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Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Page: 9348

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (12:17): The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious Drugs, Identity Crime and Other measures) Bill 2012 contains a range of measures relating to Commonwealth criminal justice legislation, including amendments to:

ensure that the Commonwealth's serious drug offences framework can respond quickly to new and emerging substances

expand the scope of existing identity crime offences, as well as enact new offences for the use of a carriage service in order to obtain and/or deal with identification information

create new offences relating to air travel and the use of false identities

…   …   …

increase the value of a penalty unit and introduce a requirement for the triennial review of the penalty unit.

There are also minor amendments to improve the operation of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006 and a technical amendment to clarify that superannuation orders can be made in relation to all periods of a person's employment as a Commonwealth employee.

I turn to Schedule 1, the purpose of which is to strengthen the Commonwealth's serious drug offences framework. Illicit drugs have a serious impact on the Australian community and are the cause a wide range of social, economic and personal harms. The bill's explanatory memorandum states that the amendments in this schedule ensure that Commonwealth laws are up to date and allow for flexible, quick responses to new and emerging drug threats—for example, substances that seek to mimic the effects of other illicit drugs.

This amendment will:

transfer the lists of illicit substances—

to which the Commonwealth serious drug offences apply—

from the Criminal Code to the regulations; establish conditions and criteria for listing controlled and border controlled substances in regulations; amend emergency determination mechanisms by extending the listing period and refining the criteria to be satisfied before a determination can be made.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service are responsible for managing the security and integrity of Australia's borders, including the detection of illicit drugs and other contraband substances. Customs officers work hard day and night to detect and deter unlawful movements of goods and people across the border. Australian customs officers do a marvellous job under tough circumstances, particularly considering the damaging staff and budgetary cuts this government have inflicted upon them. Unfortunately, they are also being stretched due to the government's mismanagement of our borders—one of the most infamous legacies of this lamentable period of Labor government.

Since coming to office three years ago, the Labor Party has cut funding to Customs for cargo screening, making Australia's borders less secure and our nation more vulnerable to the threat posed by illicit drugs. In the 2009-10 budget, Labor cut the budget of Customs for cargo screening by a massive $58.1 million. This cut to screening by the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments reduced the number of potential sea cargo inspections by 25 per cent. Labor's cuts also resulted in a reduction of 75 per cent to air cargo inspections. In the recent Customs annual report, it was revealed that only 4.3 per cent of sea cargo—a trivial amount in the scheme of things—is X-rayed and only 0.6 per cent—some one in 200 items—of sea cargo is physically examined. It was also of concern to learn that a staggering 95.7 per cent of all sea cargo consignments are not X-rayed.

It is no wonder that illicit drugs are slipping through onto our streets under Labor when only 13.3 per cent of air cargo consignments are X-rayed and only 0.6 per cent of air cargo is physically examined. There is a direct cause and effect relationship between the growth of the problem of illicit drugs on our streets and the Labor Party's massive budgetary cutbacks to Customs—itself a consequence of the Labor Party's inability to manage the budget.

What has become clear is that Labor's cuts to Customs' cargo and vessel inspection system put Australians, particularly young Australians, at risk by giving a boost to organised criminal gangs that smuggle illicit drugs and weapons into the country. The Labor government prefers to tinker around the edges rather than ensure our law enforcement agencies are appropriately resourced to perform their work.

Let me turn to the serious and growing threat of identity crime. Schedule 2 of the bill seeks to expand identity crime offences in the Criminal Code and create new offences and powers relating to air travel and the use of false identities. Law enforcement agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police, have identified identity crime as a significant threat to Australians and one of the fastest growing species of crime in Australia. Australians have been quick to adopt the internet in their lives and businesses. For many Australians, it is now part of their daily routine for talking to friends and family, studying, shopping and paying bills. Similarly, businesses have embraced the internet and other information technology to improve efficiency, improve the quality of service and gain access to new markets. Regrettably, this has also created new prospects for criminals who seek to access personal and corporate secrets, steal resources and intimidate internet-reliant businesses. Additionally, the global community continues to experience an increase in the scale, sophistication and successful perpetration of cybercrime and identity theft. As the extent and importance of electronic information has increased, so too have the efforts of criminals and other malicious actors who have adopted the internet as a more convenient, anonymous and profitable method of conducting their criminal activities.

It is unfortunate that the Labor government does not appreciate the key role the Australian Federal Police plays in protecting Australia's security in this arena, as in other arenas. Since it came to office, Labor has cut a staggering $264.5 million from the AFP, including a cut of a massive $133 million in the current budget alone. The AFP's High Tech Crime Operations Centre, led by Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan, does an outstanding job considering the limited resources it has available to it and the constant evolution of the cyberthreat.

The amendments made by this bill seek to extend existing identity crime offences to the use of identification information to commit foreign indictable offences, in addition to Commonwealth indictable offences. This is directed at individuals who are located in Australia and engage in international identity crime. The internet and other new technologies provide ideal vehicles for organised criminal syndicates to capture and exploit the identity information of others. Part 1 of the schedule seeks to introduce the new offence of dealing in identity information using a carriage service such as the internet. This will capture individuals who use the internet to make, supply or use identification information with the intent of passing themselves, or someone else, off as the person identified in the information for the purpose of committing an offence.

Part 2 of schedule 2 includes amendments that are aimed at enabling law enforcement agencies to target individuals who travel by air under false identities. The aim is specifically to prevent individuals involved in organised crime from taking flights under false identities in order to commit or facilitate the commission of crimes and avoid police detection. The coalition has long been of the view that more needs to be done on this front, including in our maritime and aviation sectors, which have been infiltrated by organised criminal networks.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement held an inquiry into the adequacy of aviation and maritime security measures to combat serious and organised crime, and it reported in June 2011. The committee heard evidence that individuals involved in organised crime had regularly been travelling by air under false identities in order to avoid police detection and facilitate criminal activities, such as money laundering and illicit drug trafficking. Surprisingly, it is not currently an offence to use false information to travel by air. Accordingly, the committee recommended the creation of this new offence to reduce a vulnerability that is being exploited by criminal networks. This amendment will also allow police officers the power to request identity information from individuals where the police officer holds a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, or intends to commit, a serious criminal offence. The coalition supports measures that thwart the attempts of criminal syndicates to take advantage of lax conditions. However, it is unfortunate that it has taken the government almost a year and a half to act on these recommendations and respond to an urgent problem with appropriate swiftness.

Schedule 3 of the bill makes some technical amendments relating to the functions of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner, the value of penalty units, and superannuation orders. The coalition supports those measures. They are not controversial and they reflect an appropriate contemporising of the legislation.

In conclusion, the bill makes a numbers changes to Commonwealth criminal law, largely to tighten and clarify existing legislation, which has the coalition's support. The bill was the subject of an inquiry and report by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which reported yesterday. The committee unanimously recommended that the bill be passed. The bill has the support of the coalition and I commend it to the Senate.