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Monday, 24 September 2001
Page: 31318

Dr STONE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (9:05 PM) —in reply—In summing up this debate, I would like to thank all members for their contribution. The National Crime Authority Legislation Amendment Bill 2001 has received close scrutiny and the opinions expressed are indicative of the fact that the bill addresses a number of matters that are of serious concern to all members of this House. I would also like to thank those who sought personal briefings on the complex issues addressed by the bill before determining their position on it.

The member for Denison, who was the first of the opposition speakers, was very happy to reflect that this bill picks up on Labor's private member's NCA Bill 2000 introduced by him. Indeed, both bills draw on the recommendations made by the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on the NCA in its third evaluation of the National Crime Authority. The extra time spent on the government's bill involved addressing and including additional reforms sought by the NCA and consulting the states and territories. As well, the processes of this parliament included the review of the bill by the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on the NCA.

Among the additional important features in this government's bill are complete removal of reasonable excuse defences and application of the Criminal Code, and provision for the NCA to employ hearing officers. We think they are very important aspects of the bill. The member for Denison, however, felt that the government had failed to take up Labor's proposition for a law enforcement oversight committee. The government does not favour the law enforcement oversight committee suggested by the member for Denison. The government considers that the focus on the NCA by the existing parliamentary joint committee has been appropriate and a proper reflection of the special function and powers of the authority. The responsibilities and jurisdiction of agencies like the Defence Force, the quarantine service and the Federal Police are too diverse to be sensibly brought within the purview of a single committee. We think its focus would have been lost.

The honourable member for Cowan spoke of attending a funeral just two weeks ago in Perth for Donald Hancock, a Western Australian police officer who, as we all know, died under very sad circumstances; indeed, to use the word `assassination' would not be inappropriate. I thank the member for Cowan for referring to the very difficult task we place in the hands of police. It is important that we acknowledge that. The death of a police officer in the course of duty is a very tragic event and reminds us of the commitment and sacrifice that the community receives from its law enforcement officers. I endorse the comments of the member for Cowan. These strategies underline the importance of giving appropriate tools, in particular legal tools, to law enforcement and the NCA.

The bill is an important measure to enhance the effectiveness of the National Crime Authority in fighting organised crime. In particular, it will create a significant deterrent to those who seek to obstruct and frustrate the authority's hearing process. At the same time, the bill contains important accountability measures, notably a role for the Ombudsman and clearer reporting requirements to the parliamentary joint committee on the authority. The continuing support for the activities of the NCA from Commonwealth, state and territory governments reflects the important role played by the authority. There is no doubt, however, that the problems caused by serious and organised crime in its operations across jurisdictional boundaries continue to pervade all levels of society. This reinforces the need for a national law enforcement agency such as the National Crime Authority.

It is essential that the authority has sufficient powers to enable it to performance its functions without being hindered or hampered by those whose very conduct the authority is trying to investigate. It is also essential that the authority is able to operate in an environment that enables the greatest possible flexibility, while at the same time ensuring that the authority remains accountable and responsive. I commend the bill to the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.