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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 159

Senator NEWMAN (10.52 a.m.) —I will respond quickly to something that Senator Crowley said. As I understand it, one reason there has not been sufficient prosecution of fraud cases is this history of relying largely on AFP officers to do the work. As the Senate knows, an enormous number of jobs are given to the AFP, and it has to prioritise. I do not have evidence of this, but I suspect that some of the HIC work may have been designated as lower priority by the AFP than other work which is required of it by government.

  Certainly I believe that there has not been sufficient commitment in the past to chasing fraud. I welcome the fact that now at least we have evidence of a governmental commitment to chase fraud. I think that is one of the big pluses that come out of this whole exercise. But I would not suggest that because these powers have not been there the work was not done. The work was not done because there were other priorities, as much as for any other reason.

  The giving of these powers is important, but so also is the commitment to prosecute and to pursue people operating outside the law. They are innocent until they are proven guilty, and the structure of protection for citizens that we have enjoyed in this country, which is being whittled back, does not need to be whittled back in this case in order to investigate fraud. We can still do it. The powers are there, but a search warrant should be required first. Senator Crowley has not acknowledged, for example, that the taking of samples or photographs in many ways is equivalent to taking away the evidence. There were more things which I think justify—

Senator Crowley —It is something the courts need called evidence.

Senator NEWMAN —Yes, and in order to get it a policeman has to get a search warrant. It does not have to be just a forcible entry. Senator Crowley has put great emphasis on that. But, in the obtaining of evidence from somebody's premises, some precautions need to be taken first. Therefore, I do not think we should be distracted by the minister saying, `Well, we have not done very well in the past.' The reason for this is not so much one of there not being the powers but one of a commitment and a priority not being given to this work. I welcome the fact that that now appears to be present. But, in doing that, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.