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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 5021

Senator HUTCHINS (4:01 PM) —I present the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission on its inquiry into the legislative arrangements to outlaw serious and organised crime groups, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator HUTCHINS —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate I shall ask the clerks to set the clocks accordingly.

Senator HUTCHINS —Thank you very much, Mr Deputy President. I will commence my remarks today by thanking a number of people. The first, of course, is my parliamentary colleagues, who have been of great assistance—and a number of them also of great knowledge. In fact, we have a number of people formerly of the law enforcement community in the committee. I think Senator Parry was a detective chief inspector. I am not sure what rank Mr Wood obtained in the other House. I would like to thank my colleague Mr Chris Hayes, who has exceptional knowledge of the law enforcement community.

As I said, there is a number of people to acknowledge. The assistance of the secretary, Dr Jaqueline Dewar, was invaluable. Her knowledge of the issues that we dealt with would only be surpassed by professional law enforcement intelligence officers. There is indeed a great respect for Dr Dewar and her contribution to the report. I would like to also thank Dr Robyn Clough, Mrs Nina Boughey, Ms Danielle Oldfield, my own staffer Chris Parkin and of course the many law enforcement agencies, lawyers, interested parties and ordinary people who came forward and made a contribution to this committee. I would also like to thank Monika Sheppard and Dr Richard Grant as well.

Madam Acting Deputy President, if you get an opportunity to read the report, I suggest you read it in conjunction with the report of the delegation that went to North America and Europe in April and May this year, because it does complement the report. The report is very prosaic, I might add—almost in the same way as a work of that great Scottish novelist Lewis Grassic Gibbon, who wrote in a similar fashion.

We were given a task some 17 months ago to look into what legislative arrangements we could suggest to combat serious and organised crime. I believe that, as a result of our inquiry, a number of views about the nature of serious and organised crime in Australia changed. They certainly did change for me. As the chairman I, and a number of others, had the opportunity to go to other law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions throughout the world. I also recently went on a study tour to three continents to talk to those law enforcement agencies on what might be the best way to combat serious and organised crime. The picture that comes through on serious and organised crime is that they are international networks, but they are loose; that most serious criminals are not criminals at all—they do not have a criminal record, they are involved in covert acts that make sure they do not get exposure, they adapt quickly, they are functional—and that there is no formal structure. We grappled with this in the committee report and we made seven recommendations. People will have to read the report to see exactly what our recommendations are. As I said, serious criminals adapt quickly and are very functional. We are dealing with intelligent people.

One of the things that came through time and time again from law enforcement agencies throughout the world was that that they found that the best method to deal with serious and organised crime was to target the asset rather than the person. Currently in Australia we have, in a number of jurisdictions, proceeds-of-crime legislation under which, if assets can be proven to have been raised through criminal activity, people can be deprived of them. But in our report—and the government has introduced into the House of Representatives legislation that will assist this—we have dealt with the situation of what is called ‘unexplained wealth’, where known people who are involved in criminal activity will have to explain their wealth, how they raised it. If they cannot then it will be forfeited and seized. We found from jurisdiction to jurisdiction throughout the world, and in our own country, that this was seen to be the most successful method by which to deprive criminals of their assets. Paragraph 5.6 on page 98 of the report states:

Mr Raffaele Grassi, from the Italian National Police, highlighted the importance of ‘going after the money’ and depriving criminal groups of their assets. He noted that:

“Mafia members are prepared to spend time in prison, but to take their assets is to really harm these individuals.”

When we went to the Guardia di Finanza in Rome one of the things that they were very proud to tell us about was that their flag flies over a huge complex, which is a seized asset, in a little town in southern Italy called Corleone. That is how they came to the conclusion, as have many law enforcement agencies, that that is one of the best ways to deal with and cripple organised crime.

Crime does involve huge profits. We heard in our inquiry about people importing amphetamines into this country. If they get one container out of three through it is worth the effort. We have seen the corruption of public officers and policemen in this country. But as far as the proceeds of crime is concerned, there are huge profits in it, and drugs and money laundering is the way it is happening, particularly with amphetamines at the moment. In their report for last year, the Australian Institute of Criminology said there had been a 260 per cent increase in arrests for amphetamines. We were told that in the Netherlands an ecstasy tablet costs €2 to €3 in mainland Europe, but you can get AU$20 to AU$30 here, which I think is about €15 to €16. So of course we are going to be targeted in this part of the world.

We have also been told that parents do not want to see needles sticking out of their children’s arms, so of course amphetamines and cocaine are being used more and more by people who are using drugs. In New South Wales last year there was a 58 per cent increase in arrests for people using cocaine.

These are the issues that the committee was confronted with. I hope that people will read the full report. There is one issue in there that a number of my colleagues have made an additional statement about and that is the issue of gang membership. I refer people to paragraphs 4.34 and 4.143 in the report. These deal with the issue of so-called bikies. The Australian Crime Commission was not all that interested in it—I might be using the wrong words about them, but they were not. Mr Justice Roberts-Smith from the Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission was not interested in it either. There are a number of reasons for this. Mainly because, as law enforcement agencies, they are well aware of how much effort has to be put in to try to prove that people are involved in gang membership.

The professionals said that one of the best ways to target serious and organised crime was to target the assets, and that is exactly what our government has done. In the last session of parliament we introduced a bill that goes a significant way towards that. It follows up on the Prime Minister’s National Security Statement of 4 December last year.

So we have the political will, but we also know that a lot of political will is needed in other parts of the world. The global financial crisis has had a tremendous effect on the stability of governments. They talk about failed states in west Africa, where they move from one to another. At the moment Equatorial Guinea is regarded as a haven for criminal activists on the west coast of Africa.

The committee has seen all of these things. There are seven recommendations in the report, which I urge all members to read and, as I said earlier, I also urge members to read the committee reports from North America and Europe. I would like to thank all of those people involved, particularly the secretariat and the secretary.