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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2360


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (22:11): The coalition supports measures that improve the crime-fighting abilities of our law enforcement agencies. The coalition therefore supports the aims of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers and Offences) Bill 2012, which are to provide further tools to ensure the effective investigation of crimes and enforcement of laws and to strengthen the safeguards applicable in those investigations.

The most complex provisions of this bill aim to increase the transparency and reduce the complexity surrounding the procedures governing the collection, use and analysis of DNA forensic material. These amendments implement recommendations from the report DNA forensic procedures: further independent review of the Crimes Act 1914, which was presented to parliament in 2010. The amendments seek to reduce the complexity of the procedures in part 1(d) of the Crimes Act, reduce inconsistencies between jurisdictions in forensic procedures for law enforcement purposes, ease the collection and exchange of forensic information between law enforcement agencies across jurisdictions and impose accreditation requirements on laboratories dealing with DNA samples. Importantly, the bill also seeks to ensure that safeguards are maintained and in cases extended. In particular, children and incapable persons will have clearer opportunities to object to DNA testing.

The bill also aims to increase the Australian Crime Commission's information sharing capabilities to enable the agency to share information with Commonwealth, state and territory agencies and international law enforcement and intelligence bodies. Amendments will further provide the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity with a contempt power aimed at improving the commission's capability to investigate corruption. It seeks to deter uncooperative witnesses by providing a powerful mechanism for the Integrity Commissioner to deal with those who might seek to mislead or obstruct his inquiries.

The bill also contains measures to deal with the emergence of new illicit substances, such as 'miaow miaow' and 'Special K', which are apparently the demotic names for drugs. Amendments will list additional drug substances and quantities to be subject to the full range of Commonwealth serious drug offences. I was afraid that Mr Lambie was having a joke at my expense. The bill makes amendment to Commonwealth parole. Currently, there is no ability to refuse parole to a federal offender who is serving a sentence of imprisonment of less than 10 years, even if corrective service agencies believe the offender should not be granted parole. These amendments originate in the 2006 report of the Australian Law Reform Commission entitled, Same crime, same time: sentencing of federal offenders. Parole should not be an automatic entitlement and, so far as possible, prisoners serving sentences for state and federal offences should be treated equivalently. Therefore, the amendments will make release on parole of all federal offenders a discretionary decision consistent with the approach taken in the states and territories.

Further amendments provide that a federal offender's parole period will end on the same day as his or her sentence, and that the parole supervision period may extend to the end of the federal offender's parole period. Currently for federal sentences other than life imprisonment, the maximum parole supervision period is only three years. Amendments will also empower state and territory fine enforcement agencies to enforce Commonwealth fines through nonjudicial enforcement actions without first obtaining a costly and time-consuming court order.

Finally, the bill proposes amendments to allow a court to restrict the publication of certain matters in relation to applications for freezing orders and restraining orders to prevent the publication of certain matters—for example, details of proceeds of crime applications—to prevent prejudice to the administration of justice.

Let me take a moment to reflect upon the Labor Party's record on crime and criminal law enforcement. The bill, which is about enhancing the crime-fighting abilities of our law enforcement agencies, invites us to consider how effectively resourced those agencies have been by the government. The bill makes welcome improvements to the crime-fighting ability of the Australian Crime Commission; however there is a tension between that ambition and the practice of the Rudd and Gillard governments. This government has hampered the ability of the Australian Crime Commission to discharge its functions by forcing it to cut staff by 19 per cent and to send home more than 100 officers seconded from the state and territory police forces. Labor has also imposed cuts on the Australian Crime Commission's budget, equating to a cut of 8.9 per cent over the forward estimates.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service is the agency charged with protecting Australia's borders. One of the core functions of Customs is to keep dangerous goods, illicit drugs and weapons out of the country and out of the hands of organised criminal syndicates. This government is hampering the work of Customs by forcing it to cull one in five senior executive service officers as a result of Labor's decision to take an axe to Customs funding. And, as we heard in Senator Cash's question to Minister Ludwig in question time today, the number of inspections of airborne cargo into Australia has been reduced from more than 60 per cent to fewer than 10 per cent in the life of this Labor government.

In addition, this Labor government has cut aerial surveillance by $20.8 million and 2,215 aerial surveillance hours—or more than 90 days—and axed a further 90 staff from Customs on top of the 250 cut in the 2010-11 budget. They have cut $34 million over four years for passenger facilitation at Australia's eight international airports. In this year's MYEFO it has been estimated that $35 million will be cut from Customs over the forward estimates, and in the 2010 budget they cut the budget for Customs for cargo screening by $58.1 million. This cut to screening by the Rudd and Gillard governments has reduced the potential sea cargo inspections by 25 per cent and, as I said a moment ago, this has resulted in a reduction by a factor of sixfold the number of air cargo inspections.

In the recent Customs annual report it was revealed that only 4.3 per cent of sea cargo is X-rayed and only 0.6 per cent of sea cargo is physically examined. With even greater volumes of cargo projected for the coming years even less cargo will now be inspected, and that is a disgraceful situation.

The Australian Federal Police have also been hit hard by cuts. Labor imposed an efficiency dividend, resulting in a $23.5 million cut in the AFP's operating budget in the 2010-11 financial year. This is on top of the staff and budget cuts that the Federal Police have been forced to absorb in previous years.

When Labor takes the axe to the AFP it puts even greater strain on state and territory police forces, as they are forced to pick up the slack created by the soft-on-crime approach of the Labor Party. When you cut staff and funding from essential agencies such as the AFP and Customs and Border Protection, it sends a clear message to criminals around the country and to international organised crime syndicates, including people-smuggling syndicates, that this government has no idea when it comes to fighting organised crime.

The coalition understands the problems that stem from illegal drugs, gang violence and other forms of organised crime. It is therefore essential that the Gillard government stops stripping funds from agencies like Customs, whose role is to screen cargo and protect our borders, as the more illegal firearms and drugs that enter the country the more incentives and reasons criminals will have to create violence in the community.

In recent times we have seen escalated violent displays and criminal activity by bikie gangs across the country. As a result, the Liberal Western Australian state government and the Liberal New South Wales state government have responded by introducing tough legislation aimed at striking organised crime at its core. The federal Labor government, on the other hand, continues to cut funding and resources from these key agencies. It is high time that this government matched its rhetoric with political will and substantive resource allocation in taking a strong stand against organised crime in our community and reducing the antisocial behaviour that places ordinary Australians at risk. Our frontline crime-fighting agencies, in short, do not get the support that they need and deserve and that the community expects from this government, which has its priorities all wrong.

Nevertheless, as I indicated earlier, this bill does make some worthwhile amendments to the legislative framework for fighting crime, informed by independent reviews and the work of the Australian Law Reform Commission. Those measures have the support of the coalition, which will accordingly be voting for the bill.