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Wednesday, 9 February 2011
Page: 304

Mr HAWKE (11:44 AM) —I rise today to support the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Identity Crimes and Other Measures) Bill 2010 [2011]. I am happy to report to the House also in my capacity as Deputy Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety. In that committee we have been hearing from witnesses about the problem of identity theft and identity fraud across a wide spectrum of businesses, individuals, families and, in particular, children—which is the focus of our inquiry at the moment.

Having heard witness after witness speak about the problem of identity crime in Australia, it does make a very compelling case for legislation of this nature to ensure that we have a modern and relevant framework of laws in place to deal with the emergence of new technologies and crimes using the medium of those new technologies. I do commend the government for good legislation which sets up a legal framework to deal with the challenges of a new era. In this place we should support the use of law, especially criminal law, to set a benchmark for what we regard as right and wrong in our society and to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the tools they need to go after criminals, to prevent crime and to deal with the consequences of online crime. Hearing from different Federal Police authorities and representatives from other agencies about the nature of the problems they face, I think it is the case that the law is not adequate at the moment to meet these challenges, and the improvements that have been well covered by many previous speakers are very much needed.

Identity crime is a serious crime. We have heard many different statistics. I think it is telling that we heard that the AFP reports that $4 billion a year is lost in identity fraud and identity crime. We have heard from members and senators of their own experiences and anecdotes in relation identity fraud. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that, in 2007 alone, 800,000 people, or five per cent of the population aged 15 and over, fell victim to at least one instance of fraud. Of course, I would assume that is only set to grow.

I do not intend to speak for long today, except to say a few things. In my own electorate I have been approached by constituents, especially parents of younger constituents, who have been victims of identity theft and crime. As I said, children are the particular focus of our inquiry in the joint committee on cybersafety. This is a growing area of concern where we face children having their identity stolen, whether it be by so-called friends or acquaintances or whether it be by people unknown to them, and then the perpetrators either embarrass those children or engage in cyberbullying, cyberstalking or other abusive forms of behaviour online.

I find that all the attempts by government and other agencies to deal with these problems tend to be a little inelegant. Whether it be internet filtering or other proposals which tend to be reactive, they do not tend to address the problem at its cause—and we have heard much evidence that this is a behavioural and educational problem rather than a technological or legal one. What is very important to understand about the nature of this crime is that the law is not in place at the moment to help us to adequately address crimes against children online. So this bill in particular, which improves the ability of our enforcement agencies to deal with identity crime, is very important in making progress on this issue. I have had dealings with all the major social networkers and the big internet providers, both through the committee and also as a representative of my electorate, and they often have very good enforcement regimes in place but they go only to a certain point. While they tend to deal with an immediate problem inside their own network or space, they do not then take the further step of adequately dealing with the perpetrator of a crime—and stealing a person’s identity and using it for whatever purpose is a serious offence. We have had laws in the Criminal Code for some time which deal with fraud, and I think it is very important that we keep pace with the technologies that we see today and continue to legislate in this area to ensure that the criminal law is adequate for our agencies.

I do think it is important to record that the varying nature of criminal activity and organised crime is moving very swiftly. They do keep up with technology. We have seen in the past week reports of criminal agencies using BlackBerries with their secure networks to engage in crime in this country. That is why I think it is important to support good legislation in this place, and I think the government ought to be commended for continuing the previous government’s push to ensure that our legislation is sufficient. I support the bill.