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Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Page: 7912


Mr WOOD (La Trobe) (12:43): This speech on unexplained wealth is a bit like deja vu. I heard the member for Fowler talk about it back in 2009. I'll read some of my speech from back then, but we were nearly cracking the champagne bottles, believing the police would have the best law enforcement tool in the country—that being unexplained wealth orders. I just want to explain the difference to proceeds of crime, which people hear about. Proceeds of crime is more where the police have actually charged a person—obviously a criminal—and they can directly connect that criminal to, say, drug money which has then been used to buy cars or other sorts of assets. That is the proceeds of crime. Unexplained wealth fits in where there's wealth which doesn't match that person's employment. It can have connections to, say, organised criminals, but you normally find they're so far removed now from the actual crimes that they've been able to keep their wealth.

The member for Fowler has been a fantastic ambassador for law enforcement. We went on this inquiry back in 2009 with the former President of the Senate Mr Parry, and the delegation was led by Senator Hutchins at the time. It was a bipartisan delegation with one view of really taking on crime and finding out how we can actually make a difference and give law enforcement tools they can use. Back in 2009, estimates were that in Australia $15 billion was being raised for organised crime, which could easily be taken for unexplained wealth. You find, for example, outlaw motorcycle gangs work in obviously the space of major drugs and major crime—organised crime groups. But, as they move up in organisations—the further they go up the ladder, the more money they have—they are more able to distance themselves from the actual committing of crimes. They then pay other people to do the actual crimes. That's what makes the unexplained wealth legislation so special.

As part of our inquiry in 2009, the delegation went to Canada, the United States, Italy, Austria, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In conjunction with the Australian Crime Commission, the delegation examined serious and organised crime and, basically, put together recommendations for going forward. What we were getting told overseas was that you have to follow the money trail. Serious organised crime is about two things: creating great wealth and creating power. But power will not come unless you have great wealth. If you take the money away—we heard this all the time—you will take the power away; it's as simple as that. In every country we visited, there was a view in law enforcement that you needed to go after the money—follow the money trail.

When we were in Italy we spoke to the anti-Mafia police. Italy's unexplained wealth laws were incredible. I still recall a story—they had a business person who owned I think it was a chain of supermarkets and they actually put orders on that person and seized 280 million euros because they could link that person to having meetings with various associates of organised crime groups. Being an ex-police officer, I know how important it is to go after the money in order to remove what the lieutenants from the Mr Bigs. That is what will make a huge difference.

The legislation did go to the Senate, and changes were made by our good friends in the other place. But I remember one of the disappointing things about this legislation back in 2009 was that those changes meant that the police would have to reveal—this was in a civil jurisdiction—to the defendant any informants the police had. Who would want to give evidence or information to police as an informer and have it handed over to a Mr Big? We know what's going to happen there. That was a crazy recommendation. The other disappointing thing was that unexplained wealth could be used to fund the defence of the person; therefore, there's no incentive ever to finalise a case, and it will go on and on and on. This is where this legislation is really important.

I heard the member for Hotham and I congratulate her for her comments; and I see the member for Mitchell, who has been absolutely passionate about this and about supporting law enforcement. It was great to see members of the Australian Federal Police in the building today—Mark Burgess and his body of men and women representing what I think are now 70,000 members across the country. They appeared before our previous inquiries about law enforcement and absolutely backed the need for unexplained wealth legislation. The problem with the legislation, which has come to light again—and we're here now back in 2018—is that at the Commonwealth level the legislation required a specific link to a Commonwealth offence such as drug trafficking in commercial quantities or fraud at the Commonwealth level. You don't capture the people who may be involved in organised crime where the police can't show a link. It could be they've been involved in, as we saw in Melbourne, armed robberies of jewellery stores, for example. It wouldn't fit under the criteria. What we needed to see—and this is all because of the constitutional restrictions of the states and the Commonwealth—is the states basically handing over their unexplained wealth legislation and using the Commonwealth's, with the agreement of divvying up the proceeds. You'd think this would be an easy thing. In my home state of Victoria, if you put the might and power of the AFP and their resources with that of our great state police, the whole purpose should be to go after the money, but, sadly, it's been stalled by governments, probably of all persuasions.

I definitely make the point now that it's great to see that the New South Wales Liberal government has come on board and have expanded their powers to allow the Commonwealth to use their unexplained wealth provisions. This would also be able to help law enforcement when criminal organisations go across states. For example, you may find a criminal has assets in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. What would be required at the moment is for each state to use their own unexplained wealth legislation. You wouldn't have an umbrella approach. That is why this legislation is so important.

When it comes to the Victorian state government, why would the Labor government refuse to do this? They have their own powers. Their own powers will not give them the same amount of money at a Commonwealth level. Why? Because the Commonwealth can link not only states and territories but also internationally and really make a huge difference. I call on the Daniel Andrews government to really make it an urgent need to get this in place. Queensland and South Australia obviously need to come on board too. This is going to be a fantastic tool at a national level. It's going to help law enforcement. Think about this: it's going to get more money from the people we don't want to have that money—those who commit harm on Australians and also people overseas. I emphasise: this is a great day, now that New South Wales has come on board.

In conclusion, I congratulate the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, for all the amazing work he's done in this space, pushing this cause. At the Commonwealth level, in this building, everyone has worked very closely together. Thank you.