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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4215

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (16:49): I rise to speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011. This bill contains amendments that go some way towards assisting the fight against serious and organised crime and ensuring the integrity of our law enforcement processes. The coalition supports this bill and measures to combat serious corruption in our federal law enforcement agencies, although we do so noting that Australia and our agencies remain steadfastly, in almost all circumstances, corruption free and that Australia ranks very low on any international scale of countries suffering from corruption. The culture of our government is certainly one that discourages this sort of behaviour, as opposed to many other countries in the world where, very sadly, corruption is endemic to the way that government operates.

I will turn, firstly, to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which investigates law enforcement related corruption issues and focuses on systemic and serious corruption. As it stands, ACLEI's role is to detect, investigate and prevent corruption specifically in the Australian Crime Commission and in the Australian Federal Police. As mentioned in the report of the parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity on its inquiry into the operation of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006, ACLEI is currently restricted to dealing with corruption issues relating to an agency's law enforcement function. The committee reported that law enforcement is particularly vulnerable to corruption because information about detection and investigation methods makes it an attractive target for infiltration by organised crime and that law enforcement powers or functions present opportunities to support or protect criminal activity.

During the committee's inquiry, we heard from the Integrity Commissioner, Mr Philip Moss, who in speaking about the agencies with the highest corruption risk profile, said:

The agencies with a law enforcement function that come to mind as the obvious ones would be, in no particular order, the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. Of those three, my own focus would tend towards the last, Customs and Border Protection, for a number of reasons.

ACLEI presented evidence to the committee that Customs presents the greatest inherent corruption risk of those agencies listed which are not already subject to ACLEI's jurisdiction. Mr Michael Carmody, the CEO of Customs, noted to the committee the value of external oversight and acknowledged of corruption risks of his agency. He said:

Notwithstanding the actions we have taken to ensure that we have an appropriate internal affairs unit and the action is taken in conjunction with the Australian Federal police … I always find advantage in something independent of the organisation being there to reinforce and assist.

He went on to say:

… Given the seriousness of the duties that we perform and given, at the top end of the scale, the risk that there could be criminal elements who would like to compromise officers, we would benefit from having a level of external involvement.

The Integrity Commissioner pointed out that Customs is indeed a law enforcement agency and outlined the inherent corruption risks. He specifically said:

… It is a decentralised agency, with officers having a high degree of discretion and autonomy in those decentralised locations. Customs protects the border in many ways and, of course, the increase in corruption risk goes right up in that context. Customs and Border Protection would be attractive to organised crime—and, in saying, 'organised crime', I also say to you 'transnational organised crime'—who have an interest in breaching the border …

The other phenomenon that is occurring in this area is that Customs is pushing protection of the borders offshore into countries where corruption is sometimes part of an accepted business practice.

As a result of the various submissions and evidence, the committee made the recommendation that Customs be brought under ACLEI's jurisdiction, by regulation, on a whole-of-agency basis. Whilst it is important to ensure that any possible corruption within Customs is addressed with the utmost seriousness and stamped out before it takes a firm footing, it is also important on our side of the House to acknowledge the good work that the customs agency does in very difficult circumstances. Since August 2008, Customs has been forced to deploy vast resources in our northern waters in order to cope with the flood of illegal boat arrivals we have seen since the rolling back of the coalition's strong and successful border protection regime. Due to Labor's mismanagement of our borders, there have been 227 illegal boat arrivals, carrying over 11,000 people. This year alone, we have seen 24 boat arrivals, carrying over 1,400 people to our shores. Customs does an extraordinary job not only in its border protection efforts but also with its mainstream customs duties at Australian ports and airports. The men and women at Customs are truly at the front line in protecting Australia's borders and deserve to be properly resourced for the task that they are expected to do. However, the Labor government have done exactly the opposite. They have slashed funding to Customs at a time when they need it most. Among the vast array of cuts to Australia's national security agencies was a $9.3 million cut to the budget of the Australian Customs and Border Protection command. Labor have also axed a further 90 staff from Customs on top of the 250 cut in the previous year's budget. To improve the government's bottom line, they have slashed $34 million from Customs in their passenger facilitation function at Australian and international airports. These funding cuts will put immense pressure on our front-line border protection agencies, particularly Customs, who are already struggling to do more with fewer resources under this incompetent government.

Going back to the 2009-10 budget, Labor cut funding to Customs for cargo screening by a staggering $58.1 million. The Gillard Labor government has not reinstated these slashed funds despite the disastrous consequences for our screening regime. This cut to screening by the Labor government reduced the number of potential sea cargo inspections by 25 per cent. Labor's cut also resulted in a staggering 75 per cent reduction of air cargo inspections. In the recent Customs annual report, it was revealed that only 4.3 per cent of sea cargo is X-rayed and only 0.6 per cent of sea cargo is physically examined. This means that 95.7 per cent of all sea cargo consignments coming into the country are not X-rayed. Unfortunately, under a Labor government, those cuts to Customs cargo-screening measures will mean that more drugs will flow through onto our streets and these cuts will enhance the ability of organised criminal syndicates to thrive.

With the security at our ports and airports at an all-time low under federal Labor, now is not the time for these further cuts announced in the recent budget that are therefore creating greater opportunities for organised crime and criminal gangs. I would also note that the coalition has committed to restoring that funding to Customs and therefore restoring the ability of Customs to do its job at our borders.

It has been estimated that organised crime costs the Australian community between $10 billion and $15 billion per year. Organised criminal syndicates have become more businesslike in their approach to laundering money and acquiring assets. The Australian Federal Police website notes that the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 provides a scheme to trace, restrain and confiscate the proceeds of crime against Commonwealth law. One of the important aspects of the act is that it provides a mechanism to allow confiscated funds to be given back to the Australian community in an endeavour to prevent and reduce the harmful effects of crime in Australia.

The bill's explanatory memorandum notes in relation to the proceeds of crime amendment that in August of 2009 the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission recommended that the Australian government examine an integrated model of asset recovery in which investigation and prosecution would be undertaken within one agency. Part 1 schedule 2 will amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to assist the operation of the new Australian Federal Police Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce by allowing the commissioner of the AFP to apply the powers and functions pertaining to confiscation litigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act, currently exercised by the DPP alone, and enabling the commissioners of the AFP and the DPP to transfer matters already commenced between themselves.

Other matters that this bill relates to include amending the Family Law Act 1975 to reflect the commissioner's new powers and to enable state and territory proceeds of crime orders and forfeiture applications to be taken into account in property settlements and spouse maintenance proceedings, in the same manner as Commonwealth proceeds of crime audit and forfeiture applications. The other notable amendments in this bill are the two key amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act in part 2 of schedule 2 to enhance the effectiveness of criminal asset confiscation, investigations and litigation. These amendments will amend the definition of 'property tracking document' to ensure that a magistrate can issue a production order for documents pertinent to identifying, locating and quantifying property which forms part of the wealth of a person, and improve interaction between the collection of tax related liabilities and proceeds of crime proceedings. In conclusion, serious and organised crime not only results in substantial economic cost to the Australian community but also operates at great social cost. Organised crime can threaten the integrity of political and other public institutional systems through the infiltration of these systems and the subsequent corruption of public officials. Consequently, this undermines public confidence in those institutions and impedes the delivery of good government services, law enforcement and justice.

As I noted at the outset, the Australian government and Australian government agencies are remarkably corruption free and we certainly do not notice any increase in that. But that does not mean that we should not always be vigilant to the possibility of minor incidents of corruption occurring. Therefore, the coalition does support the passage of this bill through the House.