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Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Page: 54

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (17:22): It is great pleasure to talk on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012. Serious and organised crime is a genuine national security issue for our country. It threatens our economy, it threatens the well-being of the Australian people and it threatens our way of life. The opposition believes that all the resources and focus of the federal government must be brought to bear on this issue. It is very difficult to get an accurate estimate of the financial cost of organised crime to our community, but it is certainly very significant and, by some estimates, would be up to $15 billion. So the impacts of organised crime are serious not just for those directly affected but also for the community as a whole.

Sadly, since the government changed in 2007, the Labor government has pursued policies which have made it easier for criminals to prosper. They have made it easier by savaging our law enforcement agencies, by occupying the time and efforts of those law enforcement agencies on their self-induced border protection crisis and by failing in their duty to properly police what comes in and out of our country. Since they have come to government, Labor has axed 750 staff and significant funding from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, leaving our borders vulnerable to infiltration by serious criminal syndicates.Slashing funding for Customs has meant more opportunities for criminals to put drugs and guns onto our streets.

We saw shocking revelations late last year of Customs officers being directly involved in corruption at Sydney airport, including allegations of a iding drug traffickers and laundering money for the very bikie gangs that are terrorising Sydney streets. Under Labor , less than 10 per cent of air cargo and less than five per cent of sea cargo are inspected when they enter Australia's borders , giving criminals a better chance of successfully smuggling weapons, drugs and other contraband into our community.

Extensive cuts to the A ustralian Crime Commission mean that the Commonwealth's capacity to provide intelligence on organised crime is severely limited. Similarly , cuts to the Australian Federal Police have impacted on their ability to function to their full cap ability. These cuts have come at a time when an enormous amount of police and law-and-order resources have been directed to dealing with Labor's self-induced border protection crisis —a crisis that has seen over 32,500 people smuggled illegally into Australia on 557 boats.

If the Minister for Home Affairs and the Labor Party we re serious about stopping organised crime , the first thing they would do is not lecture the states about what the states should be doing . The first thing the federal Labor Party should do is do properly the job they have been given by the Australian people . It i s an unfortunate fact that the cuts they have inflicted since they have come to office have allowed criminals a better chance of getting guns and drugs onto our streets . A ll of this is happening at the same time as they have reduc ed funding to our law enforcement agencies, such as the Australian Crime Commission , the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police. The Commonwealth government is just not pulling its weight in this area. In fact , they are systematically undermining the ability of the federal government to fulfil its law and order responsibilities.

While making legislative changes is not in itself enough to tackle organised crime, clearly the right legislative framework gives our law enforcement agencies a more workable way of tackling this very serious issue—and unexplained wealth laws are a very important part of that . This bill seeks to implement some of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, which inquired into the Commonwealth's unexplained wealth legislation and reported early last year. The committee made a total of 18 recommendations. Unfortunately, this bill implements only six of them. I am particularly disappointed by the failure of the government to embrace the recommendations of that parliamentary committee which involve the Australian Crime Commission pursuing unexplained wealth orders. The ACC has significant coercive powers to force witnesses to answer questions, and those significant powers—which are unavailable to other law enforcements agencies—would have been very helpful in pursuing proceeds of crime. But this is an agency that has been systematically attacked by the ALP for funding and staffing cuts. As a committee member I am disappointed to see that the recommendations which specifically recommended that the ACC be given this extra role have not been embraced in the legislation presented to the House by the government. I would like to have seen the government act faster to implement the other recommendations. I note that they have not formally responded to that report, even though it was handed down almost a year ago. Despite this, the coalition welcomes the measures contained in this legislation to strengthen our proceeds-of-crime framework. This will help our law enforcement agencies target criminals and crack down on organised crime.

I turn now to some of the specifics of the bill. Part 1 of schedule 1 implements recommendations made in the committee's final report. During the course of the committee inquiry, the Australian Crime Commission informed the committee that serious and organised crime groups continue to prove resilient and very adaptable to legislative changes, law enforcement intelligence and investigative methodologies. I remember very distinctly that they said that the best way to tackle organised crime is to remove the proceeds of illegal activity. That is one of the most significant deterrents we can have to unlawful activity. The police in particular gave us some very vivid examples of hardened criminals who were reduced to tears when the police confiscated their luxury cars. This really hits criminals where it hurts—taking away the proceeds of their illicit activities. Indeed, doing that is one way to deliver heavy blows to organised criminals.

That is why it is vitally important that the Commonwealth has a proceeds of crime framework which actually works and which our law enforcement agencies can use effectively to tackle organised crime.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee is currently inquiring into this bill. The Australian Federal Police Association and the Police Federation of Australia were supportive of it, particularly the measure to remove judicial discretion from unexplained wealth orders, noting: 'We would like to publicly state that we support the removal of judicial discretion for unexplained wealth restraining orders, preliminary orders and final orders. This brings unexplained wealth into line with other kinds of proceedings conducted under the Proceeds of Crime Act.' Both the PFA and the AFPA have been long-time supporters of strengthening Australia's unexplained wealth laws and have voiced their concerns about the weaknesses in the existing Commonwealth regime. I note that both of those agencies do a very good job of representing the voices of police men and women across the AFP and, more broadly, across the state and territory policing agencies. Since I have become shadow minister for justice, customs and border protection, they have spoken to me about the deficiencies within the current Commonwealth proceeds-of-crime framework.

The bill also makes amendments to expand existing cross-border firearms trafficking offences in the Criminal Code and to introduce new aggravated offences for dealing in 50 or more firearms and firearm parts. The bill's explanatory memorandum notes that the amendments are aimed at expanding existing cross-border trafficking offences in the Criminal Code to deal with firearm parts.

The coalition is particularly proud of its record in taking dangerous guns off our streets and therefore tackling gun crime. As all Australians will remember, in April 1996, Martin Bryant, a very disturbed man, used a semi-automatic rifle and a semi-automatic assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania. At the time, newly elected Prime Minister John Howard made the controversial decision to reform gun ownership laws.

Mr Champion: Courageous.

Mr KEENAN: And it was a very courageous decision. Of course, it was highly controversial amongst owners of guns in the community, who rightly said that they had not committed these crimes and had lawfully owned these weapons. To take these weapons off the street involved an enormous amount of political courage from the Prime Minister and his cabinet at the time. Members of parliament had to go out and talk to people about why they believed it was necessary to crack down on these sorts of dangerous weapons. I think it is fair to say that, despite the controversy at the time, those gun laws have been incredibly successful in reducing our gun related homicide rate. They have also reduced the suicide rate in Australia. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun related murders and suicides fell sharply after those laws were introduced 1996. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered a rather astonishing total of 13 gun massacres—a massacre being a gun crime with more than four victims—causing over 100 deaths. I note there has not been a single massacre since 1996. Those figures probably provide some salient lessons for our friends in America. I do not think that any Australian would deny that today our country is safer as a consequence of the coalition's bold changes to gun ownership laws.

The coalition knows that organised criminal syndicates now seek to import their illegal guns from overseas. Sadly, I do not think this fact is sufficiently acknowledged by the present government. Indeed, the minister refuses to acknowledge the extent of the problem, even with evidence of illegal guns slipping through our borders and coming into New South Wales, as was the case with the Sylvania Waters post office in Sydney when in March last year 220 Glock pistols from Austria were imported via a gun dealership in Germany, using falsified documents. This was not discovered by the federal law enforcement agencies which are tasked with policing our borders. It is important to make the point that it was the New South Wales Police that discovered this significant importation of pistols. This highlighted the devastating effects of Labor's cuts on our border protection agencies, in that the Federal Police no longer had the ability to pick up such a significant importation of illegal firearms.

The cuts have meant a significant reduction in the higher rates of cargo inspections that were occurring under the previous government. When we left office in 2007, 60 per cent of air cargo consignments were inspected by Customs and Border Protection. Labor's significant cuts to the Customs cargo-screening budget has meant a staggering 75 per cent reduction in the percentage of air cargo inspections conducted under the coalition. We have seen a similar decrease in sea cargo inspections.

Labor's cuts have resulted in a $22 million funding cut to the Australian Crime Commission—the agency which, to my disappointment, is not more heavily involved in policing unexplained wealth. The astonishing number of 144 personnel have been taken out of the Australian Crime Commission. It is not a large agency, so that cut represents about 20 per cent of its personnel.

Labor say they want to be taken seriously on law and order issues. You cannot be taken seriously when your record since coming into office has been to cut the Australian Federal Police, to savage Customs and Border Protection and to savage the Australian Crime Commission. Labor have demonstrated year after year a blatant disregard for tackling organised criminal activity by targeting these key Commonwealth law enforcement agencies for vicious cuts. The Australian Federal Police has been subjected to a $265 million cut since the Labor Party came to office.

Mr Bowen: Is there any chance of talking about the bill?

Mr KEENAN: These funding cuts to Customs, the ACC and the AFP have clearly had a significantly impact on the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to do their job properly. The minister at the table says, 'Is there any chance of talking about the bill?'

This bill deals with the smuggling of guns across state borders. The point is that, when you cut resources—the number of personnel available—to Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, it impacts on the ability of those agencies to do their job. This is the problem with the government. They are more interested in spinning away their failure than they are in doing something to tackle the problems which their cuts have significantly contributed to.

We are supportive of measures to combat gun crime. We are particularly supportive of anything we can do to take guns off our streets. Sadly, we are seeing on our streets the impact of these cuts to Customs. More and more guns have been smuggled into our country because of the very significant cuts that the Labor Party have made since they came to office. We in the coalition believe that the Commonwealth should do its job properly. The law enforcement role of the Commonwealth is to increase the ability of the states to fight crime. Of course, the states have primary responsibility for law and order within their home jurisdictions, but when the Commonwealth is not policing its borders and it is cutting Commonwealth law enforcement agencies then we are making the job of state law enforcement agencies harder. That has to stop.

This Labor government has systematically made damaging cuts, and this has placed an enormous burden on our state police forces, who are called upon to deal with the consequences of more illicit drugs, more contraband and more illegal firearms on our streets because our borders have been penetrated by organised criminal syndicates. If the Minister for Home Affairs is serious about tackling organised criminal activity—and he says that he is—the first thing he should do is seek to rectify the damaging cuts that have been made to the agencies which he is responsible for. But unfortunately we have a minister who has not proved capable of doing that to date and, until he does so, he cannot be taken seriously when he comes into this place and says that law and order is a significant priority for the Labor government.

The priority for the Labor Party at the moment seems to be to deflect blame for the fact that we have had this spike in the number of weapons coming into our country because of these cuts and their impact on our borders. Clearly, if you are going to cut resources—if you are going to cut the number of personnel in our agencies—it is going to hamper the ability of law enforcement agencies to do their job. You cannot possibly believe that these savage cuts will not have an impact on our law enforcement agencies to do what we expect of them.

Due to the nature of the measures proposed in this bill, it is right and proper that it have an airing within the Senate committee process, and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is due to report back on the bill by 13 March. We will be scrutinising what they have to say once they report. Clearly, we will reserve our right to move amendments in the Senate if they highlight areas in which we should do so. We do support the measures contained within this bill. It is important that the Commonwealth have a workable proceeds-of-crime and wealth confiscation program, but, sadly, we do not believe that implementing six of the 18 recommendations that the committee—which was chaired by the member for Fowler, who is due to speak after me—reported on will achieve that. The member for Fowler will not say this, I suspect, but I am pretty sure that he will be very disappointed in his government's response, because he takes his responsibilities on that committee very seriously. He listened to what the police forces around the country had to say to us about these matters. So we will look to rectify and strengthen this framework when we come to office. But, until Australia gets the election it deserves, we will support these measures, albeit reserving our right to make appropriate amendments if the Senate committee highlights areas in which we should do so.