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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6778

Mr WOOD (8:45 PM) —I also rise to speak on the report, Examination of the Australian Crime Commission annual report 2007-2008, of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission. A number of things in this report greatly concern me. One of the first was the cutting of funding for conducting precursor drug forums in Asia and the Pacific. People may be wondering what that means. The Australian Crime Commission was sending representatives to conduct these forums in both Asia and the Pacific region, which were helping us to ensure that other countries were doing everything possible to stop the importation of drugs, especially those precursor drugs, into Australia. I immediately called on the government to reverse that decision and to make sure that the ACC management reinstated that as a matter of urgency.

In saying that I know that the ACC has had dramatic funding cuts. In the budget seven per cent of its staff was cut back. The previous budget saw a 15 per cent reduction. It makes the life of those working at the ACC very difficult. It has had its staff cut from 688 to 584, which is a net loss of 104 personnel.

More concerning to me, though, is the issue of seconded state and territory police and the AFP members who have been working on investigations at the ACC. In the old days under the previous government, the Howard government, we had up to 150 such personnel. That figure is now down to between 20 and 30 members. Those in the House may be wondering about the significance of this. There is a huge significance concerning the powers of the seconded members. Those working for the ACC as full-time staff under the act do not have a power of arrest and they do not have the right to carry firearms. It is only the seconded members who have that right. So when you are sending those seconded members home you are actually losing the investigation capacity of the ACC. It greatly saddens me that the ACC is going hell for leather down the path of an intelligence gathering law enforcement agency only and really losing its investigative capacity.

We have a situation where there is an outlaw motorcycle gang war going on in this country. You would have thought that the perfect body to target this at a national level would be the ACC. We have state and territory members seconded there. Sadly, because of what this government has done, that cannot be achieved. There were actually 13 intelligence operations and only five special investigations conducted by the ACC during the reporting period, and just 15 full-time investigators remain with the ACC. However, I would like to acknowledge the significant results that the ACC officers achieved despite their massive budget losses. In particular they conducted 780 examinations with their coercive powers in the reporting period to 30 June 2008, resulting in 591 charges being laid and 105 drug seizures. This is a fantastic result.

The committee made a number of recommendations. Every year the committee on a bipartisan note puts forward the recommendation that we want to see the Commissioner of Taxation on the Australian Crime Commission board. Again, I am told that it is close. We need this to happen as a matter of urgency. It will greatly empower the ACC. We heard the member for Werriwa talking about recommendations made in the Trowell report. We need the government to act. They are always talking about acting decisively, but at this stage we have serious criminals flouting the laws, not worrying about whether they suffer any sort of repercussions by not giving evidence. We need statutory contempt to be immediately instated into the act to give the examiners some real power. If people do not want to cooperate let us make their life hell, because they are making other people’s lives hell.

I would like to thank the secretariat, the chair, Steve Hutchins, and all the committee members. It has been a very bipartisan committee, as has been the report. Finally, I wish Alistair Milroy all the best in his future, and all the best to John Lawler, the new CEO. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Order! The time allotted for making statements on the report has expired.