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Thursday, 4 February 2010
Page: 454

Senator XENOPHON (11:39 AM) —Organised crime is becoming more and more difficult to detect as crime bosses learn and find new ways to outsmart the law. Over 200 years ago Edmund Burke, the great English philosopher and statesman, said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil over good is for good men to do nothing.’ The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill 2009 and the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill (No. 2) 2009 do something, and I indicate my support for them. During my time in the South Australian parliament I was regularly approached by police officers who were frustrated because South Australia’s weak asset confiscation laws were allowing too many criminals to get away with profiting from their crimes.

As far back as June 2007 I called for the South Australian government to get on its bike and to move for asset confiscation laws that were closer to the Western Australian and Northern Territory legislation, which would make it easier for unexplained wealth declarations to be made. Effectively, this is what the government is doing. I note your role, Mr Acting Deputy President Hutchins, in the fine work that your committee, the Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission, did in analysing and robustly looking at these proposals. I note at the time, back in June 2007, I was supported in this by the now opposition leader in South Australia, Isabel Redmond, who joined me in a media conference calling for reforms. It is good to see that the South Australian government has recently moved to reform the law on this.

I think it is important in dealing with organised crime that these laws are not only enacted but enforced. I do note with interest that in a report in the Australian last Monday the AFP will be reorganising a push to fight organised crime. One of the concerns that has been expressed is that AFP resources have been diverted as a result of the emphasis on the fight against terrorism, which is entirely appropriate, but it is clear there have not been the resources to fight organised crime. Unexplained wealth declarations are an important tool and an important weapon to attack organised crime in this country.

These bills also grant the police power to seek unexplained wealth orders based on reasonable suspicion. Some would argue that, when it comes to dealing with organised crime, it is as big a problem and as big a threat to the community as terrorism. In fact, it is more of a real and present threat when you consider the pernicious effect of some of these organised crime gangs, the outlaw motorcycle gangs and those that deal in illicit drugs, particularly crystal methamphetamine and heroine, and the way they can hide their wealth and get away with what they do.

I am pleased to see that the government has addressed the concerns from the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in this area by stating that an officer must include his or her reasonable suspicion in an affidavit. Reasonable suspicion allows police to obtain an unexplained wealth order against someone who may not be obviously involved in criminal activity but who is reasonably expected to be. This will cover, for example, major crime figures who leave no trace of their criminal involvement but who, through their associations or actions, can reasonably be linked to illegal activity.

The committee’s recommendations also included that the courts should have the discretion to revoke or refuse a preliminary unexplained wealth order if it is in the public interest to do so. I am pleased to see that the government has also included this recommendation because, while it is necessary for police officers to have the option of using the orders, it is equally necessary to ensure that they are not abused.

I note the comments of Senator Ludlam expressing his reservations and the reservations of the Greens about corrupt police officers. I think what Senator Ludlam says is important in the context of ensuring that, given the enormous amounts of money involved and given the potential for corruption, we have effective controls to monitor corruption and it is weeded out in our law enforcement agencies. I do not think that in itself is a reason not to ensure that we go down this path in respect of unexplained wealth orders. Senator Ludlam is right in the sense that, if you have legislation such as this, it is important that we also have strong measures in place to deal with the issue of the potential for police corruption and the actuality of it occurring. I know that in my home state many years ago the former head of the South Australian drug squad spent a considerable period of time in jail—some would say not enough—for trafficking in heroin and behaving corruptly.

I believe the freezing orders included in these bills are another important tool for investigators. The shortened application process is important when it is likely that a suspect will move or transfer the funds or other proceeds of their crimes. These bills also allow property that is either used or intended to be used in a crime to be confiscated and used as evidence. It is important to note that property from indictable offences can only be confiscated after a person is convicted.

I support these changes but I believe that we may need to go further, depending on how effective they are. I appreciate the contribution of the shadow Attorney-General in relation to this. I would like to put these questions on notice to the government. Perhaps they can be dealt with in the committee stage or be put on notice. What is the government proposing to do in the context of monitoring the effectiveness of this legislation? To what extent does this legislation differ from legislation overseas in relation to unexplained wealth orders and in its effectiveness in dealing with organised crime? When does the government propose to report back to the parliament? Does it have any proposed reporting mechanisms to look at the efficacy of this legislation?

Essentially, the question is: are we doing everything possible to deal with unexplained wealth in the most effective way possible, taking into account the concerns expressed by the committee, and are we doing it in a way that will actually make significant inroads into unexplained wealth declarations? Unless this is an effective law, we will continue to see organised crime syndicates. The outlaw motorcycle gangs will continue to prosper and continue to have their corrosive and destructive influence on society.