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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4218

Mr HAYES (FowlerGovernment Whip) (17:00): I also rise to support this bill. Like the member for Stirling, I was a member of the parliamentary joint committee which sought and made recommendations to bring the issue of the Customs services within the purview of the examination by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. The reason that occurred in the first instance was not that there was any view of corruption existing in that area of government endeavour; it was a matter of making sure that we have all the necessary checks and balances very much in place.

One of the things that we have been doing, and unashamedly have been doing for some time, is giving greater powers to our law enforcement agencies. You will recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, debates in years past. We have given coercive powers to the Australian Crime Commission, for instance, who can work in partnership with the Australian Federal Police and other agencies. They are extraordinary powers, and extraordinary powers must have suitable checks and balances to make sure powers are not being abused. Similarly, Customs have a very significant role in protecting our borders and keeping the community safe—a role, one would argue, just as important as most of our other law enforcement agencies. Therefore, it is making sure that we have in place a suite of checks and balances that can be used as far as possible to ensure that our services that we give these powers to operate appropriately and properly within the terms of the remit they have from this parliament.

There is no apology given for that. To that extent this is just another step in that direction. This may not be the only step that is ever taken in that respect because, as we move to protect our citizens by increasing the powers of other agencies, those agencies as well may be considered in terms of law enforcement integrity. This is significant. It is also significant that this was supported from the outset on a bipartisan basis. There is certainly no minority report from when it was dealt with by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Law Enforcement. I am indebted to the minister for responding promptly to that and ensuring that it comes back and finds its way into the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011 as it has here today.

I would like to comment on the business that underpins criminal activity in the country. I have seen the costings of the Australian Crime Commission. They say the cost of criminal activity to our community, as it stands today, is somewhere between $10 billion and $15 billion from fraud, theft, blackmail and a whole host of things which ultimately have at the base a profit motive. One of the clear things that I have learnt in all my time of supporting law enforcement agencies throughout this country is that, when it comes to catching crooks, follow the money trail. Essentially that is really what schedule 2 of this piece of legislation is doing. The government see that the issue of serious and organised crime is based on a profit motive. What we are trying to do is provide the legal teeth to ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the ability to go after the money. One of those matters is to do with issues of confiscation of wealth through the proceeds of crime measures. This is dealt with in schedule 2 of the amendment legislation, which provides for the framework of a Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce, which will be led by the Australian Federal Police. This was established at the election in 2010 with an interim task force being launched in March of this year. The amendment will ensure that this has a permanent place in our agencies for the fight against organised crime.

I note that the minister has joined us. He knows only too well that the basis of criminal activity, particularly in terms of its impact on the community, is very much profit driven. This is trying to look at an ability for our agencies to identify and to then be able to prosecute in respect of the potential for asset confiscation matters. At the moment it is a matter of record that only the Commonwealth DPP has the authority to conduct that process under the Proceeds of Crime Act and schedule 2 of the amendment legislation will enable the AFP to have greater flexibility to take those matters on itself. It will also allow for transfers of matters between the AFP and the DPP. This will ensure there is greater flexibility and efficiency within the system in that respect.

A greater harmonisation will also be achieved to do with forfeiture of assets processes throughout the Commonwealth. As a consequence of this we will see the harmonisation of approach, which is so essential because there is no criminal group that is going to defer to the Constitution or to the geography of the states to discern where it will conduct its next criminal endeavour. As I have said, criminals are driven by a profit motive. If we create or allow to remain in existence legal loopholes, they will be exploited. That is what this is designed to do: to ensure that criminal activity, which covers across state borders, is minimised by having a greater harmonisation of approach and that our agencies are better equipped in terms of identifying, disrupting and prosecuting such activity.

I seldom let an opportunity go by in this place to highlight the work that our law enforcement agencies do, and this will certainly not be an opportunity lost. I find it quite amazing that people have the courage to put on a blue uniform and be prepared to go out and do what is necessary to defend and protect our community. These are a special type of people. I think that what those people need is not simply gratitude, although I think they could do with a little bit more respect occasionally, but also to be equipped with the tools necessary to go about their task of protecting our community. This piece of legislation is another step towards doing that. This piece of legislation is moving to ensure the integrity of our adjacent agencies, particularly as to Customs and Border Protection, and it is moving to give the AFP greater powers vis-a-vis the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure it can prosecute in respect of elements of the proceeds of crime and return those moneys to the community. This will put them on the front foot to attack the business model that underpins criminal endeavour. That is what this legislation does.

There are probably going to be many, many more steps that will follow on from all of this. Like every other enterprise out there, the criminal enterprise is not static. It is forever evolving, which requires our parliament to also play its role in an ongoing way to ensure that, wherever possible, we equip our police with the appropriate tools and legislative support they need to get on and do the job of protecting our community. I commend the amendment bill to the House.