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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4729

Senator JOHNSTON (2:59 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Ellison. Will the minister advise the Senate how the Howard government's $50 million CrimTrac initiative is supporting Australia's law enforcement agencies in their fight against crime—in particular, the fight against child sex offenders—and in the establishment of a national DNA database?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —That is a very good question from Senator Johnston, who is very interested in law enforcement. CrimTrac was set up two years ago by the Howard government—in fact, my colleague Senator Vanstone was the minister then—and it has proved to be a great tool in crime fighting. It has provided the state and territory police forces with state-of-the-art modern IT resources in relation to the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System and the DNA database. Senator Johnston has also asked about the child sex register. But before I touch on that I just want to look at the achievements of CrimTrac since it was formed two years ago. We have set up the National Criminal Investigation DNA Database, the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System, a police reference system which has a national names index, a national firearms licensing and registration system, and a national vehicles of interest system—all of this aiding police across Australia to identify criminals and offences and to ensure that criminals in Australia do not take advantage of state and territory borders.

Senator Johnston also asked about a child sex offenders register. Last week I called for a uniform approach on this subject by all the states and territories. We have, in a couple of states, initiatives under way in relation to this, but we do need to bring this together on a national basis to have complementary uniform legislation in relation to how we deal with this difficult issue. It is very important that we have safeguards in place so that this information is not publicly available so that we do not experience what has happened overseas in relation to vigilante squads and innocent people being wrongly targeted, and to this extent I support the Victorian government in its approach to this subject. But we do need a national child sex offender register in order to detect movement across state and territory borders of those people who have been convicted of these sorts of offences. If we rely on just states and territories to have their own regimes, then it will not work, because we will not have that national approach to it. We should be very careful what information we release and it should be via our police forces and available only to certain people, and there should be penalties involved of course for the inappropriate release of information. This is something which should come up at the November Police Ministers Council and something which the Commonwealth is taking a lead on. It is very important that we protect the children of Australia, and this is a key tool in fighting those child sex offenders and keeping track of people who are of interest, shall we say, or of concern to the authorities.

As well as that, Senator Johnston asked about the DNA database. This has progressed greatly. We had this raised at the leaders summit earlier this year and also at the Police Ministers Council in Darwin. We now have legislation enacted in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. This legislation is following in the footsteps of the Commonwealth's, and I understand that legislation is being drafted in South Australia and Queensland. It is unfortunate that the Northern Territory has not come on board as yet, and this is making it difficult for other jurisdictions when they deal with the Northern Territory in relation to the exchange of DNA information, and you have seen that recently in some well-known cases. The Commonwealth is determined that we have this finalised as soon as possible. It is an essential weapon in the fight against crime and, of course, not only in detecting the guilty but in exonerating the innocent. We have seen overseas in places like New Zealand, for instance, some 30 per cent of unsolved crimes now being solved as a result of the DNA database there, and in the United Kingdom I think we are up to about 800 cases a week being solved. This is very good for crime fighting in Australia. It is another Howard government initiative in the fight against crime.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.