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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3321


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (17:56): It is a great pleasure to speak on this bill. The bill contains two separate measures. The first part of the bill implements recommendations that have been made by Joint Task Force Polaris and the parliamentary joint committee on law enforcement's report following its inquiry into the adequacy of aviation and maritime security measures to combat serious and organised crime. The second part of the bill will remove a prohibition on the Deputy Speaker of the House and the Deputy Speaker of the Senate being members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

I will speak about those measures shortly, although relatively briefly. However, I first want to touch on an issue that this bill covers, and that is the very serious issue of organised criminal activity on our wharves and at our airports. The opposition believes that law and order should be a significant national priority. Unfortunately the government does not share this view and they have systematically attacked Australia's law enforcement capabilities since they came to government. We have seen latterly a road to Damascus style version, where the Prime Minister certainly believes that law and order should be a significant national priority. She has gone out into Western Sydney with her minister and announced some measures that they are taking to involve the Commonwealth more in this area. Unfortunately the record of the Labor Party since they came to office has been to systematically attack and degrade the Commonwealth's law enforcement capabilities in a way that I want to outline before I move onto the actual substantive part of the bill.

It is unfortunate that the budget cuts that have been inflicted on our law enforcement and border enforcement agencies are going to have the result of giving criminals a better chance of getting guns and drugs onto our streets. This has been compounded thanks to the reduction in funding and personnel to law enforcement bodies such as the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police. This government has savaged Customs in particular, the agency tasked with stopping illegal goods flowing through our borders. Astonishingly, after a record of five budgets that have attacked the Commonwealth's law enforcement capability in every single Commonwealth law enforcement agency, we saw again last night the Labor Party attacking our law enforcement capabilities. They again savaged the Australian Crime Commission, Customs and the Australian Federal Police. Last night's budget confirmed what we already knew: that this government is not pulling its weight in this area. In fact, they have gone out of their way to systematically degrade the Commonwealth's ability to help states in their joint law and order responsibilities.

I will firstly deal with the police. Under the former coalition government the Australian Federal Police saw an increase in its staffing numbers from 2,000 to 6,000. But over the past three Labor budgets, including the one delivered last night, the Gillard government has axed a whopping $309 million from Australian Federal Police funding, at a time when we have violence and gun crime plaguing our streets. In the 2012-13 budget, Labor froze the use of the $58.3 million taken directly from criminals under the proceeds of crime laws to prop up its precarious budget position.

Before the Labor Party came to office in 2007, they had actually promised to increase AFP ranks by 500 operational AFP officers over five years, starting in January 2008. This commitment has not boosted AFP numbers in real terms, as there have been at least 249 AFP redundancies since the Labor Party came to office. Now, because of the budget cuts that have been inflicted on the Australian Federal Police, we in the opposition get anecdotal reports about the effect this is having on the ability of the AFP to do their job. There is no doubt that the cuts to the AFP are particularly hampering their ability to fight crime. We have heard of ludicrous things such as crime scene investigators being forced to bring their own notepads and pens to crime scenes. We are aware that our officers who are serving overseas, doing very difficult work on behalf of our country, are in line to have their pay cut. This is a sorry state of affairs for an agency that was at its peak under the Howard government. It has been stripped back to bare bones since the Labor Party came to office. This is particularly galling in an environment where government spending has been so dramatically increased over the past five years.

The Australian Federal Police is not the agency that has been worst-affected by the Labor Party's savage cuts. Organised crime, which is a significant problem all over the country, is supposed to be tackled by the Commonwealth's most powerful law enforcement agency, the Australian Crime Commission. Tackling organised crime requires resources, expertise and cooperation; yet the ACC has been systematically attacked by the Labor Party. Last night's budget revealed that Labor has cut another $29 million from the ACC's budget, and 198 staff have been cut from the agency since Labor came to office. The ACC is not a large agency in terms of numbers; yet, astonishingly, since the Labor Party came to office they have cut 40 per cent of their personnel. That is 40 per cent of the personnel of our most powerful law enforcement agency, yet the Prime Minister and her minister have the gall to pretend that they are interested in the Commonwealth's law enforcement capabilities. Fighting organised crime cannot be achieved when our most powerful crime-fighting agency has been so significantly downsized, and clearly it has been sidetracked from the main game.

The Labor Party's apathy and, indeed, outright hostility to Commonwealth law enforcement agencies has also significantly affected the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. Clearly the work of this agency goes hand in hand with the work of other law enforcement agencies. Customs have a very important role to play in stopping illegal goods, such as guns and drugs, from crossing through our ports and airports and arriving on our streets. At the moment it is very difficult for them to do that job properly. They are plagued by instances of corruption, and cuts to the ability of Customs to screen cargo—to the tune of $58 million since the Labor Party came to office—have given organised criminal syndicates a leg-up in their ability to bring contraband into Australia. It has taken the Labor Party a long time to admit that there are cases of corruption within Customs. This government simply does not subscribe to the tenet of a strong law enforcement regime and a strong border protection system.

I was astonished last night when I was going through the budget papers to see that Customs has been dealt yet another blow—another $61.4 million cut to their overall budget and another 120 staff stripped from the agency at a time when they are already stretched beyond capacity due to previous budget cuts and also Labor's self-induced border protection crisis. Customs is not a particularly large agency. At its peak under the Howard government, it had about 5,800 people. Since the Labor Party came to office they have slashed 870 personnel from Customs, and those cuts are having a very savage impact on the ability of that agency to do what we expect it to do, which is to protect our borders. Customs is very much a victim of the Labor Party's fiscal mismanagement.

Given the fact that the Labor Party have such a dismal record on the Commonwealth's law enforcement capability, that is the background that we must take into consideration when we consider the measures that are contained within this bill. They are sensible measures, but, unfortunately, they come against the backdrop of the fact that the Labor Party has shown apathy and complete disregard for the ability of the Commonwealth to do its bit to fight crime in Australia.

I want to outline the key measures contained within this bill, which aims to strengthen security at our wharves and at our airports. The bill will amend the Customs Act 1901 to: include tests used to determine whether a person is 'fit and proper' to hold an ASIC or MSIC, the passes that control access to the secure environments at our airports and at our ports; impose new obligations on cargo terminal operators and cargo handlers, and provide powers to monitor and enforce compliance with those obligations; insert new offences relating to the misuse of customs information; enable the details of an infringement notice scheme to be set out in regulations; apply strict liability to several existing offences and increase penalties for a range of existing strict liability offences; and make a range of other minor changes to the Customs Act. The bill will also amend the AusCheck Act 2007 to allow a person's ASIC or MSIC, or their application for such a card, to be suspended if the person has been charged with a 'serious offence'. It will also enable the AusCheck scheme to make provision for background checks to determine whether an individual has been charged with a serious offence, or whether a charge for a serious offence has been resolved in relation to the individual.

The second aspect to the bill—and this is entirely unrelated, yet it has been added on—relates to an amendment to the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006. This amendment will make the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Deputy President and Chair of Committees of the Senate eligible for appointment to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. This has been drawn to my attention by the Deputy President of the Senate, who, despite the fact that they have been subsequently deemed ineligible because of an oversight at reading the provisions of the existing act, has for many years actually been doing very good work on this committee, until it came to the committee secretariat's attention that they were not eligible to sit on it. The rationale for that is not clear, and subsequently the government moved, sensibly in this case, to ensure that that anomaly is addressed, and I thank them for doing so. This will allow Senator Parry, who is the Deputy President of the Senate, to continue his work on this committee. He has done very exceptional work on the combined law enforcement committee of the parliament. In conjunction with his counterparts in the government, that committee does exceptionally good work. Indeed, some of the recommendations contained within this bill are a direct result of the deliberations of the law enforcement committee. So I thank the government for the speedy resolution to this matter, which is clearly just a rather strange anomaly.

This bill will implement a range of measures that are designed to better protect Australia's cargo supply chain from infiltration by organised crime and also increase the efficiency of the customs penalty regime. It is unfortunate that the process of implementing these measures has taken longer than it should have, particularly given that the parliamentary joint committee's report that I referred to earlier was released in June 2011. It has not quite been explained why it has taken the government so long to respond to what was an excellent report from that committee. The recommendations of Task Force Polaris—the minister has eluded many times to the good that they have done—were handed down over a year ago. Clearly, if the minister were to add more meat to the rhetoric of being serious about tackling organised crime, he would have sought to implement these recommendations sooner. He would have done a far better job of protecting the agencies that are under his control from the savagery of the budget cuts that the Labor Party has inflicted on them, including, astonishingly, further cuts that were revealed last night.

Despite the failure of the Labor Party to protect the agencies that this bill affects, the coalition does support the measures contained within the bill to strengthen powers of those agencies to regulate the aviation and maritime security environment in this country. So this bill enjoys the support of the opposition, although we do so while noting the fact that the Commonwealth law enforcement capabilities have been savagely attacked by the Labor Party. If they were serious about law and order issues, they would ensure that the Commonwealth law enforcement agencies were properly resourced—sadly, something that is not happening at the moment.