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Wednesday, 9 February 2011
Page: 297

Mr KEENAN (11:10 AM) —I also rise to talk on the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Identity Crimes and Other Measures) Bill 2010 [2011]. As the minister has just outlined, clearly identity fraud is a growing threat and the government and this legislature need to respond appropriately and provide the resources for law enforcement agencies to be able to do their jobs to combat this form of crime. This legislation goes some way towards equipping jurisdictions in combating identity fraud.

Identity crimes are very malicious types of crimes and they can affect people on a very personal basis. To have your identity stolen is not a light matter and can have some very serious consequences. Identity fraud is, sadly, Australia’s fastest growing crime, with hundreds of thousands of victims and an estimated cost of more than $1 billion per year. It is evident, with the rapid increase in technology, that the government needs to respond appropriately by giving law enforcement agencies the tools to be able to combat this emerging threat. Identity crimes are increasing due to advances in technology. They particularly affect the banking sector, and the rapid increase of financial transactions via the internet and the use of credit cards have provided criminals with new opportunities to facilitate this form of crime.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics report released late in 2009 found that in 2007 alone more than 800,000 people, or five per cent of the population aged 15 and older, fell victim to at least one instance of fraud. Identity fraud accounted for almost half a million victims, with 77 per cent of those reporting fraudulent transactions on their credit or bank cards. The remaining 23 per cent suffered identity theft involving unauthorised use of their personal details.

Anyone can fall victim to identity theft. Indeed, there have been high-profile victims such as the media identity John Laws, who was recently targeted by identity thieves who forged his signature and raided his bank account. That particular group had been responsible for stealing millions of dollars from banks by manipulating people’s personal details. They do this through things such as bank statements that have been mailed to private homes. Victims can be not necessarily aware that they have been a victim. Indeed, in the case of Mr Laws, he only managed to identify that he had been a victim of this particular crime when a debt collection agency called him chasing unpaid bills. These examples show that anyone can fall victim to this form of crime. Even well-known identities can fall victim to identity fraud.

The bill implements changes to identity crime offences recommended by the Model Criminal Law Officers Committee’s final report on identity crime. It seeks to insert three new identity crime offences into new part 9.5 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. The minister has just outlined what those three would be. It is important to note that, with the exceptions of South Australia and Queensland, currently it is actually not an offence to assume or steal another person’s identity. So clearly the need for this type of legislation is very apparent.

Schedule 4 of the bill contains several amendments which will establish a more consistent approach to the restrictions placed upon the disclosure of sensitive AUSTRAC information and strengthen safeguards to protect against the disclosure of sensitive AUSTRAC information. The bill also contains several minor amendments correcting drafting errors for previous bills and it repeals a specific provision within a judiciary act which is deemed no longer necessary. The bill also contains key measures to resolve deficiencies in the current legislative framework that relate to identity crimes. It will help to improve the administration of justice and the effective operation of the AFP and the Commonwealth DPP.

This is the completion of processes that were started under the previous coalition government. Indeed, in April 2005 the government announced the National Identity Security Strategy to combat the misuse of stolen or assumed identities in the provision of government services. To support development of the strategy, the coalition allocated $5.9 million over two years from the 2005-06 budget including funding for a pilot documentation verification service. Under the former coalition government, the Model Criminal Law Officers Committee released a discussion paper on identity crime, and subsequently our final report was issued in March 2008.

This bill implements the law reform processes largely undertaken by the previous government and now brought to completion under the current government. It will go a long way to ensuring that organised criminals in this country and elsewhere understand that Australia is not a soft target for this type of crime and that Australia will amend and adjust its legislative framework to attack the criminals when they come up with new ways of committing criminal offences, and identity crime is clearly one of those issues. The coalition therefore supports the policy underlying the bill and supports the passage of the bill.