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Thursday, 20 August 2009
Page: 8596

Mr WOOD (11:24 AM) —I wish to speak on the report of the inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission into legislative arrangements to outlaw serious and organised crime groups. Before I go on, I would like to thank the secretariat, Dr Jacqueline Dewar, Dr Robyn Clough, Ms Nina Boughey and Ms Danielle Oldfield.

The inquiry was established on 17 March 2008 and the terms of reference required the committee to:

… examine the effectiveness of legislative efforts to disrupt and dismantle serious and organised crime groups and associations with these groups—

I repeat: ‘associations with these groups’—

with particular reference to:

(a)   international legislative arrangements developed to outlaw serious and organised crime groups and association to those groups, and the effectiveness of these arrangements;

(b)   the need in Australia to have legislation to outlaw specific groups known to undertake criminal activities, and membership of and association with those groups;

They also said:

(d)   the impact and consequences of legislative attempts to outlaw serious and organised crime groups, and membership of and association with these groups …

Sadly, the committee in some way got lost on the way to Rome. We were supposed to focus very much on association and doing something about tackling serious and organised crime at the highest levels in this country, and that is something which I firmly believe was necessary. We look around the country and we see outlaw motorcycle gangs causing mayhem, especially in South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales, but I congratulate those governments for taking it head on. Victoria does not have an outlaw motorcycle gangs task force, so that would be one of the reasons why it does not appear to be a problem in Victoria.

In saying that, though, the Liberal and Family First members of the committee did not want to put out a dissenting report. Why? Because we believe we worked very effectively with the government members, in particular on unexplained wealth. We did not want to take anything away from that. The report’s recommendations do not go far enough when looking at anti-association laws, especially after committee members met authorities in Italy where anti-association laws have been very effective in dealing with the mafia. To bring down the mafia, and of course regarding unexplained wealth, the authorities there said that anti-association laws were the way to go. It was the same case in Canada, with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police targeting laws to specifically look at people participating in outlaw motorcycle gangs. The same applied in Hong Kong where they have used them to great effect with the triads.

The report has no hard and fast recommendations that look at serious and organised crime, especially gang related members, whether they are outlaw motorcycle gangs or any other type of gangs involved in serious and organised crime. In some ways, when it comes to outlaw motorcycle gangs, it seems that the report was written by the bikies for the bikies. As a former policeman, that part is fairly embarrassing. You can see what the bikies have done in Australia.

I go back in time to show that outlaw motorcycle gang members have persistently caused havoc, whether that is against themselves or other members of the public. In 1998 a member of the Bandidos was shot dead outside their club headquarters in Geelong. In 1999 two bombings, also in Geelong, targeted the Bandidos. Obviously I am talking about Victoria. In 1999 there was the torture murder of a member of the Comancheros. In 2007—this really haunted Victorians—Christopher Wayne Hudson from the Hell’s Angels fired shots in the Melbourne CBD and killed an innocent bystander. At Sydney airport in 2009, there was the outright show of disrespect for society in general when a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang, the Hell’s Angels, was bashed to death in front of people wanting to go on holidays et cetera. It was an absolute disgrace.

I congratulate in particular Assistant Commissioner Harrison from South Australia police. I thought his evidence was first-class. He talked about police and said:

… we traditionally have the investigative focus which is very reactive. We wait for the crime or the criminal activity to occur and then the police put a response strategy in place.

Invariably that has not been overly successful when you look at serious and organised crime, established criminal networks and outlaw motorcycle gangs, because of their composition, structure and culture …

The antiassociation aspect … is all about trying to prevent those associations occurring. We try to disrupt the planning processes and we would like to hope that we then have some impact on preventing crimes occurring within our communities.

On the other side of the argument, if you read the report regarding the outlaw motorcycle gangs you find it is laden with examples of those who do not support it, such as Mr Ray, President of the Law Council of Australia, who said:

Consorting-type offences have attracted a great deal of criticism, particularly from academics, lawyers and judges because they are argued to impinge on the freedom of association.

Again, if you look at the outlaw motorcycle gangs and the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime report on amphetamine and ecstasy and its 2008 global ATS—amphetamine-type stimulants—assessment, when it refers to Australia it specifically refers to two groups: Asian organised crime groups and—guess what the other one is?—outlaw motorcycle gangs. This is a bizarre situation. The committee did go to other countries, and I remember Canada and America in particular. The authorities told us about the outlaw motorcycle gangs and what mayhem they have caused, especially in Canada. Let us look at the first recommendation in the report:

The committee recommends that the ACC work with its law enforcement partners to enhance data collection on criminal groups and criminal group membership, in order to quantify and develop an accurate national picture of organised crime groups within Australia.

This will be the defence to some committee members, who were not convinced about the need to have laws specifically targeting outlaw motorcycle gangs. On numerous occasions—I do not know how many—committee members asked the ACC to provide a national picture of those outlaw motorcycle gang members who have committed murders or been involved in serious crime from state to state to give the committee members a picture of what is actually happening at a national level. Committee members asked the ACC for this information at meeting after meeting and it was never forthcoming.

In defence of the ACC are two very telling aspects. One is that there have been significant cutbacks to the ACC—22 per cent in its staff—and there is also the issue which I have spoken about numerous times: the seconded state members involved in investigations being sent home. So out of 150 it is down to 20. They do not really have enough members at the moment to organise a booze-up in the pub—I had another term, but I thought I would be very polite. That is a really sad state of affairs.

If you go to the Examination of the Australian Crime Commission’s annual report 2007-08 you see:

The Outlaw Motorcycle Gang National Intelligence Task Force (OMCG task force), which was Board-approved,—

that means by all the chief commissioners across the country—

… and formed under the High Risk Crime Groups special investigation determination, expired on 30 June 2008.

It was put together by the previous government 12 months earlier to target and find a national snapshot of what was actually happening with outlaw motorcycle gang members. The government should bow its head in shame because it actually disbanded this group. It is an absolute disgrace, and part of the reason the ACC no longer has members specifically looking at this. How can it supply that information? The annual report continues:

The ACC explained the rationale for the expansion of the Task Force’s jurisdiction:

This brought in these much broader linkages that we were seeing developing in the OMCG context.

If that were the case, I say to the ACC, ‘Why, under this new regime with your new task force, could you not provide the committee members with information about what was happening with the outlaw motorcycle gangs at a national level?’ The simple reason is that there have been government cutbacks on that.

I will give the Australian Crime Commission a huge plug now. The Australian Crime Commission’s Illicit Drug Data Report 2007-08 was absolutely brilliant. That is the sort of report the ACC can do, as opposed to looking at what happened with the OMCGs, because it was probably budgeted for and funded.

Another aspect I have great concerns about is what happens around the world when it comes to other countries dealing with organised and serious crime. I briefly talked about America. They have the Racketeering Influenced and Corruption Organizations Act, otherwise known as the RICO laws. They find this to be the best way to bring down the mafia. It does not work on anti-association laws; it works in reverse. It looks over a period of time and finds all the people working together. If it can be proved that there is a criminal enterprise network for the purpose of committing crimes within their association over a number of years, the law enforcement agencies use the RICO laws to target not the membership but those who have committed the crimes, and it then seizes their assets.

We can look at what happened in Canada. Throughout the 1990s in Quebec—and committee members heard this—they had major problems with the Hell’s Angels war. There were so many people killed. It was an awful state of affairs. They went after the Hell’s Angels with anti-association laws. Sadly, Canada now has a situation where their bill of rights allows freedom of association and they can no longer use the anti-association laws.

The committee recommended that the Australian government, in consultation with regional partners, give consideration to establishing an intelligence fusion centre in the Oceania region. I fully support this. The government talks about getting all of these countries to work together. The Australian Crime Commission’s 2007 annual report gave a huge plug to the Asian Collaborative Group on Local Precursor Control, the ACOG, which met in 2008 with 16 countries attending. But, sadly, the Australian government has removed the funding.

Finally to some good news. I congratulate all members on the unexplained wealth legislation. I see that the member for Werriwa is in the chamber. I know that he has been very passionate about this, as have the committee chair, Steve Hutchins, and Senator Parry and all the committee members. This is a fantastic way of going forward. When we talk about anti-association laws and targeting criminal gangs, the key point is to go after the money. As an ex-police officer, I know that is something we did not do in the past. We heard members of the Italian police say mafia members are happy to spend time in prison but it is their assets that they are greatly concerned about.

If we look at the Northern Territory and Western Australia, through the unexplained wealth legislation they have seized $40 million. There are great concerns, though—and I have a letter from the Australian Federal Police Association. We have to make sure the unexplained wealth legislation is going to be as tough as what everyone hopes, because at this stage it must be linked to a specific federal offence, which I have great concerns about. It is going to be very hard for police to prove that. By the time they have proven that it has a federal aspect, they may as well be charging the person. I believe this should be looked at in the context of persons who have criminal associations and unexplained wealth—basically, where their genuine income is greatly exaggerated. I commend the members of the committee for working together on what was a long inquiry.