Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1028

Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (12:15 PM) —In recent years, identity crimes have grown more prevalent and they continue to pose a serious threat to ordinary Australians. TheLaw and Justice Legislation Amendment (Identity Crimes and Other Measures) Bill 2010 implements the recommendations of the Model Criminal Law Officers Committee and introduces three new offences into the Criminal Code. The bill also includes provisions which allow victims of identity crimes to obtain a certificate which may assist in re-establishing their credit histories. Family First supports these changes and the commitment by the government to address the current deficiencies in our laws. Family First firmly believes that matters relating to the identity of individuals deserve our serious attention given the significant consequences which exist where a person’s identity is abused.

We need strong protections in place to ensure that individuals’ identities remain protected, particularly where these identities are used to commit serious crimes. Remarkably, the issues of identity protection and identity verification continue to be a problem. This is most apparent in relation to the national criminal history record checking which takes place across the country every day. As it stands, people are able to hide their criminal history by changing their name by deed poll, thereby essentially erasing any record of their criminal history. This is because a person’s new name is not tagged in the systems with the criminal history associated with their previous name. It is a crazy loophole. Think about it—this means that a murderer, a drug dealer, an armed robber or any other person with a criminal history is able to hide it by changing their name by deed poll.

I was flabbergasted when I discovered some time ago that this loophole existed, because it is a serious hole in our criminal history checking system. People rely on criminal history checks all the time, especially before hiring new employees, and it is serious breach of the trust which many people place in these checks. In many cases, these checks are performed before employing people in positions of trust, such as those that involve working with the elderly or children. These are positions of significant concern, so organisations undertake these checks to make sure that the people they are employing do not have an inappropriate criminal history.

It is now clear that criminal history checks are in many cases quite meaningless, because a person with a certain type of criminal past need only walk into the nearest births, deaths and marriages office, pay a small fee of around $50 and—hey-presto—watch as their criminal history vanishes instantly. Incredibly, the government has been aware of this crazy loophole for years, yet it does not seem to want to close it with any real urgency. I have raised this issue on a number of occasions, including through Senate estimates and hearings involving CrimTrac. The government continues to fail to urgently act to close this loophole which allows criminals to hide their criminal history.

I am flabbergasted that, on the one hand, the government clearly admits that it is aware of the potential for criminals to abuse this loophole yet, on the other hand, it suggests that there is nothing it can do to prevent this, claiming that it is a state issue. I have also raised the issue of criminals being able to change their names and hide their criminal history with the office of the Attorney-General, providing a list of amendments to this bill which I believed would strengthen the power of the Commonwealth to force the states to take action on this matter. In the beginning, my proposed amendments were met with silence; it was only after the meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General on 6 and 7 August 2009 that the Labor government finally saw fit to address this serious security issue. Even so, the response from the government has fallen well short of what any person would reasonably expect from a responsible government. A summary that was released of the decisions arrived at by the committee devoted just 28 words to this issue. It stated:

… Ministers requested that National Justice CEOs develop a best practice approach to the change of name process, to ensure that criminals cannot abuse the change of name system.

Clearly, everybody is aware of this issue and, quite frankly, it is simply not good enough not to act urgently. The CEOs were asked to go back to their states and develop a best practice approach, but that was over 12 months ago, and we are still waiting for proper action to ensure that criminals will no longer be able to go to any births, deaths and marriages office, change their names and thereby wipe away any record of their crimes. We need proper action, not more excuses or inaction from the government.

Family First has put forward amendments which try to force the Commonwealth government to take action on this issue. Under these amendments, the minister would be required to present a report on what could be done to urgently develop a nationally consistent scheme to make sure that this loophole is closed. In this report, the minister would also need to address what the Commonwealth was doing to implement such a scheme. This would force the issue to a federal level rather than leaving it at a state level and put pressure on the government to finally make serious attempts to fix this problem.

Family First’s amendments also include a suggested change to the Privacy Act to make it clear that the Privacy Act does not prevent agencies passing on relevant information. While this would not guarantee that information would be passed on, it would remove possible excuses for not doing so. This loophole, which allows criminals to erase their history of convictions, has existed for far too long. I understand that New South Wales has moved to address this issue, and it is high time that a nationally consistent approach was adopted. I urge all senators to look at these amendments as we go into the committee stage of this bill.