Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 18 August 2005
Page: 40

Mr HAYES (11:50 AM) —Drug use and drug related criminal activities are issues that are never far from the minds of many parents in my electorate. As parents, they are concerned for the safety of their families—their children—and the security of their local environment. They are also concerned about the links between serious drug use, addiction and the level of crime within their suburbs.

The war on drugs, as it is commonly referred to, is a battle that has been waged by most societies now over many years—and I have to say that it has had mixed successes. But the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Serious Drug Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2005, which is before us today, targets one aspect of this multifaceted battle, being the issue of law enforcement. In addition to a number of amendments to other acts that are necessary to implement specific changes, the bill before us today seeks to include some 50 additional offences into the Criminal Code, with the aim of bringing to completion the implementation of the Model Criminal Code. The underlying logic is relatively straightforward: to bring together all serious drug offences into one statute rather than having them in the Customs Act—an act which I suppose could largely be described as providing a regulatory regime. While the bill’s underlying logic is straightforward, some of its provisions are questionable and at least are deserving of more detailed consideration.

There is no doubt that as a society we are concerned about the impact of drugs and drug use. Recent cases of Australians being caught overseas allegedly trafficking drugs have once again heightened Australia’s awareness of this issue. The rights and wrongs and details of these particular cases will obviously be played out over a period of time in front of the relevant courts, but the heightened awareness is something that Australian decision makers at all levels of government need to consider immediately.

It is far too easy for someone to say that law enforcement is the only answer. My own experience working with the Police Federation of Australia suggests that law enforcement is obviously a very significant contributor. I take this opportunity to commend the men and women of our police services, the state and territory police forces and our federal police authorities and agencies for their diligent work in stemming the amount, of drugs that are entering the country. Their fine work needs to be recognised and applauded as well as supported with the appropriate resources. I noted earlier that it is easy for some to say that stronger law enforcement is the only answer. I do not shy away from being tough on crime and nor does the Labor Party. Crime was a significant issue raised with me by constituents when I contested the recent Werriwa by-election, and I am sure that crime is an issue that has been taken up with most members in this House.

When I delivered my first speech to the House, I made mention of the fact that there needs to be better integration of Commonwealth and state crime prevention activity to advance the protection and security of all Australians. I believe that stronger law enforcement and crime prevention are essential. I am personally aware that, for the last decade at least, the concept of a common code has been supported by the Police Federation of Australia on behalf of the 45,000 police officers throughout this country. Therefore, the development of the Model Criminal Code as it applies to serious drug offences is a step in the right direction and will be welcomed by police and law enforcement officers. I believe the development of the Model Criminal Code is important for police services from the policy perspective as well as the operational perspective. It reflects the fact that crime and criminals do not recognise and are not hindered by geographic boundaries but that law enforcement agencies sometimes are.

I look forward to the development and the implementation of a common criminal code between the Commonwealth, states and territories, as this will allow for more effective policing. It will maximise police resources by making it easier for police to move from one state to another without the frustration of competing criminal jurisdictions. In the past, police officers on secondment were required to have detailed knowledge of the criminal code of the jurisdiction which they had been seconded to. Under the Model Criminal Code made possible by this bill, the common jurisdiction allows police to more easily understand and apply the code anywhere in the country without jurisdictional complication.

The advent of commonality between jurisdictions is better for law enforcement and is reflective of the better tools that are needed for contemporary policing. I was particularly pleased to see the provisions contained in the bill in schedule 4. I am certain that officers of at least the Australian Federal Police will welcome these amendments. As I noted earlier, criminals and criminal activities do not respect geographical boundaries. The ease of global travel, trade and communications not only allows for increased legitimate trade between countries but has also allowed criminals to globalise their operations. Important provisions contained in schedule 4 mean that the interaction between the Federal Police and other agencies is clarified at both a domestic and an international level. Cooperation at an international level is essential for modern law enforcement.

So long as criminals fail to respect geographic boundaries, law enforcement must be afforded the operational capacity to chase the perpetrators across these boundaries. The amendments contained in schedule 4 confirm the ability of the Australian Federal Police to assist and cooperate with state and territory jurisdictions and foreign law enforcement organisations. They also clarify the involvement of the AFP in its role of assisting other nations to develop and monitor peace and security. Again, this is further equipping our police services for contemporary policing. This can only enhance the success that our law enforcement agencies are having with regard to the availability of illegal drugs in our community. Recently it was reported that the Australian Federal Police and Customs had seized nearly 2,500 kilograms of heroin since the late 1990s. In the year 2000 alone the Australian Federal Police seized more than 600 kilograms. The large seizures of the late 1990s have continued and are starting to impact on the amount of heroin available on our streets. Commentators on the illegal drug trade suggest that for the first time evidence is starting to emerge that the seizures are starting to impact on the availability of heroin. This is a significant result and I am sure that it is a level of success welcomed by most Australians.

While the immediate concern is the reduction in the availability of drugs on our streets, there is also benefit in terms of reduced crime levels more generally throughout our community. Research undertaken by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research released in 2003 suggests that the most potent influence on the level of robbery in New South Wales was the increase in heroin addiction. The bureau estimated that every 10 per cent increase in the number of heroin dependent people in New South Wales between 1966 and 2000 led to an average increase in the rate of robbery of 6.4 per cent.

It is the increase in property crimes associated with drug addiction that is of particular concern to the residents of my area and, I would expect, residents throughout Australia. They understand the linkages and they certainly understand that, for the vast majority of them, property crime is the manifestation of addiction which is most likely to confront them. My constituents want to know that we are not passing the buck and making excuses about police issues and police resources. They want to know that we are doing something and that we are willing to support our law enforcement agencies with appropriate and effective resources.

At the forefront of the fight against drugs are our front-line officers. In my electorate in particular I would like to mention the police commands of Campbelltown, Macquarie Fields, Green Valley and Liverpool. These are all committed police officers. Quite frankly, they need to know that their efforts are appreciated and supported throughout the community. Their efforts are valued and certainly cannot be overstated.

I am pleased to report that last night—and unfortunately I was not able to attend—we had the 2005 Campbelltown chamber of commerce and Rotary Macarthur police awards. I would like to congratulate Sergeant Kevin Carter, who received the most coveted Police Officer of the Year award for the Macarthur local area commands. He was also awarded and recognised in the Crime Management Award category. I would also like to congratulate the various other winners of the various categories. The importance of saying this is that communities like mine are certainly going out of their way not only to demonstrate their appreciation but to recognise what the police are doing to contribute to making their communities safer and protecting against such matters as illicit drugs influencing and impacting on families.

The strengthening of the Criminal Code and penalties is an important contribution to assisting our constituents. We are serious about their concerns when it comes to crime. However, it would be short-sighted of us to think that it is the only arrow in our quiver when it comes to drug trafficking and drug related crimes. Including these crimes in the Crimes Act rather than the Customs Act and finalising the Model Criminal Code are important elements in the effort to consolidate drug offences, but they are not the only solution. They are not the only solution to minimise the societal impacts of drug use, but they are important, at least in terms of contemporary policing.

The New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has reported that stronger drug law enforcement can act as a double-edged sword when it comes to reducing harm associated with serious drug use. On one hand, evidence suggests that law enforcement can encourage people into treatment, decreasing the risk of harm and other activities related to drug crime. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that tougher laws result in unsafe practices and increased risks to users. Enforcement and treatment, while not linked directly, are nevertheless linked. Law enforcement can encourage entry into treatment, and treatment can reduce drug related crime.

Notwithstanding that research, essentially our primary focus must be on protecting the community at large. After all, we are in a war on illicit drugs every bit as much as we are committed to fighting terrorism. So, while the amendments we have before us are important, they are by no means the silver bullet for the problem of illicit drugs. If they were, this bill would have been passed long ago. Treatment and law enforcement should not be considered in isolation.

I strongly support providing our police and other law enforcement personnel with the best tools to assist in their duties. As a consequence, I support this bill. In fact, in my opinion, it goes some considerable way towards doing that. But I must say that I do still have some concerns about some aspects of the direction of the bill. Accordingly, I support the bill but feel that it should be subject to greater scrutiny and a detailed review. In particular, I would like to raise some questions over the merit of including schedules 5 to 7 and schedule 9 in this bill, given the bill’s stated objectives.

I am also concerned that some of the amendments contained in this bill act to erode the presumption of innocence, which to my way of thinking has been the cornerstone of our system of justice. Some of the offences created by this bill include the presumption that possession of marketable quantities of a controlled substance means—and can be defined in the same way as—possession for commercial purposes. While this may be the case in the majority of cases, possession of a marketable quantity does not automatically mean that commercial activity was intended.

It would be remiss of me not to record my concern about the long-term impact of a gradual erosion of the presumption of innocence. I acknowledge that this issue has been considered by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General and that it was decided that the creation of a legal rather than an evidentiary burden was the preferred approach. I understand that loopholes previously used to avoid punishment must be removed, but I would not like to see this signal a greater change in the approach to law-making when it comes to criminal activity. Strengthened laws should not result in a reduction in the rights of the accused generally. Obviously in some circumstances this is necessary, but I do not believe people necessarily think there should always be this trade-off. While the provisions of schedules 5 to 7 and schedule 9 seem relatively minor on the face of it, I am unsure of all the reasons behind their inclusion in this bill.

Supporting the efforts of state and territory governments in tightening and strengthening the Commonwealth’s laws surrounding serious drug offences is a necessary condition to improving law enforcement throughout the country. The increasingly sophisticated activities of the criminal class must be combated through equally more sophisticated law enforcement. Contemporary policing needs laws and resources that equip them adequately and appropriately.

I am unashamedly a strong supporter of our police community and I want to see them given every chance to succeed. I want them to be able to claim success after success when it comes to shutting down criminal operations. I want my constituents to feel safe in the knowledge that their concerns are being reflected by making sure that our police have the tools they need at their disposal to do just that. While I am encouraged by the direction of this bill, I cannot at this stage give it my unquestioning support. However, I support the opposition’s bid to have this bill considered in greater detail.