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Thursday, 18 August 2005
Page: 55


Mr SLIPPER (12:55 PM) —I would like to congratulate the member for Bowman on his very thoughtful contribution to the debate just a moment ago. He feels very passionately about the subject, and his experience as a medical practitioner in the past would highlight the dangers of drugs in Australia. I am pleased to be able to speak on the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Serious Drug Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2005. As other honourable members have mentioned, and as indicated in the second reading speech, the bill introduces a number of quite important changes to our laws to add further firepower to the government’s ongoing war against drug dealers. Those criminals who manufacture drugs and traffic in drugs are daily robbing everyday Australians of meaningful lives, all in the name of a quick easy buck.

The Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Serious Drug Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2005 introduces measures that deal with several previously somewhat undefined crimes and hidden criminals. The bill introduces new crimes for those who supply the raw materials for the manufacture of illicit drugs, increases penalties for those who use children as drug mules or expose them to the dangers of potentially volatile drug labs and removes loopholes previously exploited by drug dealers.

The bill also adds umbrella benefits, such as making laws more interactive in the area of enabling dangerous new drugs to be promptly added to prohibited lists, simplifying prosecutions by removing jurisdictional limits for federal offences and consolidating federal drug crimes into the Criminal Code, which will help to make drug laws across the states more uniform.

In the past, Australian laws have failed to recognise fully the impact of those who work behind the scenes to supply the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of the most common illicit and designer drugs. The bill currently before the House will increase the minimum penalty for those who supply raw materials for drug manufacture. Minor penalties for these offenders will be increased to seven years jail for those who have any quantity of the materials, 15 years jail for marketable quantities and 25 years for commercial quantities. Those who import the materials will face penalties increased from five years jail to seven years, 15 years or 25 years respectively, depending on the quantities of raw materials seized.

With regard to those criminals who recklessly put the lives of children in danger, either through using them for trafficking or by failing to remove them from the vicinity of potentially explosive drug labs, offenders can expect tough penalties. Those who put children in danger in the selling of raw materials will face similar penalties. I think this initiative is welcomed by most in the community.

The Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Serious Drug Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2005 also outlines significant increases in the penalties for general federal drug supply offences. The minimum penalty for trafficking any small quantity of drugs is increased from two years to 10 years. For marketable quantities the penalty rises to 25 years, and for commercial quantities of illicit drugs the penalty remains at life imprisonment. For the manufacture of illicit drugs, the maximum penalties rise from 10 years to 25 years or life, depending on the quantities.

The major aims of the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Serious Drug Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2005 are to seek to punish those convicted and to increase the deterrents for involvement in the commercial dealing of controlled drugs and plants, for involvement in commercial supply of precursors or raw materials used in drug manufacture and for those who import or export drugs, plants and precursors that are governed by border restrictions. The bill before the chamber is another weapon in the federal government’s legal arsenal against the most opportunistic of criminals—the raw material supplier, the manufacturer and the trafficker. These measures will help to combat the incredibly damaging impact of drugs on our general society and, in particular, the impact of the activities of criminals on the most vulnerable in our society, who are, of course, Australia’s children. The bill before the House is a very important initiative that this government is pleased to be promoting. It is one of those bills which I believe ought to be put on the statute books as quickly as possible.

Some people might well ask: what is a controlled drug, a controlled plant, a border controlled drug and a border controlled plant? Controlled drugs, controlled plants, border controlled drugs and border controlled plants are the illicit substances covered by the drug offences in the bill, such as cannabis, heroin and amphetamine. They are listed in tables in the bill. The terms ‘border controlled drugs’ and ‘border controlled plants’ refer to the illicit substances covered by the import and export offences. Border controlled drugs and border controlled plants are listed in the table in proposed sections 314.4 and 314.5. Those lists include all the illicit substances currently covered by the drug offences in the Customs Act—offences that are being relocated to the Criminal Code by this bill. They also include a small number of new drugs which are very similar to drugs already listed and are being traded in the illicit drugs market. The terms ‘controlled drugs’ and ‘controlled plants’ refer to the illicit substances covered by the other drug offences in the bill—offences which focus on drug dealings within Australia. These offences are new federal offences and they will overlap with state and territory drug offences. Controlled drugs and controlled plants are listed in proposed sections 314.1 and 314.2. This list is limited to 16 common illicit drugs for the time being.

It is important to always achieve national consistency where this is able to be achieved and therefore a working party has been established by the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy to make recommendations about a uniform schedule of illicit drugs, to be adopted by all Australian jurisdictions. It is intended that the lists of controlled drugs and controlled plants will be reconsidered and may be widened when the report of the working party is ultimately received. The lists of border controlled drugs and border controlled plants are also likely to be reconsidered at that time.

A question has also been asked as to why there are different lists of drugs and quantities for the import-export offences and domestic offences. One of the important aims of the bill is to try to increase the uniformity of drug offences right across the nation. The aim is to implement model serious drug offences developed in consultation with the states and territories. The government places great store in this area on consulting with the states and territories to achieve greater uniformity. The next important step in achieving the goal of national consistency is for all jurisdictions to adopt consistent lists of illicit drugs and threshold quantities. The working party was established by the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy to make recommendations about a uniform schedule of illicit drugs and threshold quantities to be adopted by all Australian jurisdictions. The working party does not have to release its report until late this year. It really is strongly in the interests of the community that there be international consistency.

As the bill includes important new child protection offences and precursor offences, the proposal is not to delay the bill by waiting for the working party recommendations but instead to include interim lists of drugs and quantities to be revised when the recommendations of the working party are received.

The lists of drugs and quantities for the import-export offences have been based on the lists that apply to the current import-export offences in the Customs Act, and this bill is moving those Customs Act offences to the Criminal Code. The penalties are essentially the same as those currently applying to import-export offences under the Customs Act. As these offences involve breaches of Australia’s import-export controls, naturally they are serious matters. The other offences in the bill, those applying to drug dealings within Australia, are new federal offences which overlap with state and territory offences.

I see the Attorney-General has arrived, so I will wind up. This legislation is important legislation. It is important that it be implemented as quickly as possible because the very positive outcomes that the bill seeks to achieve will improve not only the long-term health of Australians but the outlook for younger Australians who in many cases are preyed on by drug criminals.