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Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Page: 11143

Mr HUNT (7:39 PM) —In addressing the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill 2009, let us start with the problem. The problem is that organised crime still exists on a grand scale within Australia. It takes the form of drugs, prostitution, standover work and illicit and illegal gambling. It is, in short, a blight and a cancer—an illness—upon our society. As a parliament which by world standards has had a remarkably unblemished record of corruption and engagement with criminal activity, we have a duty to ensure that the standards we set will help protect and preserve community life, economic life and public safety and order over the coming decade and generation.

I want to reflect briefly on the fact that of course there have been individual cases within the Australian parliament over the last century of improper activity, but we have a parliament of which we should be proud on both sides of this House. There is an almost unique level of probity which exists and resides in the Parliament of Australia. It is something of which we should be proud, it is something to which we should be committed and it is something which we must hand on to future generations. From the sanctity and strength of probity measures within this House we are thereby able to establish a platform and a base to reach out to broader society.

Because the nature of crime has moved from state based activity to national and international activity over the last three decades, we must focus on organised crime at the national and international levels. I strongly support the intention of the measures contained within this bill. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime Bill) 2009 essentially seeks to achieve four principal outcomes. Firstly, there is the strengthening of criminal asset confiscation and targeting of unexplained wealth, dealt with by provisions into which I will delve in more detail shortly. It is an important means of addressing hardcore criminal activity on an organised basis which seeks to avoid lawful detection. It is, as we have seen in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, an important tool. Secondly, there is the enhancement of police powers to investigate organised crime by implementing model laws for controlled operations, assumed identities and witness identity protection. Thirdly, the joint commission of criminal offences is addressed. Fourthly, greater access to telecommunications interception for criminal organisation offences is facilitated.

These are all desirable goals in the fight against organised crime and systemic corruption. They are, however, subject to two key factors, in my view. Firstly, when we set out additional powers there must be safeguards against abuse. We must be the guardians of the guardians. That is the lesson of history not just in Australia but throughout the world. There are numerous examples where significant powers can be misused by a very small number of individuals. That is not the practice or the history in Australia, although of course there are individual examples, but it is the temptation and therefore we must ensure that adequate safeguards are established. To that effect, in good faith, opposition senators in the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which examined this bill, set out a series of concerns—firstly, in relation to an appropriate head of power for this law. We would like to see appropriate guarantees. Secondly, in relation to the trigger for an unexplained wealth order, we would like to see strong consideration either of the standard for the trigger or of the standard of proof once an investigation has been made and a charge has been brought. Thirdly, we have concerns in relation to the Australian Federal Police being empowered to apply for a restraining order under the unexplained wealth provisions. We would like to see that the orders may be required in circumstances of great urgency to prevent the dispersal of assets, and we would like this power of a restraining order to be readily available. It is less invasive than a general explained wealth order and more easily reversed. We think that this is an important tool. Fourthly, we have issues in relation to the disclosure of information, which have been set out by others in greater detail.

The general provision is strong support for the concepts contained within this legislation. The duty of this parliament is to ensure that the intent, force and capacity of the Australian Federal Police and of other agencies involved are in no way diminished by the safeguards we put in place. But it is very important that the democratic balance is struck so that the laws cannot be used by the very small number of people who may seek to abuse their position as guardians at some future time. I do not say this is inevitable, I do not say this is likely but I do say that always in giving power it must not be unfettered power; it must be power which is itself subject to review. That is our task, that is our role, that is our duty and that is our responsibility. We want to work in good faith with the government. We want to ensure that there are adequate safeguards and that this in turn will allow us to take clear steps forward to strike at the cancer of organised crime.

The other area on which I believe there is scope for amendment is in a very different direction. It is not directly in this bill but it is in relation to the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill (No. 2) 2009 in its mooted form. This is a personal view which I set out—it has not been adopted at this point by the coalition party room. I would like to see one of the penalties significantly strengthened. I would like to see the penalty which is set out in that bill for bribery of public officials strengthened from what I believe is 10 years to a 15-year maximum penalty—a tougher provision, a tougher sentencing arrangement where there is bribery of public officials as part of an organised crime syndicate or in the practice of organised crime. I believe that is something which is significant and which profoundly strikes at the reliability of our systems. I should like to see that these penalties are strengthened, both for those seeking to carry out the bribery and for those who are found guilty of accepting a bribe. I think on each side anybody engaged in bribery of public officials or any public official who receives a bribe should be subject to heavy penalties. That is related, it flows from the intent, it flows from the force, it flows from the direction of this legislation and in my personal view it would add to, enhance and strengthen that which is proposed here. It will put people on watch all around the country that this parliament is serious about brooking no breach of public accountability standards. However, this is not coalition policy; it is a personal view which I put forward for tougher penalties on bribery of public officials, whether it is those doing it as part of an organised crime process or those who succumb to the temptation of accepting a bribe.

The general intent of bringing forth legislation which is comparable to that in place in the Northern Territory and Western Australia for the use of unexplained wealth provisions to deal with organised crime—whether it is a traditional crime syndicate, a bikie syndicate or some other form of organised crime—is a very strong measure. I strongly, deeply and passionately support the general direction of the legislation. I commend Senator George Brandis and my very good friend the member for La Trobe, Jason Wood, for their commitment to this legislation and for ensuring that there is a balance of safeguards and toughness. It is responsible if we can ensure that there are safeguards. I want to see this legislation passed, I would like the government to take our advice in good faith. I say to my friend Jason Wood, who cannot speak this evening because of illness, that your work has been recognised. We will stand for, fight for and pursue the provisions which will give us the capacity to take on the organised crime that you faced as a member of the Victoria Police. We will ensure that the sort of thing which hurts mums and dads, shopkeepers, people who seek to live a peaceful life in good order is dealt with and that these organised crime syndicates are ultimately crushed.

For those reasons I support the intent of the legislation. I hope we can reach an accommodation with the government in the Senate. I believe that we will be able to do that and I would like to see us work together as a parliament to eradicate forever the prospect of organised crime or of any bribery of public officials.