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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2362

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (22:22): I rise to speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers and Offences) Bill 2012. The bill proposes significant reforms to streamline and modernise a number of laws to equip Commonwealth law enforcement agencies with appropriate processes and resources so that they may adequately respond to modern forms of organised crime. There is no doubt that our law enforcement and justice systems have changed considerably over recent decades and are increasingly facing new and emerging issues. Indeed, over the last 20 years, we have seen massive advances in technology, communications and travel, and organised crime and other criminal networks have adapted accordingly. Our law enforcement agencies must also adapt and respond to these changes.

The Greens understand that law reform in this area is necessary and important in order to be able to adequately respond to this ever-changing and complex landscape, where the degree and sophistication of organised crime is increasing. However, as I have said here before, despite the imperative to act effectively and decisively against organised crime, Australia must also ensure that our justice system at all times respects and safeguards the democratic freedoms and human rights of those it affects. As everybody here would agree, we need to strike the right balance. The balance to be struck in this case is to most effectively combat modern organised crime in a way that does not unduly infringe upon people's human rights.

Evidence was presented to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs regarding the first draft of this bill. Based on the recommendations of that committee's report, the government introduced amendments to the bill, and now the government has committed to consider further recommendations of that committee. On this basis, the Greens believe that an appropriate balance has been struck in the final presentation of this bill.

This bill is largely procedural and technical in nature, seeking to reduce complexity, streamline provisions and ensure consistency across jurisdictions and transparency in the law. However, stakeholders did raise some concerns in relation to amendments to the Australian Crime Commission Act that enable the commission to share information and intelligence with government and private sector bodies. The Law Council of Australia and the Rule of Law Institute were concerned that these provisions were unduly broad and lacked sufficient safeguards to protect individuals' rights.

While the Greens agree with the Law Council—that aspects of the new section 59AA, relating to the sharing of information with government bodies, enable a much broader scope for information sharing than ever before—we also understand that, in order to effectively combat international criminal networks and serious global organised crime syndicates, there is a need for our law enforcement agencies to share, in certain appropriate circumstances, information across Australian government departments and agencies and with their foreign counterparts. Notwithstanding this, we agree that this provision could have been strengthened to improve protection of individuals' rights, and we refer to recommendation 3 of the committee report, which recommends that the Attorney-General undertake an audit of the investigative and coercive powers available to security and law enforcement agencies in order to identify the full scope of powers available to those agencies, the extent to which an individual's right to privacy is abrogated by these powers and, on that basis, whether these powers are necessary or justified. The Attorney-General's office has indicated that it agrees to this recommendation, and the Greens are of the view that the government must undertake this audit as a matter of priority.

We also note that the government made changes to section 59AB, relating to the sharing of information with the private sector, in accordance with recommendations made by the Rule of Law Institute and adopted by the committee report. As a result of these changes the Australian Crime Commission CEO may only disclose information to proscribed bodies corporate where it would not prejudice the safety of a person or prejudice the fair trial of a person who has been charged with an offence. In addition, the Australian Crime Commission may impose conditions on a body corporate to ensure that disclosed information will not prejudice the reputation of a person. These changes directly respond to issues highlighted by stakeholders. As a result of these changes, I am satisfied that this amendment improves safeguards for individual employees so as to avoid inadvertent or prejudicial disclosure of information under this bill. On that basis, I commend the bill to the Senate.