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Thursday, 26 May 2005
Page: 6

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (9:27 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill demonstrates the government’s commitment to reduce the supply of illicit drugs by strengthening anti-drug laws.

In April 2002, leaders from all Australian jurisdictions made a commitment to implement model drug offences that were developed after nationwide consultation.

The Australian government is honouring that commitment. I encourage those states and territories that have not yet done so to do the same.

Our existing offences are mainly focused on preventing illicit drugs from crossing Australia’s border. The new offences will also apply to drug dealings within Australia.

To that extent, they will operate alongside state and territory offences to give more flexibility to law enforcement agencies. This approach will ensure there are no gaps between federal and state laws that can be exploited by drug cartels.

The bill will introduce new federal offences that focus specifically on the trade in precursor chemicals: the substances that can be used to manufacture pills and ‘designer drugs’.

In addition, the maximum penalty for manufacturing commercial quantities of pills and ‘designer drugs’ will be appropriately increased from 10 years imprisonment to life imprisonment.

The bill also provides important protection to children. People who use children to traffic in drugs will be subject to heavier penalties.

The bill also creates new offences that target those who harm children or endanger children by recklessly exposing them to the manufacture of illicit drugs.

The manufacture of illicit drugs in clandestine laboratories is of great concern to the Australian government because it involves volatile and toxic chemicals that are susceptible to fire and explosion, and pose significant health risks.

It is clear that these ‘backyard’ drug manufacture operations pose significant risks of harm to innocent bystanders, particularly children.

This bill sends a clear message that exposing children to the dangers of illicit drug manufacture will not be tolerated.

The reforms in this bill will better equip law enforcement agencies to target those who attempt to avoid liability for the most serious offences by fragmenting their commercial dealings in drugs.

Where a person has trafficked in relatively small quantities of drugs on a number of occasions within a seven-day period, the new laws will allow prosecutors to add those quantities together so the person can be prosecuted for a single offence involving the total quantity.

The bill will also make our drug laws more responsive to changes in the illicit drugs market by enabling dangerous new drugs and precursor chemicals to be quickly added to the list of illicit substances. In urgent cases, new substances will be able to be added to the list through a ministerial determination—a legislative instrument capable of being made within a matter of days.

One of the main objectives of this bill is to increase the uniformity of drug laws throughout Australia by implementing model drug offences. The next important step will be to achieve nationally consistent lists of drugs that the model offences can apply, and the quantities that trigger the different penalty tiers under the model offences.

The Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy has established a national working party to develop model lists of drugs and quantities to be adopted by all Australian jurisdictions. The lists of drugs and quantities in this bill will be reviewed when the recommendations of the working party become available.

Until that time, the lists of drugs and quantities that apply to the new federal offences focussing on drug dealings within Australia will be limited to a small number of common drugs.

Although the major focus of the bill is on drug offences, it also includes a number of other important legislative amendments.

Schedule 2 of the bill gives effect to an international obligation under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

It does this by criminalising the recruitment of children by non-government armed groups, and their use of children in hostilities.

Schedule 4 of the bill clarifies the scope of the functions of the Australian Federal Police in the current environment of increasingly globalised criminal activity and law enforcement responses.

These amendments confirm that the Australian Federal Police’s functions include assisting and cooperating with domestic and foreign law enforcement organisations and government regulatory and intelligence bodies, including in criminal investigations and major disaster situations.

The Australian Federal Police’s functions also include participation in international peace and stability operations and capacity-building missions.

Through this bill the government is playing an important leadership role by implementing model drug offences that must also be implemented by states and territories.

The enactment of the bill will encourage the remaining jurisdictions to complete their legislation and meet the challenge set by Mr Justice Williams in 1980 to achieve national consistency in this very significant area of the criminal law.

Drug abuse directly touches the lives of thousands of Australians and indirectly affects us all. It is essential that drug traffickers are met with a consistent and more sophisticated array of laws. I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Gavan O’Connor) adjourned.