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National Crime Authority Chairperson discusses responsibility for crime and justice.

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PETER THOMPSON: The New South Wales state election has once again proved that politicians find it all too easy to hone in on crime, but according to one of Australia’s top crime fighters the issue of crime investigation and prevention is far more complex than it needs to be. For starters, the responsibility for crime and justice in Australia is split between nine separate jurisdictions and seven different police services, not to mention other state and federal agencies which also have an interest in crime from the Tax Office to state-based anti-corruption commissions.


For the chair of the National Crime Authority the framework is inefficient, costly and in serious need of change. John Broome will today deliver a paper on the topic to the National Outlook Symposium on Crime in Canberra. John Broome, good morning to you.


JOHN BROOME: Good morning, Peter.


PETER THOMPSON: It’s just a matter of abolishing the states, is it?


JOHN BROOME: I think we can actually go back and start all over again, as desirable as it might be in some respects. But I think there are some things that we can d, recognising nonetheless the political realities of an Australian federation.


PETER THOMPSON: What are the political realities when it comes ... and I suppose linked to that what needs to be tackled?


JOHN BROOME: I think there are three levels at which we need to take some action. The first is we need to get greater consistency and co-operation between state jurisdictions in relation to the procedural processes for the investigation of serious crime. The second area we need to do something about is to look at the organisational and structural situation we’ve got, as you say - in fact, eight police services not seven; we’ve got nine jurisdictions with Commonwealth and states and territories and so on, and I think there is some capacity to see greater co-operation in that area. We can’t change the jurisdictional structure but we can work better together.


And perhaps the most important thing in my view, as we go into the next century, is that we have to fundamentally address the way in which crime is becoming more international - international fraud on the Internet, fraud against electronic commerce which, whether we like it or not, is going to be the way business is done in the next century. And that is going to require Australian law enforcement to work with and co-operate with overseas agencies. And we need the international arrangements and co-operation to enable those kinds of investigations to occur.


PETER THOMPSON: John, could I come back to those things in particular in a moment, but I suppose it can also be said that the National Crime Authority might be part of the problem. You’re yet another agency investigating crime.


JOHN BROOME: Well, in fact, I think we’re part of the solution. You see, we’re the only agency in Australian law enforcement that can actually investigate crime which occurs at both state and federal level. Because of the way we have our constitutional separation of power, the states essentially are responsible for crime in Australia. The federal government is only responsible because the parliament can only make laws about those areas of power which the federal government specifically has.


Now, the authority was created as a rather unique solution to that problem. We were created by a federal Act of parliament but we have underpinning legislation in every jurisdiction in Australia which authorises us to investigate state offences as well as federal. So we actually fill in the cracks. We’re the sort of glue that binds the federal elements together in relation to dealing with serious organised crime.


PETER THOMPSON: I suppose on the other hand what is to be said in favour of the status quo is that, after all, crime occurs in the states.


JOHN BROOME: And let me make it very clear that the states properly have the major responsibility for most of the crime that occurs, whether it’s assaults, whether it’s burglary, whether it’s traffic matters, whether it’s domestic violence, all of which are incredibly important matters for the Australian community and properly matters for state police services to deal with because they’re closer to the community.


PETER THOMPSON: Can we pick up on a couple of the points you’ve made - and we need to do it quickly. Firstly, let me just ask you about a criminal code. We don’t have a common criminal code in Australia, though there’s been work going on about this for 15 years, hasn’t there?


JOHN BROOME: There has indeed. And, in fact, the federal government has been leading that and is very close now to I think achieving agreement on a federal criminal code. And that will be a very important step forward.


PETER THOMPSON: Now let’s go to some of the other things. The issue of consistency in procedures for investigating crime. What’s the problem?


JOHN BROOME: Let me give you a very simple example. If police officers use listening devices to track criminals involved in major drug deals who go across state borders, different rules apply in each state. There are rules in Queensland but they’re different from those in New South Wales and they’re different again from those in other states. So you run the risk of technical, procedural problems upsetting a prosecution, because we haven’t got a single, national, consistent approach.


PETER THOMPSON: Well, that speaks for itself. It sounds silly. Organisational and structural issues?


JOHN BROOME: I think we’ve just got to work a lot better together. We’ve got to realise that we each have jobs to do but that we do it better if we work together. I’ve got to say there’s been huge shift in Australian law enforcement in the last decade. It is much better than it’s ever been. My view is it can be better still.


PETER THOMPSON: And just a quick last one - international crime?


JOHN BROOME: That’s where I think everything is heading. From the local person, householder, who uses the Internet to buy services overseas, you can now be defrauded to major companies using electronic commerce. That’s where crime is going to occur in the next century and we have to be able to deal with that, not just nationally but internationally.


PETER THOMPSON: Good to talk to you. Thanks, John.


JOHN BROOME: Thanks, Peter.


PETER THOMPSON: John Broome, who’s chair of the National Crime Authority, and he talks today at the National Outlook Symposium on Crime in Canberra.