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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1024

Senator BRANDIS (12:01 PM) —The coalition support the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Identity Crimes and Other Measures) Bill 2010. Identity fraud is Australia’s fastest-growing crime, with hundreds of thousands of victims and an estimated cost of more than $1 billion every year. It is evident that the rapid increase in technology and computer use is partly behind this emerging threat. Identity crimes are increasing due to advances in technology in the banking sector and the rapid increase of financial transactions via the internet and the use of credit cards.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics report released late last year found that in 2007 alone more than 800,000 people, or five per cent of the population, aged 15 and older, fell victim to at least one instance of fraud. Identity fraud accounted for almost half a million victims, with 77 per cent of those reporting fraudulent transactions on their credit or bank cards. The remaining 23 per cent suffered identity theft involving unauthorised use of their personal details.

This bill implements changes to the identity crime offences recommended by the Model Criminal Law Officers Committee Final Report on Identity Crime. It seeks to insert three new identity crime offences into new part 9.5 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. With the exceptions of South Australia and Queensland, it is not currently an offence in Australia to assume or steal another person’s identity, except in restricted circumstances. Existing offences in the Criminal Code, such as theft, forgery, fraud and credit card skimming, do not adequately cover the varied and evolving types of identity crime—for instance, malicious software and phishing.

The proposed offences are framed in broad and technology-neutral language to ensure that, as new forms of identity crime emerge, the offences will continue to be valid. The offences include: dealing in identification information with the intention of committing or facilitating the commission of a Commonwealth indictable offence, punishable by up to five years imprisonment—that is, the dealing offence; possession of identification information with the intention of committing or facilitating the commission of conduct that constitutes the dealing offence, punishable by up to three years imprisonment; and possession of equipment to create identification documentation with the intention of committing or facilitating the commission of conduct that constitutes the dealing offence, punishable by up to three years imprisonment.

Schedule 4 to the bill contains several amendments which will establish a more consistent approach to the restrictions placed upon the disclosure of sensitive AUSTRAC information and strengthen safeguards to protect against the disclosure of sensitive AUSTRAC information.

The bill also contains several minor amendments to correct a drafting error in the Criminal Code Act 1995 and repeal a provision in the Judiciary Act 1903 which is no longer necessary. The bill contains key measures to resolve deficiencies in current legislation relating to identity crimes. The bill also includes measures designed to improve the administration of justice and the effective operation of the AFP and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

In April 2005, the coalition government announced the National Identity Security Strategy to combat the misuse of stolen or assumed identities in the provision of government services. To support development of the strategy, the coalition allocated funding of $5.9 million over two years in the 2005-06 budget, including funding for a pilot document verification service. Under the coalition government, the Model Criminal Law Officers Committee released a discussion paper on identity crime and subsequently a final report in March 2008. This bill implements that law reform largely undertaken by the previous government and now brought to completion under the current government. The coalition therefore supports the policy underlying the bill and supports the passage of this bill.