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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2583


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (11:25): Mr Deputy Speaker Leigh, just before I walked in here, I heard the member for Shortland congratulating you on your elevation to the Speaker's panel. I offer my congratulations to you as well. Certainly there is a new ceremonial spirit in these roles and I hope you will consider how you might personally imbue that new spirit. I will be waiting with bated breath to see how that spirit manifests itself.

Turning to the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers and Offences) Bill 2011, the report on this bill by the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs was presented to the House yesterday and now we are discussing it in the Federation Committee. While the coalition does not have any problems with the government's response to that committee report, in terms of whether it is best practice to leave not even 24 hours between the report of that committee and then discussing it in the parliament, I think it is fair to say that it would have been more ideal had we been given more time, even though we do not object to what the government is proposing to do. While I do appreciate the rationale for the urgency given to me by government advisers this morning, I want to flag that we would prefer to legislate in a more orderly way. It seems there has been a small element of chaos this week in the government's legislative agenda and I hope that they can rectify this in future sittings.

The House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs also tabled their recommendations in relation to this legislation yesterday. I want to address what they said because I know the report was issued on behalf of all members of the committee. When any parliamentary committee, where both sides of the chamber are represented, manages to come together to make recommendations as a whole committee I think it is very important that this parliament takes serious note of the recommendations. I am sure the government has done that. So I want to talk about the government's record on law enforcement and then talk directly about the provisions in this bill and the recommendations made by the committee.

Labor's record on criminal issues in general and on border protection has been consistent in its disrespect for Australia's law enforcement agencies. Those agencies have been subject year after year, through the budgetary process, to extensive cuts in a way that is certainly detrimental to their ability to do what they are supposed to do, which is to fight crime and to win. When the Labor Party came to power they abolished the success National Community Crime Prevention Program and replaced it with what is called the Safer Suburbs Plan, essentially the same thing but with a lot less money. The Safer Suburbs program is only a vehicle for Labor to implement its election commitments in this area. Sadly, it is not ongoing beyond the three years and only $15 million was allocated to it.

In contrast, the coalition had funded $65 million for local community crime prevention initiatives. Some of those initiatives were in my electorate of Stirling and I am happy to report that they were very successful and very useful in fighting local crime in my community. I think scrapping that very successful program when they came to office was a dreadful mistake for the Labor Party and is to the detriment of law enforcement all around our country. It is particularly grievous considering the money this government has wasted since 2007. They have taken the axe to what should be considered other high priorities to make up for the fact that so much money went to things which should not have been a priority and have been exposed as scandalous government waste.

Unfortunately under this government we have also seen very serious and sustained cuts to one of the agencies which this bill addresses—that is, the Australian Crime Commission. This agency has, quite frankly, been savaged by Labor. The staffing cuts have been in the order of almost 20 per cent. These savage budget cuts have severely hampered the ability of the ACC to carry out their duties. Staff in that agency has been reduced from 688 to 556. I also note that 100 officers seconded from state and territory police forces have also been sent home. Labor's cuts to the ACC budget equate to an 8.9 per cent reduction over the forward estimates. As I said, that has resulted in almost a 20 per cent reduction in staffing numbers available to that agency. You cannot savage an agency like that and expect it to be able to continue to do its job in a professional way and at the same level as it did when it had 20 per cent more people available. Clearly, these very serious and grievous cuts are going to have an impact on the ability of that agency to fight crime. I am very disappointed that Labor's priorities have meant that they have not fully funded the ACC. Clearly this could be a challenge for us if the government does change and we get into power.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service have been similarly savaged by this government and it has happened to them at a time when the strain on their resources is already immense because of the border protection catastrophe that Labor have created because of the silly changes they made to the successful border protection regime they inherited when they came to office. Customs and Border Protection are the country's premier agency in the protection of Australia's borders. One of the core Customs functions is to stop illicit material and other contraband entering Australia. Obviously, if their ability to do that is hampered then we are going to find more weapons on our streets and more precursors to drugs, or those drugs themselves, being smuggled into the country. Clearly, the likelihood of intercepting contraband before it gets to Australia has been vastly diminished since that agency has had its funding cut so significantly by Labor.

The cuts have resulted in Customs axing 20 per cent of its senior executive service. One in five senior executive officers have been axed as a result of Labor's spending decisions. We have a new Minister for Home Affairs in this portfolio, the member for Blaxland. I believe the test for him becoming a successful minister is whether he can carry weight with his colleagues and reinstate the savage cuts that have been made to the agencies that he is responsible for.

I want to list some of those cuts because it is vitally important that these are addressed. Labor have cut aerial surveillance within the portfolio by almost $21 million, which means that there are 2,215 fewer surveillance hours available for Customs to patrol our borders. That equates to 90 fewer days for surveillance by Customs and Border Protection to look at what is going on around our borders, particularly our northern borders where that agency is so heavily involved in dealing with Labor's border protection failures. Ninety staff were cut from Customs in the last budget on top of the 250 staff that were cut in the 2010-11 budget, and $9.3 million has been taken out of Customs in the financial year 2014-15, apparently in a plan to reduce capital spending in what is classified as low-risk organisational activities.

Labor have cut $34 million over four years for passenger facilitation at Australia's eight major international airports. When Australians are waiting in line to be processed by Customs—and those queue times are increasing—they can directly blame the Labor government for the cuts they made to the Customs budget to process passengers coming into Australia. Clearly, when you are making such enormous cuts, they are going to have a severe impact on the ability of Customs to provide that service. In last year's MYEFO, it was estimated that about $35 million will be cut from Customs over the forward estimates. This is on top of the budget cut to Customs for cargo inspection outlined earlier that has resulted in savage cuts to Customs' ability to screen cargo when it comes into Australia. There was $58.1 million cut from that budget, and that cut has meant that 25 per cent less sea cargo is inspected when it comes into Australia. A staggering 75 per cent less air cargo is inspected because of that enormous cut.

As I have outlined, what this means is that it is much harder for our law enforcement agencies to their job because the federal government are not doing theirs. The federal government are not properly screening cargo when it comes into Australia. That means that organised crime has the ability to bring things into our country, and it means that it is much harder for not only federal crime fighting agencies but also state and territory police forces to do their jobs because the federal Labor government are not doing theirs. I think that is a damning indictment on this government, and I really believe the test for the new minister is whether he has the ability to convince his colleagues that these cuts need to be reversed and that these cuts have hampered his agencies' ability to do their jobs. That is the absolute test for the new Minister for Home Affairs.

Sadly, it is not just Customs and the ACC that have attracted the savage cuts that Labor have made to our law enforcement agencies. The Australian Federal Police have also been hit hard by cuts. Labor imposed their so-called efficiency dividend, which I think is the worst form of budget management, on the AFP. This has resulted in $23.5 million being cut from the AFP's operating budget. This is on top of the staff and budget cuts that they have been forced to absorb in previous years. When Labor take the axe to Customs and Border Protection and to the Australian Federal Police, it makes their job more difficult to do and it also hampers the ability of state police forces to do their job.

It is very important that states recognise that the Commonwealth is not pulling its weight in our national law enforcement efforts and it is making the jobs of the states and territories even harder. That filters down to all of our electorates. When we see crime related to drugs, we can look directly at the federal government and say that they are not doing their job in stopping drugs or the precursors of drugs coming into Australia. That filters its way down into every area of law enforcement and every area of criminal activity, because we know that criminal activity is so heavily related to drugs.

Following on from my preliminary comments about the terrible things that Labor are doing to our law enforcement agencies and the coalition's disappointment in the way they have made these savage cuts to our law enforcement agencies: in light of the fact that they have wasted so much money in other areas, if this were a disciplined government that had exercised physical restraint then these cuts probably would not be so egregious. But the reality is that they are a government that are fiscally reckless and have wasted an enormous amount of money, and yet they have still managed not to fund these agencies properly and they have savaged the existing budget that these agencies had when they came to office. That is a shame, and that is affecting all of us in our electorates. The new Minister for Home Affairs has come into the chamber and I reiterate my call for him to look at these savage cuts, to look at the effect that they are having on the agencies that are under his control and to do all he can to reverse these cuts so that these crime-fighting agencies can do their job of fighting and stopping the crime which is such a scourge in our communities.

I will just talk about the amendments in the bill. The explanatory memorandum to the bill notes that the bill will increase transparency and reduce the complexities surrounding the procedures governing the collection, use and analysis of DNA forensic material. This is a sensible amendment and it is fully supported by the coalition. I note that it was also supported by the House committee that inquired into this bill. Secondly, the bill aims to enhance the Australian Crime Commission's information-sharing capabilities to enable the agency to share information with Commonwealth, state and territory agencies and international law enforcement intelligence bodies. Again, I think these are sensible amendments. They attract the support of the coalition and they attract the unanimous support of the committee also.

It clearly makes sense for the ACC to have the ability to share information with relevant law enforcement agencies when it is appropriate for them to do so. I was informed in my briefing this morning that the ACC suffers from some of the most restrictive rules in relation to the information that it can share and how it can share that information. I support this bill's attempts to liberalise the ability of the ACC to share information when it is appropriate. The bill also makes an amendment to provide the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity with a contempt power and to enhance the commission's capability to investigate corruption. This amendment aims to deter uncooperative witnesses by providing a quick and powerful mechanism for the integrity commissioner to deal with uncooperative witnesses. Again, this is a sensible amendment endorsed by the coalition and endorsed unanimously by the committee.

Measures in this bill also aim to combat the emergence of new and illicit substances such as meow meow and special K. The reality is that the drugs we find on our streets are constantly evolving, particularly drugs that are created through a chemical process in backyard labs. Clearly the legislative framework needs to keep up with changes that are made. I understand from my briefing this morning that it is that particular aspect of the bill that warrants the urgency with which this House has been asked to deal with the bill. I accept at face value what I was told and that is why we have been happy to debate this bill at such short notice, with the caveat that I mentioned earlier on that it is not best practice to force the chamber to look at it so quickly after the committee has completed its deliberations.

The bill also seeks to make amendments that will list additional drug substances and the quantities to be subject to the full range of serious Commonwealth drug offences. That is the measure I was just discussing about the changes that we see in relation to chemically synthetically created drugs.

The bill also makes amendments to Commonwealth parole. Currently there is no ability to refuse parole to a federal offender who is serving a sentence of imprisonment of less than 10 years, even if the corrective services agencies believe the offender should not be granted parole.

On the same subject of parole, the bill's amendments will allow the release on parole of all federal offenders to be a discretionary decision, which would be consistent with the approach the states and territories take on granting parole. Further amendments are also being made to ensure that the federal offender's parole period ends on the same day as his or her sentence and that the parole supervision period may extend to the end of the federal offender's parole period. The situation currently is that for federal offences, other than life imprisonment, the maximum parole supervision period is only three years.

If I talk about all of those changes as a whole, this was the area of controversy that the committee raised in its report that has not been accepted by the government. The committee largely accepted the provisions of this bill, but there were two things they were concerned about and the retrospective nature of the changes that were made to parole was one of them. The government has not accepted the committee's concerns that were raised in the report that they tabled yesterday, and I do support the government's approach to this particular issue. I think it does make sense for the government to have the discretion that it is seeking.

I spoke to the deputy chair of the committee—the senior coalition member of that committee, the member for Pearce—and she reiterated to me the concerns that the committee had. I know that she takes her committee work very seriously. When she endorses a recommendation for a committee that she is on, and particularly one that she is deputy chair of, she is serious about it. She raised with me that she still shared the concerns that the committee raised yesterday about the retrospective nature of these changes. But I did respectfully agree to disagree with her on that particular issue and the coalition supports the government's approach to these changes.

The bill makes an amendment that will empower state and territory fine enforcement agencies to enforce Commonwealth fines through non-judicial enforcement actions without first obtaining a court order, which is costly and time consuming. That is supported by the coalition and was supported unanimously by the committee.

Finally, the bill makes an amendment to allow a court to restrict the publication of certain matters in relation to applications for freezing orders and restraining orders to prevent the publication of information that could compromise the proceeds of crime or related criminal investigation. Again, the coalition considers that to be uncontroversial, and the committee endorsed the government's approach unanimously also. There were two issues the committee raised within its report yesterday. I have dealt with the first issue about the concerns they had about the retrospective nature of the changes to federal parole. The second issue related to the safeguards around the ACC sharing information with private sector agencies. The government have accepted the concerns that the committee raised. I note that they are going to move amendments that add to those safeguards. Again, we support the government's approach on that and I am pleased that they have taken into account what the committee raised yesterday. It obviously makes sense for there to be appropriate safeguards around the ACC sharing such information. We were briefed this morning that the ACC felt that the amendments that were being made did create a workable framework for them, so I believe that this is a sensible way for the parliament to proceed. The opposition supports this bill and we also support the minor amendments that the government will be moving at a later stage.

If I could just be indulged, I acknowledge that today represents the 150th anniversary of policing in New South Wales. I want to congratulate the New South Wales Police Force on the good work that it does. It is a police force with a very distinguished history, indeed sometimes even a colourful history, over the 150 years that it has provided policing for the state of New South Wales. I note that the Member for Fowler is very familiar with the New South Wales Police Force. I am sure that he would join with me in offering these congratulations. I note that he takes all issues of law enforcement very seriously in his role as chair of the Joint Committee on Law Enforcement. I also congratulate the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Honourable Mike Gallacher, for the work that he has done over the past year for policing in New South Wales and pass on my congratulations to the whole force through the New South Wales police commissioner, Mr Andrew Scipione. I am sure that everyone in the parliament will join with me in offering our good wishes on what is a very significant anniversary for that police force. I will conclude my remarks there.

Whilst the minister is in the chamber, I will repeat my call. The agencies that he has inherited from his predecessor have been savaged by cuts that his party have made to them since they came to office in 2007. That has directly hampered their ability to do their job. We will reverse some of those cuts when we come to office. That is our policy, although it is very difficult to reverse them all within the limited budgetary environment that we would inherit. I would ask him very seriously to do his job in convincing his colleagues that making those cuts was an error and to do all he can within his ability to reinstate that funding. We have had cuts of 25 per cent to sea cargo inspections. We have had cuts of 75 per cent to air cargo inspections. Every member of this House will see the results of those savage cuts in the crime statistics in their home electorates. I do not say that as a political point; I say it very genuinely. I hope that he does all he can to reverse the savage cuts that have been made to Customs, to the ACC and to the Australian Federal Police. I will conclude my remarks there.