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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 3028

Mr HAYES (10:08 AM) —I too stand to support the Customs Amendment (Serious Drugs Detection) Bill 2011. On the face of it, it is quite evident that this is an essential piece of legislation if we are indeed to be serious about combating serious and organised crime, particularly in relation to detecting serious drugs.

The bill will amend the Customs Act 1901 to enable Customs officers to conduct an internal scan on persons suspected of carrying illegal substances, which are primarily drugs. At the moment should there be reasonable grounds to suspect a person is carrying illegal substances, the only option under the act is to undertake an internal examination that must be conducted by a medical practitioner at a place designated under the act. Obviously, this is a long and lengthy process; people are detained. They are taken to a hospital or to the premises of a medical practitioner and subjected to a search as specified in the act.

The fact remains that, in the last financial year alone, one-quarter of the 205 people suspected of carrying illegal substances were found to be carrying illicit drugs on their bodies—27 kilograms of illicit drugs were detected. When you think of it, 25 per cent would ordinarily be regarded as a pretty high strike rate. Using this new technology, the other three-quarters, who were quite innocent, would not have been detained and subjected to this prolonged and complex medical search process. The proposed non-medical form of examining whether illegal substances are being concealed will provide a significant relief for our hospitals, our emergency units and, indeed, our medical practitioners and certainly will reduce the cost and the time for our customs officers as they go about doing their work in protecting our borders and keeping our community safe.

Clearly there have been some issues raised, particularly in the populist media, regarding concerns about privacy. I have seen articles indicating that you would see images of people that would amount to a breach of privacy. I have been lucky enough to have been given a reasonable brief on this. As you are aware, I am on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement. One of the inquiries that are currently afoot is looking at our security provisions around both airports and ports at the moment, and one of the areas that we were looking at only recently was the issue of these machines. There are a couple of varieties, and certainly from what we have seen and the brief that we were given, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me tell you that you will not be seen in all your regalia if you walk through one of these things; you will only be seen as an animated depiction. Not in my wildest dreams would I suspect that you would do anything like this, Mr Deputy Speaker, but should someone have planted something on you internally—I do not know how—the machine would simply be able to indicate the areas of suspicion. You would also be given your normal liberties under the act as you were being processed. However, should you not accept being subject to one of these screenings, you would then be subject to the current provisions of the act—that is, an internal search by a medical practitioner.

This bill is not an overreaction. This is something that our government is doing, supported by the opposition, to protect our communities. I have learned in recent times about the value of the drug trade in this country. I have spoken many times about this. I know we talk about the drug trade and all the criminals associated with it, and I often speak about them as just being businesspeople—nefarious businesspeople. They are certainly motivated by profit, but that is what it is; they are in a business. I have an unclassified document from the Australian Crime Commission, and I will give an indication of why I see these people as businesspeople. For instance, cocaine can be accessed in Peru at the moment for as cheap as US$950 per kilo. If brought to the Australian market, it could fetch up to $250,000 per kilo. In Canada methamphetamine can be purchased for $16,687, a typical price per kilogram. That would sell on Australian streets at $210,000.

We were given a brief on ecstasy tablets when we were in the Netherlands as part of the Australian Crime Commission committee at one stage. Presently the typical price for 1,000 ecstasy tablets in the Netherlands is $4,111 and on Australian streets I am advised it is $20,000 for 1,000. The reality is that in the Netherlands an ecstasy pill can be bought for about US$3.50; in an Australian nightclub they are about $45 each—and the nightclub will also charge heavily for the water that it takes to help process that pill!

That is the profit motive that underpins this. That is what encourages people to take the risk. That is what encourages the organisers of these criminal endeavours to use people as drug mules to go and do that. It should not be a shock to any of us who are parents, and in my case a grandparent, that the reality is that the world has changed. People are out there to exploit our kids and our families. We should be doing everything that we can, applying the resources that we have and the technology that is available, to shut down this illicit crime because what is at stake is our kids, our families and our community as a whole.

These things should not be subject to partisan politics, and this matter certainly is not. We should be putting our best endeavours forward to ensure that our people that we put on the front line are appropriately resourced with the necessary financial commitment and also provided with the necessary tools of trade to do what we expect of them, which is to go out and protect our communities.

What we are being asked to consider in this bill makes a lot of sense, given the fact that as a country we are a point of destination. People do not fly through Australia because it is a cheap way to get to somewhere else. They come here for a reason. Last year alone we had 2.5 million people visit Sydney. They did not all turn up for the grand final but, with the traffic jam that I was caught up in, I suspect that half of them did! The point I am making is that we are a prominent destination. We are a destination for people who want to come down under to experience everything that we have, which is great, but we have a population and an economy which is also driving illicit drugs. There is a market here. There are Australians working in collaboration with international drug syndicates and they are working to ply their trade here. They are going to move to satisfy the market. That is why I said these are businesspeople.

Having said that they are businesspeople, there is one other thing which is not exactly a pet subject but is one I often speak about. It is the relationship between organised crime and terrorist groups. As members would be aware, last year I had the opportunity to visit the Middle East and to see a lot of our people in the field. It certainly struck me as somewhat odd that we have our people in Afghanistan, a country which at the moment provides in excess of 97 per cent of the world’s drug trade in heroin—that is where the poppies are being grown and exported—yet, from the last I saw, internationally we are probably catching somewhere around six or seven per cent of that.

To go back to the document that I referred to earlier, the unclassified document from the Australian Crime Commission: if we are talking about heroin per kilogram coming out of Afghanistan, we are talking about being able to access it from the providers there at $2,405 as a typical figure. In Australia that would be sold at $210,000—not for a kilogram but for 700 grams—after it has been refined and processed. That shows what the market is, but it also shows where it has been grown and all the rest of it. The important thing to know about Afghanistan is that opium is not the cash crop of choice; however, it is the crop that has been provided to a lot of the poorer farmers by the insurgent and Taliban sources. People are not given an option of growing wheat, barley or opium. They are told what to grow and provided not only with the crop to grow but also with the labour to plant and harvest it.

Basically, when we talk about the fighting season and the non-fighting season in Afghanistan, what coincides with the non-fighting season is the introduction of terrorist-funded labour to harvest a crop. People that participate in this particular drug trade are not necessarily home-grown Afghan warlords; we are talking about people out of Colombia. The drug syndicates of the world are using this as their cash crop to actually market their drugs and value add to their illicit trade.

The synergy here is that a significant proportion of that money then goes back to fund insurgencies, because the resources are being provided by insurgent groups. We see pictures of British or Australian troops wandering through various areas which look suspiciously like opium fields. The product of those sales is what is being put back to target and to commit acts of violence against Australian, American, Canadian and other forces in Afghanistan under the UN remit who are out there trying to protect the rights and future of the Afghan people.

I will conclude on the basis that I have also used this as an opportunity to talk widely about the subject. It is appropriate that we do everything we can to resource our people on the front line, our Customs officials—officials from the police and other services providing law enforcement services that go about their task of protecting our communities. I commend the bill to the House.