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Tuesday, 24 November 1998
Page: 487

Senator DENMAN —My question is to the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Vanstone. Can the minister confirm claims made by the Institute of Chartered Accountants that Australia is losing up to $3.5 billion per year to fraud and is in danger of a fraud epidemic? Can the minister also confirm that the growth areas for fraud have been identified as credit cards, business fraud and money laundering, especially over the Internet? Further, can the minister confirm that the investigation of fraud is one of the principal areas that has been affected by the government's budget cuts? Will the government be taking this report seriously? What steps does the government propose to take to remedy the problem?

Senator VANSTONE (Justice and Customs) —I thank the senator for her question. No, Senator, the report of the Institute of Chartered Accountants does not immediately come to mind. An assessment of $3.5 billion of the cost of fraud would seem to me to be very light on; but that is an anecdotal assessment. I will have a look at what the report has to say about its assessment of $3.5 billion.

Fraud is an enormous cost to the Australian community and to federal, state and local governments. It is a very serious matter. It is part of the AFP's charter to look at fraud, as it is the charter of each of the state and territory police forces. It is not solely a Commonwealth matter, although it is a very important matter for the Commonwealth. Of course it would be true that as technology develops so do opportunities for crooks to undertake fraudulent activities. Credit cards, banking fraud and money laundering, especially using the net, are of course problems. If you want a copy of a book which has been recently released by the Institute of Criminology, Crime in the Digital Age, if you are interested in the new directions for law enforcement, then I can certainly provide you with a copy of that book and some other material in relation to this matter.

I assure you it is a matter of concern to the government. No, I do not accept that cuts to the AFP have occasioned a reduction in their effort in this respect. As I have indicated, in our first three years in government we have put more money into the Federal Police than your government put in in your last three years in government. So I find it difficult to say, `Yes, we've had these dramatic cuts.' As you know, we have put significant amounts of money in and we have targeted drugs, but that is the additional moneys. The AFP's commitment to combating fraud remains.

Senator DENMAN —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister reassure the Senate that the Commonwealth government will continue to have strict guidelines for the use of credit cards by its employees, unlike the Rafferty's rules which apply to the Victorian government where credit cards have become a licence to steal?

Senator VANSTONE (Justice and Customs) —Senator Denman invites me to make a comparison with another government. It is not my place to make that comparison. I do not know about other ministers but I know that I do not use a credit card. I think ministers in the previous government used them. My understanding is that this government has a practice where, if ministers need to purchase something as a consequence of their duties, they put in a claim, certify what it is for and are paid back. You invite me, Senator Denman, to make some inquiries about the practice of credit card charging under the previous government so that I can give you a good comparison.