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Monday, 28 November 2005
Page: 12

Mr KERR (1:12 PM) —On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission, I present the committee’s report entitled Review of the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002, together with evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr KERR —by leave—The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission tabled its report in the Senate some days ago. This is the first opportunity the House has had to consider that report. Generally the report is very favourable towards the transition that has been made from the National Crime Authority to the new structure of the Australian Crime Commission. However, this was the first major review of the Australian Crime Commission Act since the commission was established in 2002. In consequence, there are a number of matters to which the attention of the government and the parliament have been directed.

The report makes 18 recommendations. The committee is particularly concerned with the accountability and integrity regime for the Australian Crime Commission and for parliamentary scrutiny of law enforcement generally. The committee has worked in a most exemplary bipartisan way. I commend the chairmanship of Senator Santoro in that regard—and the work of the committee secretariat. Of course, parliamentary oversight of this organisation is important because the Australian Crime Commission exercises coercive powers, which are becoming more and more a feature of the law enforcement landscape. The committee wanted to ensure that those continue to be exercised with the utmost care and only in the circumstances that the parliament intended.

With that in mind, the committee has taken the view that, without parliament addressing certain matters, there will be the potential risk that the powers of the Australian Crime Commission will be used for routine policing rather than for the specialised purposes for which it was established—that is, for serious and organised crime.

For that reason, one of the key recommendations of the committee’s report is that the act be amended such that any expansion in the number of the examiners appointed to exercise the coercive powers granted under the Australian Crime Commission Act beyond the current three requires parliamentary approval, either by amendment to legislation or by regulations which are disallowable by both the House and the Senate. The important point is that the transition was not intended to facilitate a broadening of the range of the coercive powers into routine policing; rather, it was meant to make certain that there would be effective cooperation between state and Commonwealth law enforcement authorities but targeted towards the specific objectives of the act and consistent with the framework that this parliament has approved.

The other point that the committee has identified as requiring specific parliamentary attention into the future is the absence presently of any oversight body for the Australian Federal Police. The Australian Federal Police has an expanding role and, quite distinct to the other organisations which have significant security implications for this nation—the Australian Crime Commission and the intelligence agencies—no oversight through a parliamentary body. Its expanding role and budget, its place in counter-terrorism deployment—such as RAMSI in the Solomon Islands and crime fighting in South-East Asia—and of course the continuing and important work that it undertakes in the broad law enforcement of federal law mean that there are more reasons than ever for the Australian Federal Police to be brought within the system of parliamentary scrutiny.

Other recommendations include that the committee be able to refer matters of concern to the proposed Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which the government is giving consideration to establishing; amendments to the act to clarify the responsibilities of all agencies represented on the ACC board, including state police forces, to provide information to the committee; and the formalisation of existing practices for the reporting of allegations of misconduct to the Ombudsman. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Order! The time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Denison wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?