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Monday, 23 February 2009
Page: 1366

Mr NEUMANN (12:13 PM) —I continue to speak in relation to the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Identity Crimes and Other Measures) Bill 2008. Schedule 2 in this particular piece of legislation is an important schedule that deals with the administration of justice offences in the Crimes Act. Maintaining the integrity of our criminal justice system and the integrity of the legal process is important to ensure civil society and to ensure that people have confidence that when they are in the terrible position of facing criminal charges and facing their accusers, the DPP, and their friends and relatives they will get a fair deal, and that the judges are impartial, that the jury is unbiased and that no-one can tamper with witnesses. The amendment in relation to part III of the Crimes Act is very important. It deals with fabrication of evidence, intimidating witnesses and aiding a prisoner to escape lawful criminal detention.

The amendments in this bill deal with administration of justice offences. They correct a drafting oversight. They also increase the penalties for a number of offences, including conspiracy to pervert the course of justice offences, the penalty for which has been increased to 10 years imprisonment, which I think is consistent with what my constituents in Blair in Queensland would believe to be a fair penalty. It is a very serious offence to interfere with the integrity of our criminal justice system and court process, and having the term of imprisonment increased to 10 years is appropriate in all circumstances. It is consistent with the Rudd Labor government’s policy to ensure that anyone who obstructs, perverts, prevents or tries to defeat the legal process in an improper way should be subject to the strongest possible criminal sanction in all circumstances. Of course, this brings things into line with the other jurisdictions—states and territories—in Australia.

Schedule 3 deals with improving the operation of the DPP to ensure that the state and territory counterparts of the DPP, the Director of Public Prosecutions, have joint conduct of criminal trials. It is about ensuring that there is a single prosecuting authority involved in the prosecution of all charges and that we make more effective use of court resources. One of the problems we have in Australia with our federal system of government is the duplication of resources. Accordingly, it is important that we streamline the processes, functions and powers of the DPP Act to ensure that the Director of Public Prosecutions can delegate functions and powers—for example, his staff—to a state and territory public prosecutions section or a Crown Prosecutor. It is important that we do not duplicate and that we save taxpayers’ dollars, and ensure that things are done efficiently and effectively and with the best use of taxpayers funds. This amendment is particularly important in that regard.

Schedule 4 deals with a particularly difficult area that has been vexing the Australian community for a long time, and that is the area of money laundering. The Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 established the framework for AUSTRAC, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, the body that established a robust detection regime to ensure that the misappropriation and laundering of approximately $4.5 billion in Australia ceases. It is very important that, when money crosses borders, it be done lawfully. People can press buttons in different parts of the world and transfer money. We do it all the time in Australia. There would be barely one individual in this House who has not transferred money across the internet between bank accounts. Transferring money in a lawful way is crucial to maintaining our tax system and ensuring that taxpayers’ dollars are used well. We need a system in this country that detects and deters money laundering and terrorism financing. We cannot have a situation where people are involved in these types of activities.

According to a report that the Australian Taxation Office sent to the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in July 2008, there is a very worrying phenomenon—that is, about US$5 trillion to US$7 trillion is held in tax havens and secret banking establishments and jurisdictions. AUSTRAC has sophisticated capabilities to track the flow of international funds. But we need to make sure that we are ever vigilant to maintain the integrity of our system, so information which is gathered by AUSTRAC and those involved in this process, particularly the Australian Taxation Office, should not be revealed in a way which compromises potential prosecutions. We have seen the Australian Taxation Office actively involved in work to crack down on money laundering. Project Wickenby is one such task force which has been funded in a bipartisan way by the previous government and also by the current government to ensure that our law enforcement agencies can minimise corporate misappropriation of funds to ensure that taxpayers, both corporate and individual, pay the right amount of tax. AUSTRAC, which monitors money movements into and out of Australia, plays an important role. Information which could be considered to be AUSTRAC information should simply not be disclosed for the purpose of court or tribunal proceedings or investigations which could compromise the kinds of prosecutions which the ATO have been initiating in circumstances such as, for example, Project Wickenby.

The amendments in this particular bill deal with that aspect as well. Information relating to suspect transaction reports is of a similar nature to information relating to suspicious matter reports. It is important that we extend the prohibition to suspect transaction reports and preserve the anonymity of businesses which provide information; otherwise, how can we gather the kinds of information we need to ensure the integrity of our Australian Taxation Office and the intelligence-gathering processes, which are so important in all circumstances to clamp down on money laundering?

The other amendment which I briefly wish to deal with deals with the repeal of section 55D of the Judiciary Act. It is the case that our states and territories have their own comprehensive legislation to regulate the legal profession and themselves. The amendments in this particular provision simply get rid of an otiose provision which used to govern what happened in certain territories of this country. It is important that we clear up this aspect of the legislative books, so this amendment gets rid of an unnecessary piece of regulation in the circumstances.

Finally, this bill, which does so much to improve the capacity of our regulatory bodies and our criminal prosecution bodies to deal with identity crimes, is an important piece of legislative reform which the Rudd government is committed to. It deals with offences related to identity crime, it deals with possession of information and it also deals with what I would describe as the equipment offence. Importantly, it also provides a mechanism for victims of identity crime to obtain a certificate from a magistrate to ensure that they can be assisted in negotiating with financial institutions. The improvements in the administration of the justice offences will add a lot to the integrity of our legal system, and the DPP amendments will improve the efficiency of our criminal justice process. The amendments with respect to AUSTRAC will help with the protection of information for the purpose of investigations into money laundering and the prosecution of those criminals who rip off the Australian taxation system and taxpayers across Australia with their nefarious activities which the average taxpayer could only dream of. It is a disgrace that people engage in these types of activities, when honest taxpayers like those in my electorate of Blair pay their taxes. When these honest taxpayers—who are school teachers, public servants, carpenters, bricklayers and shop assistants—pay tax, they expect corporate high-flyers to do the same. Improving the protection of sensitive information is an important reform which will enable the successful prosecution of those criminals who are engaged in white-collar crime.

This is an important piece of law reform in terms of the criminal justice system. I support the bill. It is part of the great reform agenda of the Rudd Labor government with respect to criminal law. There are those who think that Labor governments are soft on crime, but we are not just hard on criminal activity; we are hard on the causes of crime. This bill shows just how determined we are to stamp out white-collar crime and just how committed the Attorney-General and the Minister for Home Affairs are also to ensure that Australian taxpayers get their just deserts when it comes to the money they pay in taxes. I support this bill. I commend the government for their initiative. This is an important reform and it is indicative of the commitment of the Rudd Labor government to justice and equity in all aspects of our society.