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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3205

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (10:27): On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, I present the committee's report of the inquiry into Commonwealth unexplained wealth legislation and arrangements. Unexplained wealth laws represent a relatively new form of criminal assets confiscation, whereby serious and organised criminals who cannot account for the wealth that they hold may be liable for forfeiture of those assets to the state. The value of unexplained wealth provisions lies in their ability to significantly undermine the business model of serious and organised crime. The incentive behind organised crime is to make money. Removing unexplained wealth from serious and organised criminal networks and associated individuals diminishes the incentive to participate in criminal enterprise. Furthermore, confiscation of criminal profits removes funds that may be reinvested into future criminal enterprise. Removing these funds will significantly disrupt the operations of criminal networks.

The committee was therefore pleased to see the introduction of unexplained wealth provisions into Commonwealth proceeds of crime legislation in early 2010. Unfortunately, the various amendments made during the passage of the legislation through the parliament rendered the legislation so compromised that it became unworkable. In two years of its operation not one unexplained wealth proceedings has been brought before the courts due to a range of limitations and therefore the legislation has not been effective in addressing serious and organised crime.

The committee was therefore keen to examine these provisions more closely, and has made a number of recommendations in this report that will significantly enhance the effectiveness of the Commonwealth unexplained wealth provisions. In particular, the committee has recommended major reform to the way unexplained wealth is dealt with in Australia as part of a harmonisation of Commonwealth, state and territory laws. While complementing the national strategic approach to organised crime, harmonisation may also allow the Commonwealth to make use of unexplained wealth provisions that are not linked to a predicate offence. This approach has been found to be the most effective, both in Australia and abroad.

The committee has therefore proposed that the Commonwealth seek a referral of powers from willing states and territories as part of a long-term plan to develop a nationally consistent approach to unexplained wealth and organised crime. Harmonisation would also help to eliminate gaps that can be exploited between jurisdictions. In addition, the committee has recommended a series of technical amendments that would ensure that unexplained wealth provisions are efficient and fair, correcting deficiencies that were identified during the course of the inquiry. Effective unexplained wealth legislation can attack the profit motive of criminal enterprise and undermine the business model of serious and organised crime networks and will, in itself, protect the community from the damage caused by these individuals and crime organisations.

In presenting the report, I thank the committee for once again delivering a unanimous report. This report has the bipartisan support of all who participated. I particularly want to thank the secretary of the committee, Dr Jon Bell; the senior research officer, Bill Bannear, and the administrative officer, Rosalind McMahon. Dr Bell and Mr Bannear will be leaving the secretariat at the conclusion of this report to take up other career options. On behalf of a very grateful committee I wish both of them well in their future endeavours. They should know that they have made a remarkable contribution to the work of this committee and, as a result, have participated well in seeking to make a difference to the law enforcement in this country. I commend the report and its recommendations. As I indicated, they are unanimous. I urge the government to ensure that it takes every step possible to ensure that crime does not pay.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.