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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2590

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (11:55): I rise to speak in this second reading debate on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers and Offences) Bill 2011. On some indulgence in addressing the matters before us today, given that today is the 150th anniversary of the New South Wales Police Force, I would like to make a few remarks about that anniversary.

As the proud son of a retired police officer—I recognise also here the member for Fowler and the member for McArthur—I know only too well the sacrifice of those who wear the blue in New South Wales. It is a distinguished service. It is populated by brave men and women who put themselves in harm's way on a daily basis for us. For that reason I think they hold a very special place in our community.

I commend the 15,993 police officers currently serving in the New South Wales Police Force. I particularly want to recognise the 150 officers who are attached to the Miranda Local Area Command with Superintendent Greg Antonjuk, as well as Superintendent Dave Donohue from the Sutherland Local Area Command. Both the Sutherland Local Area Command and the Miranda Local Area Command look after our shire community.

On this very important day 150 years ago, 800 officers were combined into a single police force in New South Wales. It was probably one of the toughest states in which to be a police officer—certainly back then, 150 years ago. That job has remained tough and dangerous ever since.

I particularly want to pay tribute to Commissioner Andrew Scipione. In my time I have not come across a finer man than Commissioner Scipione. He is an extraordinarily talented, gifted but gracious individual who has done an outstanding job as the Commissioner of the New South Wales Police Force. It was one of his initiatives to call the New South Wales Police Force by that name. My father, in particular, was incredibly pleased when that decision was taken, because it is a force. We need a force in our communities to combat the insidious nature of crime that would seek to rob the property, lives and liberties of our citizens. So it is incredibly important that we recognise the contribution of those who have done so much in this area.

Commissioner Scipione has probably done more than any other commissioner to lift the level of integrity within the New South Wales Police Force—only exceeding the efforts of Commissioner Avery, many years ago. I pay tribute to Commissioner Scipione and I pay tribute to Minister Mike Gallacher, and the work that he is doing in that area, but most importantly I acknowledge the work of the good and faithful officers of the New South Wales Police Force. I also want to acknowledge their families. Being a police officer is tough, and it is tough on families. Police officers find it difficult to deal with the things they see every day, and it is almost impossible not to bring that back home. They do everything they can, I think, to shield their families from the things that they have to deal with every day. For that they pay a very high emotional price.

It is important that we acknowledge that they are not only protecting community members but also trying to protect their families, and their family life, from the impact of what they have to deal with on a daily basis. I know that that was something my father did on a daily basis. I remember particularly the day that my father, who was working for the CIB at the time as a fingerprint expert, had to attend the scene at the Luna Park fires. On that occasion there were a number of young boys who had perished in those fires. They were all from my local community and they were the same age as my brother and I. My father had to go to that scene and identify the bodies. They are the things police officers have to do. It is a tough job. We commend them here in this place.

But to the matter of the bill, I rise to speak in support of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers and Offences) Bill 2011. The proposed amendments are far-reaching. They span a range of scenarios and issues faced by our law enforcement agencies, from forensics and DNA testing to illicit drugs to parole conditions and the proceeds of crime. This bill goes to the heart of policing and the way our nation manages the issues of crime and justice.

Fundamentally, this bill deals with the axis of crime, punishment and jurisprudence, and where these areas inevitably overlap this bill seeks to rationalise the intersecting roles, responsibilities and capabilities of law enforcement agencies across all levels and jurisdictions of governance.

I echo the disappointment of my colleague, the member for Stirling, that the report of the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs has sat in this place for less than 24 hours before this debate has been brought into this parliament, but on this side of the chamber we get fairly used to the chaotic nature with which bills are often addressed.

The areas that this bill seeks to address are very serious and do require full, careful consideration by all parties concerned. That said, though, the coalition does support the measures that would enhance the capacity of our law enforcement agencies to do their job to the best of their ability. The one thing we can do in this place to support those who put themselves at risk is to ensure they have the laws and they have the support to back them up.

We support the aims of this bill to enhance and empower our law enforcement agencies as they seek to combat crime. The coalition will support the amendments to this bill, as per the recommendations of the House standing committee, but I understand we will be rejecting recommendation 8. I also understand from the comments by the member for Stirling that the additional amendments that the government has sought to move now would also be supported by the coalition.

In government, the coalition provided more than $65 million over four years to fund the National Community Care Crime Prevention Program. That was abolished by this government. They installed in its place the Safer Suburbs program, with a meagre $15 million over three years—less than a quarter of the funding. The AFP is also no stranger to funding cuts. Labor slashed more than $23 million from the operating budget of the Australian Federal Police in 2011-12 at a time when their services are in great need. Not only have we noticed that in the general community but we know of the demands placed on the Australian Federal Police as we have gone through the conduct of our detention inquiry over recent months. There are demands upon our Australian Federal Police and they need our support to do the job with which they have been tasked.

Customs has also suffered under this government's incompetence. In addition to 250 jobs being cut by Labor in the 2010-11 budget, another 90 staff have been shown the door. In the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook it was revealed that an estimated $35 million would be cut from Customs over the forward estimates.

These decisions serve to fundamentally overstretch and critically undermine the capacity of Australia's key frontline crime enforcement agencies. I acknowledge that there is a new Minister for Home Affairs in the chair. I know him well; he is a good friend of mine. I would hope that he will significantly better the performance of his predecessor in this role, and I think one of the things he will be judged upon will be his ability to ensure that these agencies get the resources they need to do the job, which was done so appallingly by his predecessor. But I look forward with hope to the opportunity that there will be a reward for the Australia Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police from the activities of the new minister.

It is on top of this record and against this concerning backdrop that these matters are before us today. The bill is about consolidated law—removing obstacles like jurisdictional difficulties and legal loopholes, and overcoming barriers to information sharing to enable our law enforcement officers to do their job to the best of their ability and ensure they have access to the intelligence, resources, cooperative tools and legal protections they need to perform their role. This bill builds upon discussions and constructive dialogue that has taken place for some years, adding further insult to injury when you consider that years of debate and constructive investigation of these matters has now come in such a rushed manner towards us today. But the bill does raise valid amendments and it is worth reflecting briefly on these. One of the key issues addressed in the bill is the collection and use of DNA forensic material. As science moves in leaps and bounds, there is a need—but, more than that, a responsibility—for us to keep up. As policing incorporates and relies more heavily on forensic testing—a world away from the forensic procedures and technologies that were available when my father was involved in these sorts of things many years ago—we need to keep up. It is imperative that the legal parameters within which our organisations operate are clearly defined, up to date, accessible and consolidated.

It is also critical, in short, that there is consistency across our various jurisdictions and that we are all on the same page. This bill will increase the transparency and reduce the complexity that surrounds procedures governing the collection, use and analysis of DNA material. It brings clarity. The amendments go towards reducing the inconsistencies that currently exist between the Crimes Act and the legislation in the states and territories. Furthermore, some of the amendments are concerned with reclassifying the methods used—for example, defining a blood sample as a prick-to-the-finger test. This bill also strives to bolster the capacity of the Australian Crime Commission to share information and intelligence with agencies across all tiers of law enforcement from Commonwealth, state and territory agencies to internal enforcement and intelligence bodies. This is critically important, because what we have learned over many years is that the better we can manage, capture, share and analyse data, the better chance we have of focusing our efforts on getting the crooks. That is something that our police are tasked with on our behalf every day. The opportunity to share this information and share its analysis and target our efforts will, I think, yield a significant dividend, not just in the area of policing but, more broadly, in the security responsibilities that we have as a national parliament and that the government has as an executive.

We are talking here about things that will put right these matters. The Australian Crime Commission has been forced to cut staff numbers from 688 to 556. That is almost 20 per cent. Another 100 officers seconded to the union from state and territory police forces have been returned home. Over the forward estimates for the ACC, Labor has cut more than eight per cent. On the issue of crime prevention, Labor's record also speaks volumes. These amendments would also permit the chief executive officer of the Crime Commission to share information with the private sector under certain circumstances, which is a worthy measure that is deemed necessary and appropriate. As with any organisation, transparency and accountability is a must, and that need could hardly be more pressing than in the area of crime prevention and law enforcement. This amendment will provide the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity with a contempt power, as well as enhancing the commission's ability to investigate corruption. The crux of this is to act as a deterrent for uncooperative witnesses and, where they arise, provide a quick and potent mechanism for the integrity commissioner to handle the situation and deal with it accordingly.

Furthermore, there are measures in this bill that aim to combat new and illicit substances that, sadly, have crept onto Australian streets with devastating consequences, substances like meow meow and Special K. As a father of two young girls—they are under five—I shudder to think what they will be exposed to by the time they enter their teenage years. Sadly, those threats, I am sure, will present themselves even before their teenage years. Staying on top of the quick movement of this is something that I will support strongly in this House. The amendment will clearly articulate the additional drug substances and quantities to be subject to the full range of Commonwealth serious drug offences. This bill should assist our Customs and Border Protection Service in intercepting and seizing illicit drugs detected at the Australian border, by overcoming an existing legal anomaly, allowing customs officers to seize all illicit drugs regardless of whether they are proscribed under customs regulations or the Criminal Code. Again, this goes to consolidation and consistencies. Our law enforcement agencies, officers in the Customs And Border Protection Service and the AFP perform a tremendous job under difficult circumstances, and it is important that we ensure that the law is there to support the work they do. This bill also makes amendments to Commonwealth parole. At present there is no ability to refuse parole to a federal offender who is serving a sentence of imprisonment of less than 10 years even if corrective services believe that the offender should not be granted parole. This bill's amendments will allow the release on parole of all federal offenders to become a discretionary decision consistent with the approach currently taken by the states and territories on the granting of parole. At present the maximum parole supervision for federal sentences other than life imprisonment is just three years.

This is a worthy bill. While it has been rushed into this place, it is an opportunity on this special day to recognise what is taking place even as we speak in New South Wales with the special march in the city of Sydney. Today is a day for police officers to stand tall and proud in New South Wales as they can all around the country. It is a day when their families can celebrate their service along with all the citizens of New South Wales and all of those who support their good works.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): Before I call the member for Fowler I take the opportunity to associate myself with the comments about police made by the honourable member for Cook. As late as last Friday, Minister Mike Gallacher and Commissioner Andrew Scipione visited the new, refurbished Burwood Police Station. I had the opportunity to speak to Commissioner Scipione, and on that occasion many laudatory statements were made about the fine work that he and Minister Mike Gallacher were doing. It was a welcome visit to my electorate. I thank the member for Cook.