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Thursday, 4 February 2010
Page: 457

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) (11:55 AM) —I thank all senators for their contributions to the debate on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill 2009 and the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill (No. 2) 2009. I note also that the opposition, through Senator Brandis, has indicated the coalition’s support for the bills, and I thank the opposition for taking that view.

There were some issues raised in the debate that we may deal with in more detail in committee, but I did want to briefly respond to some of them now. In relation to some comments made by Senator Brandis in which he raised the issue of appropriate safeguards for unexplained wealth orders, the government believes that it has included checks and balances that ensure that these measures operate safely. There is a gatekeeping requirement to trigger the application of the provisions, and a preliminary unexplained wealth order cannot be made unless law enforcement agencies satisfy the court that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a person’s total wealth exceeds the value of lawful earnings. I am also advised that there are potentially some amendments from the opposition on this matter, and I understand there have been satisfactory negotiations on that point.

Senator Ludlam raised concerns about the consultation on and time for consideration of the bills. I would make the point that these bills were introduced into the parliament last year, in June and September. The parliament has had some months to consider each of them and the Senate committee has also inquired into and reported on the bills. Public hearings were held in the context of these hearings, and the government has given careful consideration to all of the recommendations of the committee. The senator also raised the concern that the joint commission provisions go further than the common law. The government’s view is that the provisions are consistent with the common law and ensure that the Commonwealth Criminal Code reflects that common law.

The senator also questioned why the government will not be implementing one of the recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, namely recommendation 6, in which the committee recommended that principal law enforcement officers be required to report to the chief officer on each operation within two months of its completion. I am advised that these reports would largely duplicate information, recording and reporting requirements set out under other provisions. For example, details about the nature and quantity of illicit goods and the route through which they are passed are already required of both chief officers’ reports and the general register. To address the Senate committee’s concerns, the amendments will ensure law enforcement agencies are required to include information about the controlled conduct engaged in, the outcomes of each operation and both chief officers’ reports and the general register. The government has also made amendments in the other place to require additional reporting to be undertaken if an operation involves narcotic goods.

This government takes very seriously its responsibility for ensuring a safe and more secure Australia. These bills are a significant step toward that goal. As senators know, organised crime inflicts substantial harm on our community as well as on business and government. Organised crime networks are extensive, entrepreneurial and adaptive. They are involved in a range of criminal activities, from illicit drug trafficking and money laundering to identity theft and cybercrime. The increasingly aggressive nature of organised crime requires a more aggressive response. It is important that there are strong laws in place to combat this national security threat.

Passage of these bills will represent a significant advance in the tools available to fight serious and organised crime. The bills implement resolutions agreed by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in April and August of last year for a comprehensive national response to organised crime. At that meeting, Commonwealth, state and territory governments committed to decisive action to address the threat of organised crime and to ensure that there were no safe havens in Australia for organised criminal groups. These bills also deliver on the Prime Minister’s assurance in his inaugural National Security Statement, delivered at the end of 2008, that the government would act to address the threat posed by organised criminal activity by further strengthening the laws necessary to combat organised crime.

There is a range of government amendments which will be moved in the committee debate and I propose to address them at that stage. They are amendments that are designed to clarify and ensure that the provisions in the bill and existing legislation operate as intended, as well as more substantive amendments. The measures in both the bills as amended represent another significant step as part of a coordinated national effort to more effectively prevent, investigate and prosecute organised crime activities in this country and to improve laws that target the proceeds of organised crime groups. Both sets of reforms are an important part of the government’s commitment to keeping Australia safe and secure, and I commend the bills to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.