I was totally confused. I had no idea what she was on about but she kept saying ‘think carefully — what else could it be? Now think carefully’,” the Aussie said, adding that her mum was “almost in tears”.

Suddenly, her mum pulls out a hat and asks if it is the culprit, to which the officer agrees, saying it needed to be declared because it was made of straw. “I bought it in Australia! Something I had no idea about. I declared food, I declared everything else but a straw hat — really?” Ms Chen said.

The accessory wasn’t the only thing that prompted suspicion, with security also informing the lawyer that her “organic” makeup wipes could be considered organic produce.

TikTok viewers stunned: 'Why on earth'

Ms Chen posted the TikTok about her experience in an effort to warn others, some of which said they “never in a million years” would have thought such items needed to be declared.

“Why on earth wouldn’t they just tell you. They knew you didn’t know what was going on. What a power trip,” one of the almost 900,000 viewers commented.

“Would never have even thought of a straw hat. They should have given you the benefit of the doubt and just not you, not put you through an interrogation,” someone else wrote. “I nearly got fined as well. We accidentally had an apply in my mum’s handbag,” a third added.

Others said they had declared their straw hats when entering Australia but had been dismissed for wasting security’s time.

As of January 1, new amendments in the Parliament to the Biosecurity Act 2015 can result in civil penalties of up to $266,400 or an on the spot fine of $4,440, according to a press release from Senator Murray Watt, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

A spokesperson for DAFF told 7News it “takes its role of managing biosecurity risks and enforcing regulations at Australia’s border very seriously”.

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