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Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Page: 4064


Mr WOOD (5:55 PM) —I wish to speak on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and the cognate bill, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill 2010. First of all I congratulate the government and the Attorney-General for establishing the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, which succeeds the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission. The major change in this is that the Australian Federal Police will now fall under the parliamentary joint committee, which I think is a really good idea. It is going to give members of parliament a greater insight into the Australian Federal Police in that they will find out precisely what is happening with the police and look at how legislation can improve law enforcement in this country.

However, in saying that, I now have to give the government a bit of a whack, as the Australian Federal Police in 2008-09 had their efficiency dividend increased by one or two per cent, which basically meant $24 million off the AFP’s operating budget. This seemed quite crazy at the time, because you had President Obama in the US doing all he could to ensure law enforcement actually received further funding. But over here, under Prime Minister Rudd, we were seeing budget cuts. In the 2009-10 budget the Australian Federal Police budget was cut by $8.1 million and its counterterrorism program was cut by $1.4 million. I have raised before the issue of the AFP’s counterterrorism branch in Sydney. They suffered severe cutbacks. This year, again, in the 2010-11 budget $23.5 million in savings was imposed on the AFP—or maybe this has been diverted to other programs. We see that the AFP had an increase of funding for border protection. I would rather see that money, if there were no policy change, going to the Australian Federal Police.

When we look at the Australian Crime Commission, we see that it has been gutted so badly by the Rudd government. The Australian Crime Commission was set up to have both state and territory police and the Australian Federal Police seconded to work at a national level together to take on serious and organised crime. And yet we have seen the Rudd government make cutbacks in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 budgets. In total, about 22 per cent of staff were cut. In fact we have had the ability for the state police to work with the AFP pretty much dismantled, because the Rudd government would not pay the bills of the seconded police members. When it comes to law enforcement, the best approach to take on the most serious criminals and gangs in this country is to have police forces working together. Elite criminals do not just work in one state; they work interstate and internationally. The Australian Crime Commission, with all the law enforcement agencies working together, was the perfect weapon of choice to go after serious and organised crime.

We have a major gang problem in this country. Sadly, we had the incident at Sydney Airport, where an outlaw motorcycle gang member was actually killed in front of the public. This generated a response from the Prime Minister that he would do everything he could to take on the gangs. But nothing has happened. Because we do not have anti-association laws in my home state of Victoria, we are now seeing outlaw motorcycle gang members from all over the country making Victoria the place to be if you are a bikie. Even the Australian Crime Commission estimates that outlaw motorcycle gangs account for anywhere up to 15 per cent of drug movements around this country.

The first thing we need to do is set up a national gangs database. This is absolutely crucial. We need to work out the number of gangs in this country, whether it be street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs or, as we recently saw on the front page of the Age in Victoria, Asian gangs. My background is that I was a member of the Victoria Police organised crime squad. On the 15th floor of the St Kilda Road Police Complex we had the Asian gangs squad. They were brilliant. They could tell you anything about Asian crime and gang members. Sadly, the Asian gangs squad and the organised crime squad were closed down. Under the previous government, CrimTrac was established. This is a vehicle for police and law-enforcement agencies all over the country to undertake searches to find out if there are warrants out on offenders. It is also used to store details about missing persons and firearms licences. This would be the perfect place to hold a national gangs database.

We should remember that prisons are the place where terrorists are most likely to be recruited and brainwashed. Especially in the UK and America, there are so many people detained for terrorist offences that they actually have their own gangs in the jails. A lot of people are joining the extremist Muslim gangs for protection. They can join a number of prison gangs. This is an issue for New South Wales in particular, where more people are apprehended and detained in custody. Australia really needs to place great emphasis on ensuring that prisons are not a breeding ground for terrorists. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was recruited in a UK prison. That is of great concern. So the first thing the government needs to do is establish a national gangs database where all the law enforcement agencies can go.

Secondly, as I said before, Kevin Rudd promised to be tough on crime but he has not been tough at all. This is very sad. I know that members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission on both sides of the chamber have been very disappointed in the cutbacks to the secondment of members. Anyone who has had dealings with police would realise that the secondment of members and investigators working hand-in-hand right across the country is the weapon of choice against organised crime. As a former detective, I can tell you that elite criminals move from state to state and there is no better way of tracking them than by having a task force that works right across the country to exchange ideas and intelligence and follow the criminals from state to state.

I congratulate the government on the amendments relating to treason, sedition and changes to the offence of ‘urging violence’. I made a speech on 28 November 2005 in which I expressed concern about the sedition laws. I mentioned in that speech that trying to work out whether these offences could be used or not used was going to get police investigators into a lot of difficulty. This is the right decision and it has been a long time coming. I will give credit where credit is due. I know it was based on the UK model, and it is the right way forward.

When it comes to other aspects, I am still greatly concerned about the preventative detention legislation and cutbacks, under part 1C of the Crimes Act, from 14 days to seven days. To me you need to give the investigators all the powers and tools they can have. Australia has been, in some cases, very lucky; but in other cases it has been brilliant detective work. I know, through my colleagues back in the Victorian Police, where you may have a homicide investigation into the murder of four or five people it takes up a lot of time and resources. Can you imagine if we had an incident, God forbid, in this country where we had a large number of people killed at the one time? As we saw in the UK, they were seizing so many computers, checking mobile phones—it became an absolute nightmare. That is why their detention times have been a lot longer. With our preventative detention, the investigators still do not have the ability to put any allegation at all to a suspect in custody; they have to be released or arrested under part 1C of the Crimes Act. When we were in government I was critical of that decision, and I have not changed my position on it.

In recent times I put it to the Victorian Police: would they use the Commonwealth offence powers or use their own? In actual fact they said they would use their own, which is ‘reasonable time’. I honestly believe that that is what it should be, to give the investigators all the time in the world they need. Sadly, the only way this is ever going to come to light is when, tragically, some incident does take place. I believe that with the Haneef case, and my recollection of Four Corners and listening to the Australian Federal Police, they did not use preventative detention legislation. I believe it was because they knew they could not ask any questions and they basically ran out of time. They did not use ‘reasonable time’. I believe at that time they had a 48-hour limit. Again, that is something I highlight to the government. I raised that with the Attorney-General in the consideration in detail stage of the debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2009-2010. I put that question to him and he said that he would not be making legal comment. We really need to ensure that these issues are addressed, because it is crucial that our investigators have all the powers in the world to do the job they need to do.

I will leave it there. There are some good aspects in the bill—as I said, like the changing of ‘sedition’ to ‘the urging of terrorism’—that make a lot of sense. But, again, the government really must get back on the game and fund the Australian Federal Police the way they should be. They are wasting a lot of money on border protection because they have changed the policies, and again with the Australian Crime Commission. To me that is the key to taking on serious and organised crime in this country, and the government is definitely failing on that.