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Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Page: 11151

Mr HALE (8:17 PM) —It is with a great deal of pleasure that I rise tonight to voice my support for the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill 2009. This bill is yet another example of the government’s commitment to making Australia safer and to addressing the problems that we have with organised crime. The key elements of this bill will implement legislative aspects of the national response to organised crime that were not implemented by the first serious and organised crime bill. This bill will introduce additional measures to strengthen existing laws to more effectively prevent, investigate and prosecute organised crime activity and target the proceeds of organised criminal groups.

The bill will see practical reforms in six areas. The bill will introduce new offences that will target persons involved in organised crime and facilitate greater access to telecommunications interception for the investigation of new serious and organised crime offences. The bill will improve offences against money laundering, bribery and drug importation. The bill will enhance search and seizure powers and the ability of law enforcement to access data from electronic equipment. Importantly, the bill will strengthen criminal asset confiscation and anti-money-laundering laws. It will also improve the operation and accountability of the Australian Crime Commission. Lastly, the bill will improve the operation of the National Witness Protection Program, increasing protection for current and former participants and officers involved in its operation.

The ringleaders of organised crime syndicates often target very vulnerable people to assist them in criminal activities. The traffickers of drugs often use desperate people as mules and this bill will see improved prosecution of organised crime through new criminal organisation offences and enhanced money-laundering, bribery and drug importation offences. Like most Australians, the only exposure I have had to organised crime is what I have read in the newspapers or what I have seen on television. I am sure we have all seen TV shows such as Border Security and the like. I am not sure how close it was to the truth but the Underbelly series definitely exposed a side of Australia I never knew existed. As a father, an uncle and a friend to many teenagers, I often worry about younger kids who are exposed to the social scene of today where, unfortunately, drugs are available and organised crime is happening. This bill will help the agencies fighting this sad reality at the coalface.

A good friend of mine, Les Twentyman, whom you would know, Madam Deputy Speaker, who runs the charity the 20th Man in Melbourne, has often had to deal with the shattered lives of kids, many as a result of drug addiction. Sadly, I have heard today that in Gove in the Northern Territory a 19-year-old has passed away from a drug overdose in the last 24 hours. I visited Footscray with Les about 12 months ago and sat and spoke to three young heroin addicts in the Footscray mall and it showed me just how close to home this really is. At the time Les was working for another organisation and when we went into their facilities we saw a shrine up on the wall of all the people that had died of drug overdoses during Les’s time with this organisation. A lot of the photos just looked like family photos that all of us would have on the wall at home. There were a lot of young Asian students and a lot of people from different ethnic backgrounds, but there was certainly a good sprinkling, unfortunately, of Caucasian Australian kids, both female and male. It was just like walking into any house in Australia and seeing pictures on the wall. It really drove home to me as the father of five children the things that are going to confront them as they move on in their lives, where these drugs are coming from and how we as a society are going to combat them.

I think these types of laws will continue to be revisited, because it is really important that we continue to give the people who are making progress in regard to these crimes, in particular our drug and law enforcement agencies, the powers that let them do their jobs properly. So I do not think that this will be the last time that members get to speak on these types of laws. There is no doubt that the criminals will not sit back and just accept the changes to the law and the new laws that we want to introduce to make a safer society. They will certainly be working hard to tweak their business in order to make detection harder.

Serious and organised crime are involved in illegal business. There are bosses, middlemen and distributors, and they all profit from illegal activities, leaving a trail of carnage in their wake. This bill will provide stronger investigative and criminal asset confiscation powers to assist in the detection and disruption of organised crime activity.

Australian law enforcement agencies, in all jurisdictions, do a fantastic job. The Northern Territory, as has been mentioned in this debate, have introduced very strong laws in regard to the confiscation of assets that are unexplained wealth, if you like. As a press release from the Chief Minister reads:

The Territory Government continues to crack down on crime with the seizure and auction of a three-bedroom house bought from the proceeds of criminal activity.

The Chief Minister Paul Henderson said the three-bedroom two-storey Karama house—valued at more than $500,000—was seized under the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act last year.

 “This sends a strong message—if you engage in criminal behaviour, we will hit you where it hurts and you’ll lose your house, your cars and your boat,” Mr Henderson said.

“The Territory Government’s tough on crime package continues to deliver real results with more than $13 million in cash and property seized since 2002.

“The 3-bedroom house was seized last year along with vehicles and other household property valued at $97,690 as part of a 3-year police investigation.

The resourcing of police is very important. Certainly, the new police station at Casuarina has been very well received by the police force. It is bigger, it allows for greater communication and it has better areas for detectives to do their work—all very important in combating organised crime. The press release from the NT Chief Minister continued:

 “All the items seized were under the control of a 47-year-old unemployed male. All the assets were in the names of family members.

The laws up in the Northern Territory gave the police the ability to seize this property and to make sure that the person engaged in this activity did not benefit at all, nor did his family, from the illegal activities that he was engaged in. The press release continued:

The house is the fourth in Darwin to be seized and sold under the Criminal Property Forfeiture Act.

The vehicles, which include a ute, van and sedan, will be auctioned off at a later date.

Mr Henderson said the Territory Government is also strengthening its tough on crime package with last week’s introduction of the Serious Crime Control Bill aimed at cracking down on bikie gangs and other organised crime.

“The safety of the community is a top priority for this Government and we don’t want criminal gangs fleeing other states and coming here,” he said.

So they are really making a difference up there at the Northern Territory, with some of the laws that the Chief Minister and the legislative assembly have been passing in this area.

This bill will enhance Commonwealth search and seizure powers to enable the proper investigation of offences which cross jurisdictional boundaries and ensure that law enforcement agencies’ powers to access and search electronic equipment keep pace with technological advancements by enhancing their ability to access data from electronic equipment.

As the Prime Minister of Australia said in the first national security statement to the parliament in December last year, serious and organised crime, as an ever-present threat to the safety and prosperity of Australians and a challenge to the integrity of our institutions, is as important as any other security threat, with an estimated cost in excess of $10 billion per year. Crime is increasingly sophisticated and transnational.

This bill will help the members of our law enforcement agencies better fight serious and organised crime by making it harder for criminals to profit from their crimes, as well as bringing the perpetrators of organised crime to justice. I commend the bill to the House.