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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1024

Senator HUTCHINS —Identity fraud represents a serious threat to the community and can play a part in financing organised crime and terrorism. It is no small problem. According to the Australian Federal Police, identity fraud costs the Australian economy up to $4 billion a year. New measures to deter and penalise these crimes are essential in putting an end to this illicit industry. The Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Identity Crimes and Other Measures) Bill 2010 inserts new identity fraud offences into the Criminal Code Act 1995, making it an offence to deal in identification information, including specific offences for possessing identification information or the equipment used to make false documentation with the intent of dealing in such information.

The existing offences in the Criminal Code, covering such offences as theft, forgery, fraud and credit card skimming, are currently inadequate in addressing the many established and emerging types of identity crime. This bill will bring into effect recommendations on identity crime offences arising from the Model Criminal Law Officers Committee Final Report on Identity Crime, which was released by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in March 2008. After passage of this bill, it will be an offence to make, supply or use identification information for the purpose of allowing one person to pass themselves off as another where it involves committing or facilitating the commission of a Commonwealth offence.

Significant improvements and changes in the nature of technology are common, along with the development of new applications for these advances. The utility of the internet in terms of such uses, such as communication, shopping and online banking, has become a part of everyday life and has changed the way we interact in both a social and commercial sense, so legislation must have a capacity to account for the invention of new forms of criminality associated with technological progress. This bill will grant such scope, ensuring that a strong disincentive will always be relevant to those engaging in identity theft, in whatever form it may take. Key terms and definitions have deliberately been drafted in a technology-neutral manner, to avoid the problem of terms becoming outdated or technology surpassing the definition as it will exist in the act.

As identity crime is very often a transnational phenomenon, the three identity crimes offences created by this bill will extend to the actions of any Australian citizen or corporation outside Australia, removing any recourse to using the fact that a particular jurisdiction had not legislated on this type of conduct. Australians will not be able to escape prosecution for an identity crime offence committed outside Australia on the basis that the jurisdiction in which the action takes place does not have identity crime laws.

Of particular note in this bill is the provision allowing for the issue of a certificate outlining the circumstances in which an individual has been the victim of identity crime, to help those affected to minimise the inconvenience of such circumstances. In the certificate, the magistrate must record the identity of the victim and describe the manner in which the identification information was said to have been misused.

Identity crimes can have a significant impact on a victim’s personal financial affairs, such as their credit rating. A certificate issued by a magistrate may be useful in reducing this impact, especially when in discussion with financial institutions to isolate and remove fraudulent transactions or re-establish their credit rating. Considering the fact that individual victims are reported to spend an average of two or more years attempting to restore their credit ratings, these provisions have the potential to save victims of identity fraud offences from putting their lives on hold while clearing fraudulent transactions made in their name.

This bill goes a long way to making identity crime a less attractive source of finance for criminals, but the vigilance of individual citizens in protecting sensitive information concerning their identity is also essential. Initiatives like the recent National Identity Fraud Awareness Week, which occurred from 9 to 15 October this year, should bring home how serious a risk we take with our identity through seemingly innocuous actions. A study found that 75 per cent of Australians throw out enough personal information to put themselves at risk of identity fraud, and many unsolicited phone calls seek to contribute to building a profile of information that can be used for profiting from deception. Educational initiatives such as this should worry us enough to be less complacent about how we treat our own sensitive information.

Beyond the identity crimes provisions, this bill seeks to amend the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 to augment Australia’s regime of detection and deterrence when it comes to money laundering and the financing of terrorism and organised crime. Measures to ensure awareness of the reporting obligations for the movement of physical currency across borders under the act, along with improvements to restrict and protect against the release of AUSTRAC information, form the substance of this component of the bill.

Additionally, the bill amends part III of the Crimes Act 1914 in order to bring the administration of justice offences into line with chapter 2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. It also makes amendment to the Australian Federal Police Act and the Director of Public Prosecutions Act. The suite of amendments in this bill will ensure that the operations of law enforcement agencies are improved. This bill represents a strong disincentive to identity fraud, as it imposes specific penalties on such actions. It is an additional welcome step in enhancing the capacity and capabilities of law enforcement to prevent serious and organised crime and prosecuting those involved in it. I am sure that the bill will go a long way towards arming our law enforcement agencies to deal with identity crimes while also assisting victims to rectify their financial records. I commend the bill.