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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7158

Mr HAYES (9:40 AM) —I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Canada, the United States, Italy, Austria, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands from 12 April to 3 May 2009, and I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Mr HAYES —I rise to speak to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission delegation report, because it is one that I would commend to each and every member of this House. The basis of the report was to look at international experiences of, and trends in, serious and organised crime and also the legislative responses to it being taken by other countries. We examined the legislative responses to organised crime in the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States, Canada and Italy, specifically its anti-Mafia response.

Perceptions count for a lot—they certainly do in politics. At the moment, people would not think that we have a significant issue with serious and organised crime in this country. Regrettably, sometimes perceptions are wrong and that can possibly lead to a lax response. One of the consistent things that we found during the course of the delegation was that, since the rise of global terrorism, the diversion of law enforcement resources into counterterrorism has been disproportionate to other areas, such as local policing. Local police agencies, aided by the requests of local political operatives, tend to want to concentrate on the immediate issues such as street and domestic based crimes. Without exception, every jurisdiction that we visited made the point that the difference between what proportion of resources is directed at domestic crime and what is directed at counterterrorism is significant. That void is there—but now it is being taken up as the incubator for serious and organised crime. When we came to power we were conscious of that. One of the electoral commitments that we made was for 500 extra policing positions in the AFP.

Mr Wood —Where are they?

Mr HAYES —I will address the issue raised by the member for La Trobe, who made a significant contribution to the compilation of this report. We wanted to look at matters concerning the development of serious and organised crime, and now we are required to face them. With the ever-increasing challenge that that presents, the delegation sought to capture and learn from the experiences of overseas countries in their attempts to address crime.

I would like to thank all those who contributed to the setting up of the delegation, particularly those who provided logistical support. I would also like to thank officers of the AFP, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Australian Crime Commission, the Attorney-General’s Department, the various parliamentary officers and particularly members of the committee secretariat. They include Dr Jacqueline Dewar, who heads the secretariat, Robyn Clough, Nina Boughey and Danielle Oldfield. I would also like to thank the leader of the delegation, Senator Steve Hutchins, the deputy leader, Senator Stephen Parry, and my parliamentary colleague the member for La Trobe, Mr Wood.

I think what we gained was probably more than what we expected from the outset. There were five main things that I would like to summarise, not so much recommendations but key findings, that followed from each of the discussions we had with law enforcement agencies. Firstly, there was following the money trail. Secondly, there was the need for information sharing and greater cooperation amongst law enforcement jurisdictions and other agencies within government and on an intergovernmental basis. Thirdly, there was the benefit of developing measures to prevent organised crime rather than simply reacting to it. Fourthly, there was the critical role that political will plays in combating serious and organised crime and, fifthly, there was the need for government to take a holistic approach in tackling the issue relating to not simply one piece of legislation but a suite of measures to address, on a community basis, serious and organised crime.

When we speak about the money trail I think it is best summarised by the head of the Italian National Police, Mr Raffaele Grassi, when he articulated his approach in respect to this. He said:

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

What he encapsulates there is addressing the business model that underpins crime. I know the member for La Trobe and I have had many conversations about this. One of the fallacies with criminal law at the moment is that we wait until a crime has been committed and then attempt to react to it and go through the normal legal and prosecutorial processes that follow.

One of the responsibilities we have to our communities—and this is what the overseas jurisdictions are now beginning to identify—is to disrupt crime and prevent it from occurring, and the way to do that is to address the business model that underpins criminal activity. That is what international jurisdictions are moving to do. Whilst our words are ‘following the money trail’, that is precisely what the jurisdictions are doing at the moment. In their opinion, it is not appropriate to simply concentrate law enforcement resources on the drug pushers on the streets and make arrests there—and they are the domestic element of organised criminal activity. Rather they address the business model that provides the criminals with their merchandise to peddle on our streets, to get to the importation of the drugs, to get to the massive syndicates, which across the country were described as being more ‘boardroom operations’ than our perception of a group of unshaven criminals sitting around plotting and scheming.

These are very, very sophisticated operations and, as a consequence, the money trail becomes very significant. What follows then is the issue of money-laundering. It is the basis of these illegal operations to ensure that whatever wealth has accumulated, however ill-gained, is then converted into legitimate means through various methods of money-laundering. These are the international experiences we found, that international jurisdictions are moving very solidly to attack the business model underpinning organised and serious crime in their respective countries.

Information sharing becomes very important. Fortunately we only have a very few jurisdictions—state and territory—as well as our federal AFP and the Australian Crime Commission. I think there are significant inroads being made to improve the levels of information sharing. I know this is something that the member for La Trobe has often commented on, having regard to his background with the Victorian police. I think that is something that we should take some solace from in terms of what we are doing and what we are doing well in that regard. From our experiences overseas, we know that we should not be taking our foot off the pedal. We should be not simply looking at the information sharing that emanates from our police or law enforcement jurisdictions but ensuring that we capture all the necessary information, particularly when it relates to the investing of moneys of criminals.

Whilst still talking about the issue of the money trail, one of the important pieces of legislative support is the looking at and addressing of unexplained wealth that is accumulated within the criminal community. It is something that was spearheaded in terms of the inter-Mafia policing operations in Italy and they certainly have an international aspect to reviewing the proceeds of crime.

The delegation were informed that, if we are to effectively dismantle the business models upon which these criminal operations are based, we need to look into unexplained wealth and take away the ability for reinvestment in further criminal activity. The delegation heard of the effectiveness of the UK’s approach reversing the onus of proof for civil assets forfeiture proceedings regarding those who have led a ‘criminal lifestyle’. This is designed to take away the incentive to invest in further criminal activity. It is about dismantling and disrupting criminal activity—not, as some of our colleagues in the legal profession have put to us as being the correct course of action, waiting until a crime has been committed and then proceeding to extract evidence with a view to mounting a prosecution. There is a responsibility, which has been acknowledged overseas, that we as legislators have to disrupt the commission of those crimes in the first place. That is what we need to do to protect society. That is probably not an approach that would sit very well with those in this House who have very strong views about civil liberties. It is not designed to placate others who are less so inclined.

Our findings were that activities overseas are very much based on doing what is necessary to address a situation which is now progressively getting worse. It has got worse since the increase in terrorism and it is getting worse with the sophistication and internationalisation of the criminal base. There is not one jurisdiction that we visited that said that they were on top of the issue. Each and every one of them is looking at suites of legislative and regulatory alternatives to position them to combat these developments. That is what we have attempted to focus on.

One further thing I would like to mention is the role of political will, something that has been referred to many times in this place and, believe it or not, something that was referred to in every jurisdiction we visited. The importance of political will was raised everywhere as being critical to driving both domestic and international responses to organised crime. The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime both discussed with us the lack of political will as being a significant impediment to the success of international collaboration on organised crime and emphasised that it was probably the sole inhibitor of a coordinated approach to fighting organised crime. Both organisations were very clear in our meetings with them that we should be making recommendations to this parliament that emphasise the need to demonstrate the political will to do these things.

It is for that reason I will briefly mention how pleased I was to see the Attorney-General yesterday introduce into the parliament the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill 2009, which will implement reforms to Commonwealth laws as part of a comprehensive national response to combat serious and organised crime. These reforms focus on confiscating the proceeds of crime while strengthening national law enforcement coordination and capability. The strategy is two-pronged: to remove the profitability of criminal activity and to increase the likelihood of criminals being caught. I cannot speak for all members of the Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission—although I think I would have a reasonable sense of their views upon reading this legislation—but this bill would be very close to what we would be making recommendations about. It certainly sits well with the best legislative responses we found internationally in terms of combating crime. I compliment the Attorney-General on introducing that legislation.

Finally, while the delegation formed many lasting impressions of the problems and the solutions in respect of serious and organised crime, the way forward was best articulated by Mr Antonia Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:

The political will of states is mightier than the greed and fire power of criminal groups. Working together does not mean surrendering sovereignty, it means defending it. So let us enforce the rule of law where uncivil society prevails.

I commend the report to the House. As I said, I do request that members take the time to read that report. I also compliment the contributions that have been made in the formulation of this report by my colleagues the member for La Trobe, Senator Parry and Senator Hutchins.