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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3324

Mr CLARE (BlaxlandMinister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice and Cabinet Secretary) (18:09): In July 2010 the government established Task Force Polaris—a joint law enforcement task force targeting organised crime on the waterfront and in the cargo supply chain in Sydney. This task force, as the shadow minister has just mentioned, has been very successful: it has now made 39 arrests, laid 190 charges and seized over 12 tonnes of illicit substances and precursor chemicals.

Last year I announced major reforms to crack down on organised crime in the cargo system. An important part of that is expanding the work of Task Force Polaris from Sydney to Melbourne and Brisbane. In the budget that was tabled last night, it includes something in the order of $5.6 million to expand the work of this task force to Melbourne and to Brisbane.

In Brisbane it will be called Task Force Jericho, and officers from the Australian Federal Police and Customs have begun setting it up and it will roll out in the middle of this year. In Melbourne the task force is called Trident and it has now been established with the Victorian police.

Since it was established in July of last year, Task Force Trident has already executed 71 search warrants and made 13 arrests, including the arrest of a suspect involved in the importation of over 300 kilos of liquid methamphetamine.

Task Force Trident also disrupted an intended importation of 200 kilos of methamphetamine and seized 25 kilos of methamphetamine, 130 tonnes of tobacco, a commercial quantity of cocaine and a number of other prohibited items. In the short time that it has been established, the value of this task force is already being demonstrated. I should add: this is replacing a task force that was shut down by the former government.

The rollout of these task forces is just one of the reforms this government has driven to make it harder for organised crime to infiltrate and exploit the cargo system. We have already implemented a number of non-legislative reforms to harden the cargo supply chain, including: changes to the integrated cargo system to limit access to specific cargo information, strengthening licence conditions on key participants in the trading system, and    increasing the number of targeted patrols of the waterfront.

This bill implements further important reforms. First, the bill places new obligations on cargo terminal operators and people who load and unload cargo, which are similar to those that the Customs Act imposes on holders of depot and warehouse licences. These obligations include mandatory reporting of unlawful activity as well as fit and proper person checks at the request of Customs and Border Protection. Second, it creates new offences for obtaining and using restricted information, including information from the integrated cargo system, to commit an offence and for unlawfully disclosing that restricted information. Third, it gives the Chief Executive Officer of Customs the power to impose new licence conditions at any time and make it an offence to breach certain licence conditions. This brings the Customs broker licensing scheme into line with other Customs licensing schemes. Fourth, the bill amends the AusCheck Act 2007 to enable an ASIC or MSIC to be suspended if the cardholder has been charged with a serious offence.

These amendments recognise the fact that the presence of high-risk individuals in the aviation and maritime environments can facilitate large-scale criminal activity and result in significant harm and losses to the Australian community and economy.

The current ASIC and MSIC regimes provide for the cancellation of an ASIC or MSIC where the holder is convicted of and sentenced to imprisonment for an aviation or maritime security related offence. The bill introduces the capacity for AusCheck to suspend the person's ASIC or MSIC or the processing of an application for an ASIC or MSIC if the person is charged with a serious offence. This measure has been developed based on the advice of the Australian Federal Police. The government will continue to consult with law enforcement agencies and stakeholders about the offences to be listed and will be prescribed by regulation.

Finally, the bill amends the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act, which establishes the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. The bill repeals provisions that prevent the deputy presiding officers from being appointed to that committee. It provides the parliament with greater discretion when appointing members to this important committee and makes membership eligibility consistent with parliamentary committees' similar functions.

I have made it clear that I am serious about making sure that our law enforcement agencies have got the powers and the tools that they need to target organised crime, whether that is on the border or on the street. When organised criminals penetrate the system, they can cause enormous damage. This bill, and other measures that the government is implementing—like the establishment of a National Border Targeting Centre—are designed to give our law enforcement agencies the powers they need to stop organised crime penetrating the system. It is an ongoing battle and more reform is required. As I have said in this place on a number of occasions, that also requires and demands national anti-gang laws and national unexplained wealth laws.

We need to give police more power to seize the assets of serious organised criminals. The Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police has made that point recently. He said that our current laws in this area are not effective and national unexplained wealth laws are in the national interest. The Australian Crime Commission has estimated that 72 organised crime targets each generated $10 million or more in illicit profits over the past two years and six of these individuals had an estimated value of illicit profits of over $100 million each.

Both sides of politics have called for national laws in bipartisan recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement in this area, but it has been rejected on a number of occasions by the states and territories. That is why the Prime Minister placed this issue on the agenda at COAG in April. Unfortunately, at that meeting, the states and territories did not agree to reform. That is a disappointing decision; it is the wrong decision. We need these laws, and the longer we wait the more money criminals will make. If we are serious about tackling organised crime, then we need national anti-gang laws and we need national unexplained wealth laws. That is what this parliament has called for—what both sides of this parliament have called for—it is what the Police Federation of Australia has called for and it is what every police commissioner in the country is calling for. We need state governments to support this and give us these powers to create these new laws and I will continue to prosecute the case for them. In the meantime, I comment this bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.