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Monday, 29 October 2012
Page: 12389


Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (16:14): I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution today on the Law Enforcement Integrity Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. This legislation is of particular interest to me due to my membership of the Parliamentary Joint Committee into the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, or ACLEI, and my background in the Australian Federal Police and also the military police. The purpose of this amendment legislation is to add three new aspects to the act. It introduces targeted integrity testing for staff members of the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Officers suspected of corrupt conduct. It increases the jurisdiction of ACLEI to include CrimTrac, AUSTRAC and prescribed staff of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Also, it enhances the powers of the CEO of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to deal with suspected corrupt conduct and to bring those powers into line with the powers currently available to the AFP commissioner and the Australian Crime Commission's CEO.

I have great confidence in the professional standards of the AFP, the Crime Commission and Customs and the ability of ACLEI to control and to be appropriately involved in integrity testing on behalf of and together with those agencies. Given this, I do not think that we have a significant problem in this country but the reality is that where there is information about crime, drugs and government and defence contracts there will always be the opportunity for someone to make money by acquiring that information.

I will start with the integrity testing component of this legislation, which I note was recommended by the parliamentary committee on 21 November 2011. While the majority of Commonwealth law enforcement officers are trustworthy, honest people who take their role of protecting our community seriously, it is a reality that criminals will target law enforcement officers. That is largely due to their access to sensitive information. So there will always be someone who will try to reach out to officers of the Commonwealth to try to subvert them and get them to acquire information for them. Obviously, no-one joins the Public Service or a law enforcement agency such as the AFP with the intention to become wealthy or to seek out opportunities for corruption, but the trouble is there are times when frustration and other pressures might lead somebody to become vulnerable in their employment and it is then that they might be subject to being subverted by criminals.

Corruption can occur in many forms, including improper association, a conflict of interest, abuse of office or power, fabrication of or destruction of evidence, inappropriate disclosure of information, theft and fraud. While not all of these kinds of corruption are illegal, they still have the power to undermine the integrity of the Commonwealth law enforcement agencies and their employees. The definition of integrity testing, according to the Attorney General's Department, is this:

… integrity testing refers to the act of covertly placing an officer in a simulated situation designed to test whether they will respond in a manner that is illegal, unethical or otherwise in contravention of the required standard of integrity. The test must provide the subject with an equal opportunity to pass or fail the test. Depending on its severity, the consequences of failing integrity tests can include disciplinary action, termination of employment or criminal charges.

The joint committee's inquiry received a number of submissions and heard evidence directly from those involved or those who are or will be affected by integrity testing. During hearings, we heard about the classic or baseline integrity test which usually involves a scenario of a lost wallet being handed in to a particular officer and a check to see whether that officer then follows the correct procedures. That is without doubt an example of the baseline of integrity testing. However, throughout the inquiry process the committee truly embraced integrity testing as we moved through our examinations of the Commonwealth law enforcement environment. Employees in this area are exposed to information about criminal matters and a range of other things. Criminal organisations such as bikie gangs would see great value in trying to subvert an officer of the Crown within one of these agencies to try and acquire information from them. It is particularly in the area of information security that integrity testing is going to be required in the future. It is my belief that any person who has the opportunity to access information should, under the right circumstances, have their integrity tested. The Joint Committee on the ACLEI was very fond of the notion of targeted integrity testing, which is when there is reason to look at a person's behaviour and to place in front of them opportunities to make that positive or negative decision. Targeted integrity testing is certainly what the committee was most keen on.

In evidence provided to the inquiry, a number of issues regarding integrity testing were raised, including the associated cost, the impact on morale, legal issues such as inducement, and the effectiveness of integrity testing as a measure of integrity. In reference to the cost, the introduction of integrity testing and enhanced power for the CEO of Customs to deal with corruption will have no financial impact, as the agencies will meet costs from within their existing budgets. It was proposed that ACLEI be provided with additional funding of $1.5 million over two years to support that expanded jurisdiction.

I reiterate that I have great confidence in the professional standards of the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission, and Customs, and in the ability of ACLEI to control and be appropriately involved in integrity testing on behalf of and together with those agencies. I do not think that we have a significant problem in this country, but the reality is that where there is information about crimes, drugs, the government and defence contracts, where there is money to be made, there will always be someone who will try to seek that information and thereby gain financial reward. People will always try to reach out to officers of the Commonwealth to try to subvert them and get them to acquire the information for them. That is why we need to have this integrity measures in place—to make sure that action can be taken when there is suspicion of such actions. Similarly, the coalition firmly believe that there should be zero tolerance of corruption in the public sector and we urge the government to take steps towards eradicating such corruption, which undermines the integrity of our agencies in achieving their missions to protect our communities and our borders.

The coalition support this bill in principle; however, we reserve the right to move amendments in the Senate, pending the recommendations of the Senate committee when they hand down their report.