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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11718

Mr PERRETT (6:13 PM) —Could I begin by commending the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change on the passage of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme through the House. But we move on from that slow, deadly, creeping crime perpetrated on the environment by humanity to another type of crime.

I am pleased to speak in support of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill (No. 2) 2009. When we talk about organised crime we are not talking about small-time, petty criminals out to make a quick buck but serious, systematic career criminals intent on making large amounts of money from crime. If you know your literature, Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom—and I know you do—we are talking about the Fagins rather than the Oliver Twists.

The main focus of organised crime remains illicit drugs, but these groups also dabble in fraud and financial crime, firearms trafficking and intellectual property crime. In fact, the Australian Crime Commission estimates organised crime costs Australia more than $10 billion a year as well as significant social harms that are perpetrated on individuals and communities. In their report Organised crime in Australia, the commission says organised crime groups: (1) are transnational; (2) operate in two or more regions; (3) are in multiple crime markets; (4) are engaged in illicit drugs, fraud or money laundering; (5) intermingle legitimate and criminal enterprises; (6) withstand disruption; and (7) use new technologies. Their innovation would be commendable except that the consequences are so horrific.

We have also seen organised crime operating through rogue bikie gangs. I hasten to add that it is not all bikies; just an errant few, unfortunately. For example, in March this year one man died when rival bikie gangs slugged it out at Sydney airport. A number of shootings and retaliations then followed, with more crimes perpetrated. As I understand it, a complex history of positioning and power plays in the bikie gangs led up to these violent acts. Apart from the violence which erupts between rival rogue gangs, there are also known links between bikie gangs, the illicit drug trade and other organised crimes. The Australian Crime Commission in March this year said bikie gangs:

… represent a real and present danger to the Australian community. There are approximately 39 active outlaw motorcycle gangs in Australia with more than 3300 ‘patched’ members.

Bikie gangs:

… remain a visible criminal threat and … have developed a strong presence in many illicit markets throughout Australia, maintain strong and complex criminal networks and remain highly functional despite ongoing targeting.

In response to this danger the bill before the House will beef up laws to help our authorities better prevent, investigate and prosecute organised crime in Australia. It introduces new criminal organisation and association offences. These amendments are based on resolutions agreed by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, SCAG, in April and August this year. Associating with persons involved in organised criminal activity or with those who direct, support or commit crimes for a criminal organisation will become an offence. Law enforcement agencies will also gain greater access to telecommunications interception powers to help investigate these new offences. Criminal laws generally punish crimes perpetrated by individuals but this area of participation in a criminal organisation is more of a grey area. South Australia—at the forefront in this law like they have been in so many other forms of legislation—and New South Wales already have laws that criminalise participation in criminal groups. There is also obviously strong agreement between all attorneys-general that we have to do more to police these criminal organisations. And I believe we must respond to the serious crimes we saw between those gangs in Sydney at the airport and afterwards, and later at the Gold Coast, for the sake of safety in our community.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to a former Howard government minister and former Liberal member for Moreton who apparently does not share this view. I heard him tell some of his 4BC listeners a few weeks back that he thought Anna Bligh, the Premier of Queensland, was unfairly targeting bikie gangs by bringing in similar legislation to that in South Australia and New South Wales. He continued his rabid, myopic, anti-Labor ranting, even though it is two years since he was shown to be out of touch with his electorate on election night 2007. It was rather strange for me to hear him air such views on 4BC and, hopefully, his listeners do not agree with him.

This bill before the House will boost powers to investigate and prosecute money laundering, bribery and drug importation offences. The amendments extend the scope and geographical limits of the Commonwealth’s authority in relation to money-laundering offences. Penalties will be increased for bribing a Commonwealth or foreign public official. And the definition of ‘import’ will be extended to include dealing with a substance in connection with its importation.

The bill also contains some practical amendments to improve cooperation between jurisdictions. Materials seized under search and document production powers in the Crimes Act 1914 will be able to be shared between the Commonwealth, states and territories as well as with foreign law enforcement agencies. As I said previously, organised crime groups operate across jurisdictions, so these amendments are necessary to ensure our law enforcement agencies can work together to combat crime in a global environment. They will ensure agencies can access and search data from electronic equipment.

The bill also contains improvements to the National Witness Protection Program. Unfortunately this is a necessity. As we know, the witness protection program gives protection to people who are believed to be in danger because of their evidence in criminal proceedings or because of their relationship to such a person. These amendments provide increased protection and security for witnesses, allow protection and assistance available under the program to extend to former participants and other related persons where appropriate, and ensure that state and territory participants are afforded the same protection as Commonwealth participants.

Finally, this bill reforms the criminal asset confiscation laws—we attack their wallets and their wheels, not just their skulduggery. The bill amends the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to make tests for exclusion and recovery of property fairer and more consistent and to improve the operation of examination provisions. As I said from the outset, serious and organised crime costs our law-abiding community more than $10 billion a year. Our law enforcement agencies cannot investigate and prosecute these groups with their hands tied behind their backs. Instead they need effective Commonwealth laws and consistent laws throughout Australia to enable them to combat organised crime, as all of the fair-minded members of the community would expect.

This bill sends a strong message to rogue bikie gangs and those involved in criminal groups that the Rudd Labor government is serious about combating organised crime. I thank the hardworking Attorney-General and other ministers for introducing this bill and I commend it to the House.