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Monday, 18 November 2002
Page: 6658

Senator FERRIS (9:31 PM) —The Australian Crime Commission Establishment Bill 2002 is a very important bill that reflects an undertaking that was given during the election campaign last year, when the Prime Minister announced that he would convene a summit to focus on producing an enhanced national framework to deal with terrorism and transnational crime. The bill that we are considering tonight is a reflection of that undertaking. There have been many meetings convened with state bodies to ensure that the new national body appropriately reflected the undertaking the Prime Minister gave at that time.

The most crucial of these meetings took place on 5 April this year and was attended by the premiers of the states and the chief ministers of the Northern Territory and the ACT. The communique that came from that importantly set out 23 resolutions—23 initiatives unanimously agreed to by all leaders. That is a very significant achievement in itself. It is a recognition of the important requirement of taking a national approach to crime in this country. Sadly, events that have taken place internationally since that time have simply reinforced that view. It was agreed by all state premiers and chief ministers that we need to take a new look at how we could streamline our approach to crime to deal with terrorism and transnational crime. This government, under the significant and important leadership of the Prime Minister, has delivered yet again much needed reforms to take account of the much more sophisticated international crime that we are now dealing with in this country.

This was the first time the National Crime Authority had undergone any significant change since 1984 when it was established. It was then designed to overcome the barriers to effective law enforcement caused by jurisdictional boundaries around Australia and within the federal system. The continuing support for the National Crime Authority reflects the very good work that that body has done over the years, overseen by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, which I have had the honour in the past to act as chair of. The parliament now recognises that the globalisation of markets and of crime has meant that we needed to take another look at whether the National Crime Authority was fulfilling that original role as efficiently and as effectively as it could be. I think all of us would agree that there is no doubt that the opportunities for international crime are now so much more sophisticated and able to be executed so rapidly that the system that was put in place in 1984, when the National Crime Authority was established, was well and truly ready for review. It was therefore quite timely to reassess whether the National Crime Authority was best placed in that role to deal with the threats of the 21st century. So it was decided by the state premiers and chief ministers, working together with the Prime Minister, to replace the National Crime Authority with the Australian Crime Commission and to build on the successes of the National Crime Authority in developing effective national law enforcement operations, in partnership with state and territory police forces—operations that will be enhanced by removing the current barriers to effectiveness that had, in some ways, held back the National Crime Authority.

The functions of the new body are many and varied and all of them very important. I think it is worth noting them here tonight: improved criminal intelligence collection and analysis; setting clear national criminal intelligence priorities; and conducting intelligence-led investigations of criminal activity of any significance, including the conduct and coordination of investigative and intelligence task forces as approved by the board. Relating to intelligence—which has been a very important role of the former National Crime Authority—the Australian Crime Commission will provide a coordinated national criminal intelligence network, set national intelligence priorities to avoid duplication—or `turfdom' as it has become known within the police forces—allow areas of new and emerging criminality to be identified and investigated, and provide for investigations to be intelligence driven.

It is quite significant that the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Ellison, has already said that the very first investigation that the ACC will take on as a new initiative will be a task force to investigate illegal hand gun trafficking in Australia, something that we have all focused on as a result of the tragic shootings in Melbourne. This is particularly timely given the clear funding link between organised crime and international terrorism, which, unfortunately, we now are also aware of.

One of the most important things to consider in relation to the ACC is that the new board will consist of 13 voting members with a chief executive who will be a non-voting member. The chairman of the board will be the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police. This is quite a fundamental change from the administration of the National Crime Authority. The voting members of the board will be the eight state and territory police commissioners and five Commonwealth agency heads—a very important departure from the current structure of the National Crime Authority.

The ACC will have very important in-house powers and task force access to all coercive and investigatory powers currently available to the National Crime Authority. The board will need to specifically authorise those investigations or operations which are to have access to the very important coercive powers. These powers will be the same as those available to the National Crime Authority. However, having regard to the focus of the ACC on criminal intelligence, the bill expressly provides that the coercive powers are also to be available for intelligence operations. It clearly sets out the matters the board must take into account before making those coercive powers available to an intelligence operation or an investigation. Coercive powers have a critical role in the way that crime will be detected and dealt with. The coercive powers, whilst of concern to some members of the Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority over the years, I firmly believe will play a critical role when they are applied within the intelligence structure.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority looked at this legislation and, after very careful consideration and extensive hearings from a number of interested parties both in Canberra and interstate, made 15 recommendations. There were two particular recommendations which I was interested to follow, but I am pleased to see that the government has accepted all but two of the committee's 15 recommendations. That does reveal that the government has very carefully considered the role of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority and the consideration that the committee has given to this bill.

The two recommendations I would like to mention here tonight reflect an area which I have always had a deal of interest in during my time—five or six years—on the parliamentary joint committee. The first is recommendation 4, in which we recommend:

... the Bill be amended to explicitly provide that:

· The CEO should be responsible for the overall management of the ACC. The Minister for Justice and Customs of the Commonwealth Parliament should be the Minister, under our system of responsible government, accountable to the Parliament for the work of the ACC.

· The CEO appoint the head of a task force after consultation with and advice from the Board.

· Heads of task forces are responsible to the ACC through the CEO.

I am pleased to say that Minister Ellison has agreed with that recommendation. Accordingly, the bill is being amended to provide that the CEO is responsible for the administration and management of the commission; that the person must manage, coordinate and control ACC operations and investigations to ensure that the head of an ACC operation or investigation is responsible to the board through the CEO; that the person must appoint the head of an investigation after having consulted with the chair of the board and appropriate board members; that these members will be determined by the board under directions issued under subsection 46(1); and that the Minister for Justice and Customs will be the Commonwealth minister responsible. The role of the CEO is very important in the overall management of the ACC, and I am very pleased to say that the minister took into account those recommendations.

The second recommendation that I was particularly pleased to be associated with was recommendation 14. After reading and taking evidence on these bills, the committee recommended:

... that the Bill be amended to explicitly provide that examiners must satisfy themselves in each case that before they exercise special powers under the Act that it is appropriate and reasonable to do so and that they indicate in writing the grounds for having such an opinion.

It was an issue of some debate within the committee but, after careful discussion, it was agreed that it was appropriate that there be given in writing the grounds for having such an opinion. I am very pleased to see that the minister has agreed to accept that recommendation. The bill has been amended to expressly provide that before an examiner exercises coercive powers under section 28—that is, the summons to attend—or section 29, when notices are given to produce, the examiner must decide that the exercise of the power is reasonable in all the circumstances. It is also agreed to insert provisions requiring the examiner to indicate in writing the grounds for making that decision. That was something that we took very careful note of in a number of discussions that we had with witnesses who came before us to give evidence on this bill, and I am very pleased to see that that has been done.

I think that the Australian Crime Commission is an appropriate body to take over the powers not only of the National Crime Authority but also of the Office of Strategic Crime Assessments, OSCA, and the Australian Bureau of Criminal Investigation, ABCI. These three bodies will now be rolled into the Australian Crime Commission. Several years ago when the parliamentary joint committee looked into the operations of the National Crime Authority we saw that there were 23 bodies at that time, with jurisdiction of one sort or another, looking into crime across Australia. There was a great deal of what became known during that inquiry as `turfdom'—various police bodies that chose for one reason or another not to exchange information, share intelligence or share databases. I recall—and I know a number of my colleagues at the time on that committee found this too—that it was very difficult to understand how an issue as important as crime could be the subject of turfdom.

I do not think this was made any easier by the fact that a number of the police officers who were working with the National Crime Authority on secondment in fact returned to the police forces in the states from where they came and then needed to fit in again with their colleagues where they were based. This made for some tensions during the period in which those officers were on transfer to the National Crime Authority. I think that the new Australian Crime Commission will ensure, as a peak body, that those sorts of tensions and those sorts of turfdoms do not occur. There is no doubt that in the wider community in Australia, particularly since October 12, there can be no more important issue than the safety and security of all Australians, whether it is during their visits overseas or whether it is in Australia.

I think the most unfortunate set of circumstances that occurred on the campus of Monash University just a matter of weeks ago indicate that the decision of the minister to give the Crime Commission its first initiative—that is, the investigation of illegal hand gun trafficking in Australia—is a very timely reminder that we need to be very vigilant in ensuring that the policing bodies stay one step ahead of the more sophisticated criminals operating in this country through the very best arrangements within states and territories. So I am very pleased to support this bill tonight. I think it reflects not only very careful consideration by the premiers of every state and the chief ministers of the territories but also the work that has been done over the years, in its own modest way, by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, which has always tried to make recommendations to ensure the most efficient and effective targeting of crime and criminals. I commend the bill to the Senate.