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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12798

Mr KERR (1:22 PM) —I rise to speak on the report of the Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority entitled, Street Legal: the involvement of the National Crime Authority in controlled operations . Firstly, this is a welcome opportunity for the parliament to have the product of an extensive examination of this issue. When controlled operations legislation was first introduced into this House by me as minister, there was not then a body of understanding as to the complexities. In large measure, it was driven by the need to respond in a legislative way to the implications of the Ridgeway decision.

Whilst the house committee had the opportunity to examine that legislation and to make a number of recommended changes, which the then government implemented and adopted, I think this is a welcome opportunity to completely revisit the issue. Much has moved on because, since that time, states have enacted different legislative regimes. We are now recommending that we move towards greater commonality in relation to the way in which controlled operations are governed and supervised. We accept that they are a necessary tool of law enforcement, but we also want to ensure that there are proper regimes of accountability and appropriate arrangements for approval and for the examination of the management of those schemes by external audit. That is reflected in the recommendations of the report.

Particularly, the committee wants to ensure that, where controlled operations of any complexity are used, law enforcement agencies arrange appropriate training and education courses to ensure that the carriage of those operations is in accordance not only with the legal framework but also, importantly, with the interests of those law enforcement officials whose lives are extraordinarily stressed as a result of their participation in undercover work. It requires little imagination to realise the kind of stresses inherent in that kind of work and the need to make certain that such officers are successfully reintegrated into a normal working environment. We heard some evidence of the consequences that can occur to officers who are not properly debriefed in those circumstances.

We want to make sure that the no entrapment provisions in section 15MB of part 1AB of the Crimes Act are enunciated with greater clarity. A point we were all agreed on was that it will discredit the operation of controlled operations if there is any sense that they are being used for the purposes of entrapment. The committee makes recommendations to address that. We want to make certain that there are proper systems of accountability and that the regime of controlled operations is oversighted by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, in identical terms to those required of the New South Wales Ombudsman under the New South Wales legislation. We also want the Ombudsman to be able to report to the parliamentary committee so that the parliamentary committee, in keeping with its oversight responsibilities, has that information before it.

We also addressed the matter of covert operatives and possible civil liability—a matter which is obviously of concern to those within the law enforcement community who might be placed in that position. We recommend that, where the conduct was in good faith for the purposes of executing the act regarding controlled operations, civil immunity be provided. However, we go further than the provisions that currently exist by saying that there should be an express acknowledgment that, where an individual suffers loss or injury as a result of a controlled operation which goes wrong, that individual—notwithstanding the immunity to the individual who was acting in good faith—can maintain their action against the state, meaning the state or Commonwealth in the broader sense, for compensation in respect of that loss or injury. The burden of meeting any loss that falls as a result of such an incident should not fall on the individual citizen who was an innocent bystander in the process who got caught up in something.

This is a balanced recommendation that goes through a whole range of the complexities of this legislation. I believe this report will assist in the government's response to this, but it also has implications for the states. I thank all the members of the committee. I particularly thank the chair for his good work on this, the deputy chair in the Senate, and all members of the committee who applied themselves to this very thoughtfully.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Order! The time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Aston wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?

Mr NUGENT —I move:

That the House take note of the report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 102B, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.