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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1034

Senator FEENEY (Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) (12:40 PM) —Firstly, I would like to thank senators for their support of the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Identity Crimes and Other Measures) Bill 2010. Senator Brandis made reference to the National Identity Security Strategy. I seek to make a number of points in answer to his questions on the bill. The government continues to lead national action to prevent the identities of Australians being used for illegal purposes. The government is working with the states and territories to develop and implement the National Identity Security Strategy. One of the key elements of this strategy is the national Document Verification Service, which allows agencies to verify documents presented as proof of identity, such as passports or driver’s licenses, in real time. Once fully implemented, the DVS will help governments and individuals protect against identity theft by detecting false or stolen identity documents. The government is also working to expand the use of biometrics to anchor an identity by connecting personal information, such as a name, to the individual’s biometrics, such as a photograph or even a fingerprint.

It is important to raise community awareness about the risk of identity crime. That is why last year, on 23 November, the government launched the ID Theft booklet, which outlines how to prevent and respond to identity theft. Around 60,000 copies of the ID Theft booklet have been distributed nationwide for crime prevention activities. There is a range of other activities across the government aimed at preventing fraud and helping people to protect their identities online. For example, in March this year, Fraud Week included an online scams education and awareness campaign.

Senator Fielding raised the issue of criminal name changes. Name changes are governed by state and territory legislation and administered by their registries of births, deaths and marriages. The issue of criminal name changes is being addressed by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. National justice chief executive officers are developing a best practice approach to changes of name to ensure criminals cannot abuse the change-of-name system. A proposal will be presented to attorneys-general later this year. A cooperative approach through the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General is the appropriate way to deal with this matter in the government’s view. Senator Fielding also mentioned the Privacy Act. That act already permits the use and disclosure of personal information for the prevention and detection of criminal offences, which would address the issue Senator Fielding raised.

Finally, the bill contains three new identity crime offences and other amendments that will improve the operation of Commonwealth agencies, including the AFP, the CDPP and AUSTRAC. As senators know, identity theft poses a significant threat to individuals and the entire Australian economy. In 2009-10 there were 124,000 victims of identity theft in Australia. The Australian Crime Commission’s 2010 Organised Crime Threat Assessment identified identity crime as one of the highest level threats. The identity crime offences in this bill bridge the gaps in existing legislation and limit the impact of identity crime on individuals and business. The offences are based on provisions prepared by the Model Criminal Law Officers Committee. Amendments to the Australian Federal Police Act 1979, the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1983 and Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 are all designed to improve and simplify the administration of the Australian Federal Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and AUSTRAC. This bill advances Australia’s response to identity crime and enhances the ability of Commonwealth agencies to perform their functions.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.