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Wednesday, 9 February 2011
Page: 298

Mr HAYES (11:16 AM) —I too rise today to support the passage of the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Identity Crimes and Other Measures) Bill 2010 [2011]. I believe it is appropriate that the government is using the recommendations of what has been referred to as the Model Criminal Law Officers Committee to, firstly, identify deficiencies and make corrections to current laws particularly as they relate to identity crime.

At present there is not the uniform coverage across the nation that you would expect in matters such as identity measures. With the exception of Queensland and South Australia, strangely, it is not currently an offence to assume an identity or steal another person’s identity except in limited prescribed circumstances. As we move closer to what hopefully might emerge as a model criminal code to be applied across the nation, we should be making sure that there are no windows of opportunity for criminal elements to exploit citizens, as currently happens in respect of identity crime.

As we step into a society which is ever-increasingly dependent on computer based technologies and computer based security systems, the issue of identity crime is certainly ever increasing. Unfortunately, fraud and phishing—and I had to ask my adviser what that meant—are becoming more prevalent. I understand that phishing is a more sophisticated way of scheming, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, and it is something that is pretty common. It is certainly well known to Australian citizens and, as a matter of fact, the shadow minister made reference to John Laws only recently being a target of identity crime. I probably should not add, but I will: part of an Australian delegation of the Australian Crime Commission visited areas of America, London and parts of Europe looking at identity crime. I do not think there was one member of that committee that did not experience some fraud committed against them, as was obvious once we got back to this country and saw our bank statements. It shows how easy it is, frankly, despite the natural precautions we take. The sophistication of the criminal element and the ever-advancing technology they use means that unless we ensure that our legislation keeps pace we will be exposing citizens to the ever-increasing possibility of identity fraud.

It is not just getting back home and seeing what went out of a bank account: identity fraud can affect Centrelink; it can certainly affect citizenship issues and all those things which are, quite frankly, front and centre for many serious and organised criminals. We need to ensure that what we develop is contemporary and combats the technological advances being made by various elements in the criminal world.

I am just reading here—I forgot about this one: criminal records can be created leading to a very stressful period of how to go about changing that. When the minister spoke, he reported that one of the problems with detecting identity fraud and seeing what has happened to your own records or in the case of a criminal record being created in your name is that it could take an average of two years to rectify. This is not just the effect of the fraud; it is the time, effort and stress that an individual has to go through to restore their good name. These are matters which are being addressed. One way to ensure expunging of a record is by approaching a magistrate and seeking a certificate of proof that you are a person that has been the subject of identity fraud. Nevertheless, while you are going through that process, the burden of proof is effectively on you and that seems to be one of the issues that we are trying to address.

The bill inserts three new identity crime offences into part 9.5 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. The three offences are: (1) dealing in identity information with the intention of committing, facilitating or commissioning a Commonwealth indictable offence punishable by up to five years of imprisonment; (2) possessing of identification information with the intent of committing, facilitating or commissioning conduct which would constitute a dealing offence punishable by three years; and (3) possessing equipment to create identification documents with the intention of committing, facilitating or commissioning conduct that would constitute a dealing offence punishable up to three years.

By framing the bill in this way and using general and what has been referred to as technological, neutral language, the intention is to ensure that offences will remain applicable, despite emerging developments in new forms of identity crime whether it be technological or otherwise and that, as far as possible, what is being put forward in this legislation stays contemporary in combating the ever-increasing issue of identity theft and crime itself.

I also note the bill contains amendments to the Criminal Code Act 1995, the Crimes Act 1914, the Privacy Act 1988, the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 and the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1983, the Judiciary Act 1903 and the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006.

The government’s position is and always has been that we are going to be tough on crime. The government wants to protect people. One of the basic tasks of any government is to protect its people and ensure that their communities are as safe as possible. Therefore the amendments reflect the government’s desire to clarify and improve the operation of the administration of justice to the extent that we can through our sphere of influence in the Commonwealth.

The position in respect of delegations, for instance, which is referred to in the amendments, deals with the delegated authority of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which flows from the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1983. As I understand it, there has been some conjecture as to the extent of the functions and powers that are delegated. This bill puts that delegation absolutely beyond doubt and to that extent I support what is proposed in the bill.

I also support the significant amendments made to the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism and Financing Act. As was previously referred to, AUSTRAC, Australia’s financial intelligence unit, under its reporting provisions, processes and analyses information relating to various suspicious dealings or suspicious transactions and passes that intelligence and information on to the respective law enforcement agencies for their operational activities. Having visited the organisation, I can see that it is very professional and reasonably well resourced, and it certainly does a fantastic job. It effectively tracks transactions—say, over $10,000—and sees where money passes through and designs patterns of investigations which go off to the various law enforcement and police agencies.

It is quite apparent that the information that goes through places like AUSTRAC is very sensitive. We need to ensure that we protect that information and ensure that it is only used for the purposes described under the act—that is, to address issues of fraud and criminal activity. Schedule 4 of the bill establishes a more consistent approach to the restrictions placed on the disclosure of sensitive information held by AUSTRAC and also strengthens safeguards to protect against the disclosure of any information. Clearly that is information that may flow from AUSTRAC, its staff et cetera. As a parliament, we cannot vest organisations such as AUSTRAC with such authority without ensuring that the information that is being collected is treated with the absolute intention for which we commissioned it to do so and that it goes no further. So these amendments go some distance to doing that.

While I am talking about enhancing our abilities to combat serious and organised crime, on a local note I would like to acknowledge the crime fighting that has taken place in my local area command and particularly identify the commander, Superintendent Ray King. I would like to recognise the bravery of and the outstanding work done by him and those who serve under him. His commitment to policing has delivered to the community of Cabramatta significant advances in public safety. He has a record which has earned him great respect not only in Cabramatta but throughout the New South Wales Police. I only learnt last week, with some regret, that Superintendent King has been transferred to a new post, to the position of Commander of Liverpool Local Area Command. I wish him well in his new position. Fortunately for me, Liverpool Local Area Command is also in my electorate, so I will continue my dealings with him. I do acknowledge the commitment that he has put in over a long period of time and what he has delivered to our community.

I would also like to take the opportunity to congratulate Detective Senior Constable Jason Brooks, who just before Christmas 2010 was named New South Wales Rotary Police Officer of the Year. His leadership and driven personality have seen his team achieve outstanding results, such as doubling the drug arrests within that command. This young person has not only shown leadership but has been committed to task while also staying very personally committed to his oath of office to protect the community that he serves. So, on behalf of a very grateful community, I extend my well wishes to Superintendent Ray King and Detective Senior Constable Jason Brooks and thank them for what they do.

Whilst we create and amend the laws and try to improve the tools that police and other law enforcement agencies use, it is important to realise that at the end of the day it is often left to the professionalism and integrity of those men and women who take that oath of office and take on a role in the community that thankfully most of us will never have to see, and that is putting themselves in danger in order to protect life and persons out there. Whenever I get the opportunity, I will always pay regard to our police. They do a fantastic job. I know they often attract a lot of criticism, but they man that thin blue line which is so vital for our community.

In closing, I indicate that all the provisions of this bill have been agreed to. I support the work in developing a Model Criminal Code. I think we need to do more to ensure that there are not loopholes. If we view organised crime as nothing more than a business—a nefarious business perhaps, but still a business—like any business it will exploit loopholes where profits can be made. I think this is our task. I commend the bill to the House.