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Monday, 23 February 2009
Page: 1378

Mr PERRETT (1:11 PM) —I too rise in support of the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Identity Crimes and Other Measures) Bill 2008. Whilst we often rise in this chamber to talk about laws and occasionally rise to talk about justice, it is great that we have a timely combination of law and justice here. This is an important bill, which will beef up the legislation dealing with identity crimes and also ensure better support for victims of identity crime.

From the moment we are born our identity begins, and information that is unique to each individual serves as proof of who we are. I find this legislation particularly timely because I have a five-week-old son. It is amazing to see even in the last five weeks, from the moment he was born through to now, how much he has changed. Also, writing another speech for a motion about adoption that the member for Forde has put before for the House has made me particularly think about what our identity is. I will be speaking in support of the motion by the member for Forde later tonight. For the sake of the chamber, I will mention that last year I met for the first time a nephew who was adopted out by my sister when he was born, when she was only 15. It was interesting meeting someone who was 35 who was my nephew but who I had obviously never met before in his life and just seeing how easily he fitted into the family and how his identity fitted in there, but he also had an entirely different life, obviously, growing up in Darwin and the like. It is interesting how much our identity is shaped by nature and nurture and all those things that we do in our life.

On a very basic level, our identity includes details such as our name, our date of birth, our address and our parents’ details. As we move into adulthood, more information is added to our identity: bank details, a drivers licence, perhaps—although it is amazing the number of people who never have a drivers licence—passports, marriage certificates, education qualifications, employment history, perhaps our residential tenancy history and maybe even our criminal history or an absence of a criminal history. That is becoming much more common, certainly in Queensland, where you need to get a blue card to do any work around children. All of these details create a unique profile which we use to interact with society, government and other organisations.

Our identity is a representation of who we are and a safeguard of our privacy and protection. Not only does it safeguard us; it also safeguards society as a whole, because it makes sure that others are aware of our place and who we are and that we are who we profess to be. It has been spoken about in the chamber today as being a modern problem, but obviously identity theft, or duplication, has been around for a very long time. I did some preliminary research and found that a young slave in Egypt, called Moses, was substituted for someone else. That was a bit like identity fraud. I then researched a little further and found that in one of William Shakespeare’s plays, The Merchant of Venice, one of the heroines, Portia, disguises herself as a man, as Balthasar, a young doctor of law, and assumes the role of a judge and saves the life of Bassanio’s friend Antonio in court. People would probably be familiar with the speech she makes about the pound of flesh. I cannot recall it exactly, so I will not quote it. Obviously identity fraud has been around for a long time but now, in the modern world, in the information age, identity crimes are on the rise. It is thought that high-speed information flows and remote communications, as well as the large volumes of personal information now available on the internet, have led to this surge. I would like to say a special hello to all of my good friends in Nigeria who constantly email my office and offer wonderful things to me. I point out to them that there is no need to keep emailing the office; I will get back to them as soon as I am able to.

The other example I want to bring to the attention of the House is that of Frank William Abagnale Jr. You might remember him if you saw the movie Catch Me If You Can. He was played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Back in the 1960s he was infamous for passing bad cheques worth about $2.5 billion in over 26 countries over about five years. During that time he used at least eight aliases to cash bad cheques until he was eventually tracked down—not by Tom Hanks but by the FBI. He went on to train the FBI in how to combat identify theft, and I think he is still a trainer with the FBI.

So it is not a modern phenomenon but we need to be as prepared as possible. Better technologies to prevent fraud are being developed, but so too are high-tech methods to forge documents and steal identities. The true extent of identity crimes is unknown, of course, as we are only really aware of the ones that are caught. In 2001, as part of the Scoping Identity Fraud Study of the Attorney-General’s Department, Geoff Main and Brett Robson said:

There is widespread agreement by all organisations that identify fraud already represents a significant problem, that is likely to grow further. The lack of statistics on the incidence and cost of identity-related fraud makes the total cost to the community impossible to accurately quantify.

That is still the case today, eight years later. The best estimates we have from the Securities Industry Research Centre of Asia-Pacific indicate that identity fraud costs big business in Australia, more than $1 billion per year. In the United States the economic impact is estimated to exceed $50 billion annually.

In the case of stolen identities, individuals face an emotional struggle in coming to terms with invasion of privacy, loss of savings and many years of time and effort spent in restoring their credit rating. A name like Graham Perrett is not such a common name but even before I was elected to parliament I had already met a baker by the name of Graham Perrett and an accountant by the name of Graham Perrett. In fact, the accountant and I went to the same dentist and had an appointment mixed up. Getting an extra filling was not something I was interested in but I was interested in seeing how easy it would be to be a bit duplicitous and gain some advantage. I have sympathy for the John Smiths of the world and the like.

Not only does identity fraud impact on businesses and individuals; identity crimes can facilitate much more serious crimes like terrorism and people-smuggling. For example, you need only think of the September 11 hijackers and their use of false social security numbers, false identities and ID documents to plan their evil deeds without detection—maybe detection did occur but it was a little too late.

Identity fraud is a serious crime and there is no doubt this parliament needs to act. The Criminal Code includes some identity offences such as credit card skimming, fraud and making a false document. However, given the extent of identity fraud and the potential for greater crimes, it is astounding that it is not already an offence to assume another person’s identity, except in limited circumstances in Queensland and South Australia, where legislation is already in place.

The bill before the House implements the recommendations in the Model Criminal Law Officers Committee final report on identity crime to introduce new offences associated with identity crime to the Criminal Code Act 1995. These include making, supplying or using identification information to pretend to be another person for the purpose of committing or facilitating the commission of a Commonwealth indictable offence, with a penalty of five years imprisonment; possessing identification information with the intention of dealing in that information, with a penalty of three years imprisonment; and possessing equipment to make identification information with the intention of dealing in that information, with a penalty of three years imprisonment. The bill also takes into account the global nature of these crimes by applying them to Australian citizens or body corporates outside Australia. This bill also ensures that these offences will apply to emerging identity crimes which come about in the future as a result of new technologies, because you can be sure that, as new technologies develop, so too will new criminal opportunities. The price of identity security is eternal vigilance.

I particularly welcome the measures in this bill that support victims of identity theft. The bill creates a certification system to help victims rebuild their reputation. As I said previously, identity crimes can damage a person’s credit rating and it can cost significant time, money and effort to negotiate with financial institutions to restore a true record and transaction history. I have had to deal with a lost credit card a few times and go about cancelling cards and the like, but I cannot imagine what it would be like when someone deliberately takes your details and uses them in a criminal way. Under this new system, a victim of identity crime may approach a magistrate for a certificate that states the manner in which his or her identification was used. This certificate would then help victims to deal with financial institutions and rebuild their credit rating.

I am sure most members of the House of Representatives would have had the experience of someone coming into their office after they had been put on a rental black list for whatever reason. If you cannot get bricks and mortar organised over your head because of someone destroying your credit rating, things may then become incredibly difficult. You can spiral right down into homelessness if you do not have the proper support. Under this system we are giving as much support as possible to the victim of the identity crime.

This bill also contains measures to provide greater protection for the integrity of the justice system. The maximum penalties for perverting the course of justice and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice will be increased from five years to 10 years. This shows how seriously the Rudd government takes this offence, and hopefully the message will get out to people that a seemingly harmless thing like taking a letter out of a mailbox can lead to very, very serious consequences. Hopefully that message will get out there, especially to young people. Once when I was waiting in the line at Queensland Transport someone in front of me—although I do not know his circumstances, because he ran off—was suspiciously trying to get an 18-plus card. Thankfully the person behind the counter asked a couple of questions, such as what his mother’s maiden name was and that sort of thing, and the guy obviously had not done enough research and actually ran out of the centre. So it does happen. Hopefully people will get the message from a young age that it is the wrong thing to do.

The bill also amends the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1983 to ensure that the DPP can delegate functions and powers under the act to facilitate joint trial arrangements. Where the same or related facts lead to a defendant being indicted or charged with both Commonwealth and state or territory offences, a joint trial with one prosecuting authority is the most efficient process. However, the DPP has limited scope to delegate authorisation of indictments. This amendment will enable the director to authorise a person to sign indictments on his or her behalf. It also provides immunity from civil proceedings for persons carrying out functions and powers under the DPP Act.

I am the father of a brand-new baby and also a 3½-year-old. I would not say the 3½-year-old knows more about the computer than me yet, but I can see that in four, five or six years time he will. He already knows how to use a mouse and he certainly knows how to track down his favourite Ben 10 videos on the computer, so who knows where this information revolution will take us in five or 10 years time? It is important that we are ever vigilant about the nasty people who are out there. I thank the Minister for Home Affairs for bringing this bill to the parliament and particularly welcome the new identity crimes offences, which will ensure greater protection for individuals as well as businesses. I commend the bill to the House.