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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 552

Mr WOOD (11:59 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2008. The passing of this bill is well and truly overdue. It is absolutely crazy that in 2009 the Queensland state police still do not have the ability to target organised and serious crime. I heard what the previous speakers from the government side said and I know that under the previous Howard government there was grave concern expressed by members about the Public Interest Monitor. My personal view is that, if the Queensland state government really wants to push this, so be it, because I would rather have it with the Public Interest Monitor than have the ridiculous situation which we previously had where serious and organised criminals basically had a free run in Queensland. That situation finally will change.

Bizarrely, Queensland was the only jurisdiction in Australia which did not have interception powers. As a former member of the Victoria Police organised crime squad, it was only when I was on the Australian Crime Commission that I actually became aware of this. I could not actually believe this was the case. The introduction of this telecommunications interception amendment bill will finally bring an end to this situation and have Queensland joining the rest of the state law enforcement agencies. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission has made recommendations several times calling on the Commonwealth and Queensland governments to work together to expedite the granting of interception powers to the Queensland police and the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission, most recently in September 2007. I add that I am a member of the committee, which obviously is a bipartisan committee, so all the members were trying to do the right thing by the Queensland police force.

Criminal syndicates are quite adept at using technology to carry out their crimes. The Australian Crime Commission’s investigation into organised crime revealed that outlaw motorcycle gangs and illicit drug manufacturers are thriving in Queensland, with police unable to monitor their criminal activities that take place using mobile phones and emails. Queensland police are currently unable to access telecommunication interception powers for any investigation other than joint operations and Commonwealth matters. As a result, Queensland police are often reliant upon partnerships with other law enforcement agencies that can facilitate access to phone-tapping powers. Three years ago the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission released a report recommending the introduction of phone-tapping powers for Queensland. This amendment will facilitate the implementation of phone-tapping powers by accommodating the bureaucratic role that the Public Interest Monitor has in law enforcement in Queensland. The Public Interest Monitor oversees all applications for surveillance device and covert search warrants in Queensland. Queensland police can already execute surveillance warrants and place listening devices. The amendment will enable Queensland investigators to execute warrants for telephone intercepts—the missing link in Queensland police powers.

Mr Kerr —And about time too, isn’t it.

Mr WOOD —I totally agree: it is about time. The Queensland government has for some time feared that without specific reference to the PIM in the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act Queensland legislation would be inoperative under section 109 of the Constitution due to its inconsistency with other provisions in the act. Although a specific reference to the PIM in the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act had been deemed unnecessary by the previous government, by recognising the PIM’s oversight role in application processes for an interception warrant by the Queensland law enforcement agencies the Queensland government can introduce legislation that will comply with the accountability framework established in the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act without fear that legislation would be inoperative.

Telecommunications interception is an essential and vital tool in law enforcement and has been used with great success in some of the most complex criminal investigations, including the tragic murders of Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller in 1988 in Victoria and locating fugitive gangland figure Tony Mokbel in 2006. It has also been used by law enforcement agencies when investigating the illicit drug and organised crime activity. In the world of organised crime and in fighting terrorism and even in relation to homicides and rapes, in nearly every serious investigation police mount, one of the greatest tools is telephone interceptions. Two-thirds of telephone intercepts are used in investigating drug-related crime. Extending phone-tapping powers to Queensland police will greatly assist the Queensland drug investigation unit and Task Force Hydra, the unit investigating outlaw motorcycle gangs, in solving serious drug-related crimes.

The implementation of telecommunications interception powers in Queensland has been recommended many times by both state and federal law enforcement agencies and is long overdue. This amendment will provide consistency between all states and territories and facilitate a national approach for law enforcement agencies. One thing which greatly concerns me at the moment when it comes to law enforcement is the government’s cutbacks to the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission. Where this is relevant is that a number of state-seconded police who have been working with the Australian Crime Commission in Queensland and other states have been forced to go back to their own jurisdictions. In fact, I believe the figures are up to 50 members, of whom 16 are investigators. That greatly concerns me. I mentioned how the Queensland police work with other authorities such as the Australian Federal Police. Again in Queensland we have seen 14 AFP members being offered redundancy packages. To me this seems crazy when yesterday the Prime Minister was talking about a stimulus package to create jobs and now the minister has put the AFP and the ACC in a position where they are forced to offer redundancy packages.

Of great concern is what is occurring in the Sydney offices of the Australian Federal Police. Their counterterrorism investigators work on a 12-week budget cycle but, after 10 weeks, investigators are being told: ‘We have run out of money. There is no overtime in the budget. You have to stand down and go home.’ They have ongoing investigations. To me, this is crazy. But even more concerning is the intelligence areas in the Sydney offices specifically looking at counterterrorism. If a member is transferred, seconded or receives a promotion, they are not being replaced. It is really unusual for police members to actually speak publicly on this or, as in this case, speak to me. I suppose they feel comfortable because of my former role in the Victorian police force, and I thank them for that. What is greatly concerning them, especially when it comes to the area of intelligence, is that they have intelligence reports sitting in the offices of the AFP counterterrorism squad in Sydney that are just not being looked at. We have highly qualified and trained analysts who, once they leave or are transferred, are not being replaced. Information in reports is sitting in trays and not being looked at. Of course, if a report comes across a table that is regarded as a matter that quite obviously needs to be acted on immediately, they are doing that, but the great concern I have is that in the world of crime and investigations not everything is apparent.

My concern is this: we may have the crazy situation of an intelligence report sitting around that anyone who picks it up will think, on the face of it, ‘This means nothing; there is nothing in this report.’ That is a great danger because you never know what little piece this report may be in a huge puzzle. You only have to go back to the September 11 attacks to see that. I can tell the House and members of the Australian public that the planning for those attacks took over four years. It took over four years for the offenders to perpetrate those attacks. What actually happened was that there were all these law enforcement agencies who had bits of information, but they never swapped those bits of information. The offenders were undertaking pilot training and the person involved in training them was greatly concerned. He reported it, so the local authorities were aware of it. There were other reports coming over from Afghanistan saying to expect some sort of reprisals. They were talking about planes et cetera. There was all this information coming in and no-one put the pieces together.

When it comes to Australian law enforcement, the one great thing we have is the ALIEN and ACID databases, where high-level intelligence is regularly passed across our law enforcement agencies. If we go to what will happen in Queensland in the future, we can have state police monitoring phone conversations and information may be heard over the phones. At that time it may not be apparent how vital that information is. They may put in an information report on that which goes on to ALIEN and ACID, which are databases for law enforcement agencies. Just so members are aware, not everyone has access to them. You must have specific knowledge and authority to actually have access to the information. The only way these law enforcement agencies can work is if we ensure that any information from the Queensland police, or any other state police force, from anyone who rings up a hotline or from the Queensland, New South Wales or Victorian offices of the AFP is collected and acted upon.

Finally, I want to make a point about the Australian Crime Commission. I welcome the appointment of the new director of the Australian Crime Commission, John Lawler. I think that is a great appointment and I congratulate the government on that. But, gee, what a tough task he has. Soon he is going to be doing investigations himself the way the cutbacks are going. I think the ACC are down to fewer than 15 or so actual permanent investigators employed by them. We are talking about over 600 staff down to 15 permanent ones. To my knowledge, by March all the police officers seconded from Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania are going to be taken back by their own units.

When we are talking about this stimulus package, what greatly concerns me is that it has been revealed in the Australian Crime Commission hearings that serious and organised crime rips away $10 billion each year from the public, whether it be money seized from selling drugs or money laundering. It is a major issue in this country. That is $10 billion we could actually be going after to put back into the Queensland police force to assist, as we heard before, with all these warrants under this new regime of legislation. The way a telephone intercept warrant works is that someone eventually has to sit down and monitor the calls. Organised and serious crime does not work from nine to five. It works after hours. Why? Because that is the obvious time for most of these deals to be done. That is why you need to make sure the Queensland police and all the police forces around the country, including the AFP and the ACC, have the funding to make sure they have the manpower available to listen to what comes over the lines of the telephone intercepts. That is something which we need to ensure happens.

I cannot for the life of me understand why the government would force the Australian Federal Police to offer redundancy packages in all areas, right across the field. I am greatly concerned with what is happening in the air marshal program. I understand that that program is one of those areas where, for security reasons, we do not want the public to know how many air marshals are out there. But what concerns me is that redundancy packages are being made available right across the board—it does not matter whether it is counterterrorism, air marshals or members of the child exploitation units. That urgently needs to be addressed. As a previous member of the Victorian police force, having worked closely with the Australian Federal Police and having dealt with members of associations of state and territory police across the country, I can say that members are greatly concerned with what is happening at the moment. I will call a spade a spade: when it comes to telephone interceptions I am on the record as saying that things need to change and that what was going on was absolutely outrageous. I stood up and said that and I was, I suppose, having a go at my own government. In opposition I will say the same things: when it comes to tackling organised and serious crime, this new government must do the right thing by the law enforcement agencies.

I was taken aback by the Prime Minister’s 40-minute address when he talked about security and basically beat his chest when talking about what he was going to do. It all sounded fantastic, and it got a really good run the next day in the papers. The Prime Minister spoke about no longer having an office of homeland security. The government promised an office of homeland security in the previous election, but they have walked away from that. They said that they did so on expert advice. What has happened to the money for the office of homeland security? It has gone. They looked at other areas, including considering having a national school for counterterrorism, or something similar. Do not just consider this; actually do it. That is the important message.

At the moment the Australian public would think that as nothing has happened to us, everything is fine. We see no terrorist attacks and everything seems to be going fairly well. Well, if you look at the papers from the last couple of days in Melbourne and Sydney, you will see that a number of people have just been convicted and sentenced for looking at creating terrorist attacks in Australia. They have been given tough sentences, as they should. I would like to remind the public of that. I would also like to congratulate all the police and law enforcement agencies who worked on that case. The previous government had to rush through legislation, and I congratulate Kim Beazley, who was the then opposition leader, for supporting that legislation. He knew how serious this potential incident was.

The Australian public must be aware that counterterrorism and security issues are still out there. Look what happened in India not long ago. Who were the terrorists targeting? They were targeting what they call the ‘infidels’. They are people like us—people from Western societies who went to Western hotels. Remember that the people from Muslim backgrounds were pulled out and the Westerners were shot. So I just remind Australians that terrorism is still a threat in Australia and that the government cannot take this for granted. The government’s number one role is to protect Australian citizens, and I call on the government to immediately give the AFP and the Australia Crime Commission their funding back. That is the policy of the opposition, led by Malcolm Turnbull. Finally, it is about time the Queensland police got the telephone interception powers to really target serious and organised crime.