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Monday, 11 May 1987
Page: 2950

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Attorney-General)(9.25) —in reply-I thank all honourable members for their contribution. It has been a wide-ranging but very constructive debate. At times there has been criticism in that there is deemed to be a need to do more. I am very mindful of the obligations on all governments to look at the problems we now face with organised crime. Perhaps I should deal first with the last speaker, my good friend and colleague the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi). As usual, he raised a number of very pointed matters. The issue is very clear in our minds. The fact that Costigan was able to identify bottom of the harbour schemes clearly showed that there was a fair amount of organised crime in Australia.

The remarkable thing about the report of the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union was that it was not really intended to bring to light what it did. It was aimed to destroy a union, but in the process it uncovered a great deal of white collar organised crime during the 1970s. That sort of crime was also identified in the McCabe-Lafranchi report. I make the point that what was really identified was mass evasion by criminals of their tax liability. This should have been dealt with by the previous Government because it was very clear that the then Commissioner of Taxation knew of massive evasion of tax by what are called straw companies. That was brought to the attention of the previous Government at the time. It was purely coincidental and accidental-and fortunate-that Costigan was able to bring these matters to light. Following his report we have all been addressing our minds to how we might combat this problem. The problem does not relate just to the normal climate as we understand it. We had identified criminals because of some physical activity within a geographical limitation.

The present position is that one has to try to find a criminal whom one cannot readily see and who in fact may not be in this country but who may be transiting through a number of countries on behalf of an organisation perhaps operating outside this country but perpetrating a number of criminal activities in this nation. With that in mind, we need tools of trade. We need new concepts. As Attorney-General I say that we were bereft of those tools of trade when I took office. We had no up to date international treaties dealing with extradition. We are still grappling with the question of mutual assistance treaties. They did not exist. I will not sheet home the blame to anyone else, but the issue is that we initiated discussion in Milan in 1985 and in Harare in 1986. I thank the officers of my Department who have spent an enormous amount of time in setting up task forces to go to the various other countries of the world to talk about setting up treaties-and in fact now signing such treaties in relation to extradition-and discussing mutual assistance. Like us, other countries understand that the problem is not one that they can solve alone; they need co-operation. I hope that is understood. It was never realised in former days.

Questions have been asked here again about Trimbole. I just make the point that we had no extradition treaty with Ireland, although we should have had one. We had no knowledge of where Trimbole's financial transactions were being carried out; in future we may be able to have such information. Lastly, but by no means least, Trimbole left this country without a passport when the previous Government was in power. It is about time we put that to rest. The issue is that criminal activity and the charges in that respect now give us an opportunity to talk about whether we may be able to pursue, to our benefit, matters of a financial nature relating to him, through the confiscation of assets. This will be covered in the next Bill.

The honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) raised a number of specific matters. I am interested in them. I assure him that I saw some merit in his advocacy for me to look at issues that he raised. He raised issues relating to clause 13 (4) and also clause 26 (1) (d). I can see some merit in his suggestions, but at this stage I have to say that others do not, for reasons that might be more persuasive. In regard to clause 13 (4) he raised whether there should be legal representation. The Bill provides that it is left to the discretion of the magistrate. The honourable member virtually asked why that was so. I am told that the discretion certainly is to allow representation, but it was deliberately left on the basis of a discretion to ensure that the Bill can accommodate different legal systems in two cases, namely, grand jury proceedings and civil law inquisitorial magistrates' proceedings. A person is only charged after these proceedings. Indeed, the identity of the person to be charged in these cases may not be known at the commencement of the proceedings. The requirement that the magistrate must allow representation of the person to whom the foreign proceedings relates would preclude the granting of assistance in the above cases. So that is the reason that the legislation has been framed in that way.

The other matter relates to the question of a person who is a prisoner consenting to give evidence in a foreign country. I am told that we tried to do otherwise during discussions with the other countries but they would not accept that position. It is their view that the prisoner must consent. We agreed with that view because otherwise we would not have reacted an agreement. I hope that that satisfied my honourable colleague at this stage. I must tell him that I was somewhat persuaded by what he told us.

He raised issues that I think are very important. He made the complaint-I do not think it is justified, but he is entitled to make it-that we have no strategic plan to combat crime; we need intelligence gathering; we need analysis; we need an upgrading of the type of personnel; we need co-ordination; and we ought to talk about outstanding recommendations. We are trying to do those things. I want to say this: The cash transaction reporting legislation that we will be debating soon will require me to set up within the Attorney-General's Department an intelligence agency that can assess, analyse and look at the very things that he talked about. It will require special skills. It will require people other than those who just have the capacity to say that they understand the law or who might have had some police training, which would be beneficial. We will need very good investigative powers. We will need people with an understanding of monetary transactions. We will need some good lawyers to talk about what it might relate to. We will need to identify, in a criminal atmosphere sense, the sort of people who might have been under notice, perhaps not under notice to the extent of a criminal activity, but who were noticed here and there and who would show up in the identification of what is happening in these transactions.

The honourable member for Hawker again raised an issue which he has raised with me, that is, his concern as to whether adequate records will be kept that could be the subject of evidentiary acceptance. He talked about computer discs and microfiche records of transactions. I am advised-and I will subject this advice to a further check-that there are no deficiencies in that respect. There is some deficiency in one of the State laws, namely, Victoria. That is a problem for it to try to identify. As far as we are concerned, I am assured as recently as this afternoon that the Director of Public Prosecutions has no difficulty in getting the evidence, and having it admitted, in respect of those matters.

Mr Jacobi —The problem in Victoria was the State law.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —There is a problem with the Victorian State law, not with the Commonwealth law. I think that generally what we have been discussing is how we might talk about criminal activity. My colleague the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Mr Griffiths) was very concerned about the death penalty being imposed and carried out in respect of somebody who would be dealt with under the mutual assistance legislation. I do not think that that can happen. It certainly cannot, because it would relate basically to extradition. When we deal with extradition matters, we will see a discretion there to the effect that people will not be extradited if there were to be a suggestion of a failure to apply humanitarian concepts. One of those, of course, would be the carrying out of the death penalty. So I think we have adequately covered that.

Mr Slipper —Would you extradite someone to Russia?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —If the honourable member looks at the war criminals legislation, he will note that we will deal with the war criminals in Australia. We would not extradite anybody, even though the United States of America, I noticed recently, has acted differently. I make the point that, in the extradition area, which we are not dealing with at the moment, one of the problems in recent hours has been people who are anxious to give vent to their views generally on the issue. The matter we are dealing with relates to mutual assistance, which requires international treaties. As I said before, we have not had those treaties. Nobody in the past has gone out to get them. It is only this Government that has had the obligation to do it, and is doing it.

The extradition treaties were also non-existent. We had to get those. It has required enormous effort. Having got them, I think we will be in very good shape to talk about financial assets overseas. We will have an opportunity to get information about those assets. I am assured, for example, by the distinguished Minister of Justice in Switzerland that as long as we know there is a charge that might be pending, we will be able to get the information forthwith if we can identify assets in that country. The Swiss, of course, are quite acute about that matter. If there is confiscation, the assets go to them. That might explain the situation. Nevertheless, we would deprive the criminal of the assets. We must understand that a lot of discussions have taken place. Officers of my Department have built up a great deal of good will with all the appropriate officers in most countries of Europe and certainly in the United States. We will pursue this matter further in the Proceeds of Crime Bill. A Bill relating to cash reporting will be introduced soon. The Americans are the only ones who have introduced this, and they are getting good results. I hope we can bring it forward very quickly and have it passed in this House. Apart from being able to attack criminal activities, there is also a beneficial spinoff in being able to get additional taxation revenue.

We are considering a whole package. It is novel, new and innovative. It is attacking the old problem of criminal activity. New techniques are needed because the criminals have adopted new veneers or new aliases. They might be respected business people who do not peddle drugs on the street, but they could be the cause of the problem and reaping the benefits of the activity.

I thank honourable members for their help in passing this legislation. I particularly thank the honourable member for North Sydney for his assessment of it. In an impartial way I understand some of the problems he feels we should have dealt with earlier. But I think I have been able to rebut that charge by saying: `How could we have dealt with it earlier if we did not have the necessary treaties in place?'. No government in the past thought it needed to make these appropriate arrangements overseas. We now have that on a correct course. I think that in future governments of all persuasions will have a lot more to act with in respect of the pursuit of criminals and the confiscation of assets. I thank the House for its deliberations.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.