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Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Page: 61


Mr MORRISON (Cook) (17:56): Also as the son of a police officer, like the member for Fowler, these issues are matters of close interest to me personally as well as in terms of my electorate in the seat of Cook—and I will refer later to the incidents that took place there last year with the smuggling of Glock pistols through a post office in my electorate. They are also of concern to me as part of the broader issue of national security, in which I have a keen interest, and these matters go directly, I think, to matters of national security.

When one is debating these matters in this place, never far from our mind are the tragedies, not only in our country but also in places around the world. Sadly, even quite recently, we have seen the horror and the tragedy of guns getting into the hands of bad people—into the hands of criminals who hold our society to ransom and to hostage and selfishly seek to impose their greed and their evil on others. There will be no debate in this place about the evils of these things. I think the sentiments and the intentions that sit behind this bill are respected and appreciated, and I commend the government in bringing this bill to the House. I also commend the minister, who has brought this bill to the House, on his appointment to the cabinet.

It is the job of a national government to protect our borders and to keep Australians safe behind those borders. That is the goal informing governments from this place. That is a core responsibility of a national government. At its heart, this is a bill about national security and especially about protecting our borders from the movement of illegal firearms and weapons parts. The measures contained in this legislation seek to better protect Australian communities from the clutches of criminal syndicates and ensure that they are not able to profit from the nefarious trade.

The coalition will support this bill in principle. We understand the intent behind it, and that is something we can identify with. But, pending further advice from the Senate committee, we reserve our position on other amendments and things that may be brought up as a result of those investigations. I would hope the government would work constructively with the opposition on the things that may come from that process. If things are identified then, in the spirit of the shared intention, they should attract support. The coalition remains committed to strong border protection, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters in this place, because the truth is that when it comes to border protection more broadly the Australian people have already registered a pretty clear verdict about the government's competence in that matter.

Last year, Commissioner Andrew Scipione from the New South Wales Police Force—I would argue the most trusted and respected law officer in the land and over many generations—referred to the issue of guns being imported illegally overseas as the elephant in the room. He said that it is not just a border security issue but a national security issue. I could not agree with the commissioner more. Any piece of legislation concerned with removing guns from Australian streets should merit our close attention. Any bill that strives to make our neighbourhoods safer by virtue of making it harder for criminal syndicates to operate is worthy of scrutiny in this place.

This legislation would effect several key changes to both the Criminal Code Act and the Proceeds of Crime Act. Firstly, this legislation seeks to strengthen the investigative powers and Commonwealth prosecution of cases in relation to unexplained wealth. Secondly, this legislation seeks to expand existing offences for cross-border trafficking of firearms. The new regime would include aggravated offences with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for dealing in 50 or more firearms or parts within a six-month period.

As I said, we cannot fault the intent behind this legislation, but we have a duty to examine these matters closely to ensure that any unintended consequences do not compromise the outcome that we are trying to achieve. It was almost a year ago now that the New South Wales police discovered a gaping hole in our borders on gun control, with 220 Glock pistols allegedly smuggled right into the city of Sydney, guns that ended up on our streets in the hands of criminal gangs. Those guns found their way into my electorate of Cook, into the shire and into southern Sydney, allegedly through the Sylvania Waters post office. That alleged smuggling operation was described by Andrew Scipione, the Commissioner of Police in New South Wales, as perhaps the biggest illegal syndicate doing this type of illegal gun trafficking that Australia has ever seen.

What is worse, our Customs and Border Protection Service had no idea that it had happened. It had to be brought to their attention late into the investigation in order to effect the sting that saw the arrests that followed. They were not brought on board that investigation early. One still wonders to this day why the New South Wales police made the decision not to involve Customs and Border Protection earlier when they were aware that these guns were on their way to Sydney. That raises serious questions. I remember raising those questions in this place and proposing that we have a commission of inquiry into that incident to understand the failings in the system that had let that happen. That proposal was rejected by the government and ridiculed by others. But this incident was the canary in the mine.

What did we see at the end of last year? To our shock and surprise, we saw Customs officers involved in embedded corruption at our airports and our sea ports. That was going on. This was a serious matter. It was a matter that the New South Wales police had identified and brought to the attention of Customs. There is a serious need to deal with what is happening in our Customs and Border Protection Service. At the end of last year, there were revelations that as many as 20 Customs officials had been allegedly involved in extensive corruption at Sydney airport. As my colleague the member for Stirling has mentioned, these included allegations of aiding drug traffickers as well as money laundering for bikie gangs. An entire shift had been compromised. One Customs and Border Protection officer arrested by the AFP was charged with offences including conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border controlled precursors, weapons offences, receiving a bribe and abuse of public office.

These crises do not happen in a vacuum. They have been allowed to occur and continue against a backdrop of mismanagement and chaos on our borders under this Labor government that the Australian people have watched with horror. Specifically in the area of Customs, they take the knife to the Customs budget, dropping from inspecting 60 per cent of air cargo inspections under the Howard government to just 8.3 per cent under this government. Those drastic cuts to cargo screening have allowed weapons and illicit drugs to come into this country and then onto our streets and into the hands of organised criminal syndicates. The people of Western Sydney know that. When the coalition left office, we were inspecting 6.2 million air cargo consignments. That figure today, taken from the government's budget papers, is 1.5 million.

At the same time there are about 10 million air cargo consignments. Today that figure exceeds 15 million, yet the percentage of air cargo consignments being inspected continues to shrink. It comes down to this: under Labor criminals now have a 90 to 95 per cent chance of successfully smuggling weapons, or rather, contraband, into our community. Those are terrifying odds.

It is all well and good to be implementing these laws to improve our powers to charge and prosecute offenders. And this an iterative process. The parliament should always be looking at ways we can better equip those on the front line with the resources, the authority and the legal backing they need to do their job to the best of their ability. But we must be mindful about how the guns are getting in in the first place. I turn to none other than the now Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr. When he was Premier of New South Wales this is how he believed guns were getting into the country. All these guns, he said, 'the guns on our streets, the guns being traded, the guns that form this black market, have got into Australia through pretty porous borders.' That is what Senator Bob Carr said when he was Premier of New South Wales. Now he forms part of a government that denies this is the case. When he said this, air cargo screenings were many multiples over what this government is doing today, and the resources, proportionally, were greater at the time than they are today.

This is a government that has moved quickly, even today, and over the last few days, to try to divert attention, to say, 'It is not our fault. We just control what comes into the country. We need to shift the focus and say it is what is happening in state enforcement with our police forces.' What is important is that an incompetent federal government needs to take over the powers of state governments, which actually alerted them last year to the problem. They are the ones who blew the whistle. Customs did not know they were on fire on this issue until the New South Wales police turned up with a hose and put them out.

We do not want diversions and distractions from this government, for which they are well known when it comes to the issue of gun crime. We will see plenty of announcements and we have seen plenty of stern faces looking into the cameras, incredibly earnest, calling on people to lay down their swords and get together and work constructively on this issue. Well, here is a tip for the government: do your job well and the guns will not get into the country.

This government has not stopped the guns, it has not stopped the drugs and it has not stopped the boats, and the Australian people know it. You can go out there and argue about your alleged competence on our borders until you are blue in the face but the Australian people know that this government is the biggest failure on our borders in our nation's history. And they will be judged for it. That day is coming—14 September is coming—when this government will be judged for its failures on our borders. The people are waiting and they want to issue that judgment for your mismanagement and incompetence on our borders. We on this side of the House will work towards that day, not only continuing to prosecute that case but continuing to firm up and build further the policies that we know are necessary to get things right on our borders once again.

This government slashed 750 staff from our Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. They have stripped funding and personnel out of the agency, leaving it vulnerable. Clearly, a culture of corruption is evident in these agencies—in this agency specifically. It is about restoring the confidence of the Australian people in these agencies. The many hardworking enforcement officers who work in the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, like those who work in similar law enforcement agencies around the country, will be horrified—the good officers, the ones who want to do the right thing, the ones who want to be proud of their organisation and the job it does, because it is an important job. But you have to get the settings right. You have to allow those who want to do the right thing and uphold the integrity of their organisation to be the ones whose activities are rewarded—and rewarded in the sense of having an organisation that has the support, both in terms of the financial support for the resources provided and in terms of the political support, to do their job.

The failures of this government on borders are well known. They are not limited to the area of Customs. They are well known in the area of immigration. I note that yet another minister for immigration has entered into the revolving door of policy failure in these last few days.

He will not have big shoes to fill—because his predecessor allowed almost 25,000 people to cross our borders illegally into this country—but he is a minister who is returning to the scene of the crime. The now minister for immigration is the same minister who, along with the now departing Senator Evans, was responsible in large part for the unwinding of the controls that we had on our borders under the Howard government. So he returns to the scene of his crime and to the scene of failure when he previously served in the area of customs and border protection, only now to babysit this government's failure on our borders to an election.

The coalition will continue to stand up for national security in this country. We continue to believe strongly, as we demonstrated in government and stand ready to demonstrate again if elected at the next election, that we need to enforce the laws on our borders, strengthen the force of our borders and ensure that Australians are kept safe behind those borders by doing the federal government's job and working with the state governments to ensure that they can do their job, rather than trying to distract attention, as the minister has done today by alleging all sorts of things about New South Wales. It was the New South Wales police who set off the alert here on the issue of guns coming into this country, and the government should do its job. (Time expired)