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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11764

Ms ROXON (GellibrandAttorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management) (09:38): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious Drugs, Identity Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012 delivers on the government’s continuing commitment to combat serious and organised crime and corruption. The bill includes a range of measures which strengthen existing laws and ensure that the criminal law in this country is responsive to emerging threats.

The bill will improve and clarify aspects of Commonwealth criminal law including:

amendments to the Commonwealth’s serious drug offences framework to allow it to be updated more quickly to list new substances,

expand identity crime offences,

create new offences and a police power relating to air travel and false identity,

improve the operation of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006,

clarify that superannuation orders can be made in relation to all periods of a person’s employment as a Commonwealth employee, and

increase the value of the penalty unit for Commonwealth criminal offences and provide for its regular review moving forward.

I will address each of these amendments in turn.

Illicit drugs have a terrible impact on the Australian community and cause a wide range of social, economic and personal harms. This government is committed to minimising the use and availability of harmful drugs in Australia and ensuring that drug laws are as strong as possible.

This bill ensures Commonwealth laws are up to date and allow for flexible, quick responses to new and emerging drug threats.

Firstly, the bill will move the existing lists of illicit substances from the Criminal Code to regulations, and allow for the future listing of substances to be done by regulation. This will make it substantially quicker to update the lists in response to new threats and will make them more responsive to law enforcement needs. This will help prevent organised crime groups and individuals from seeking to exploit loopholes created when the lists of controlled drugs do not keep pace with the market for illicit substances.

Secondly, the bill will improve existing mechanisms for making emergency determinations in relation to particular substances.

Emergency determinations may currently be made for a period of 28 days. The bill will strengthen this framework by allowing determinations to operate for up to a maximum of 18 months.

This will provide a greater amount of time for experts to analyse substances and assess the harms they cause. This approach is consistent with that taken in the United States and New Zealand for the temporary listing of substances.

Law enforcement agencies have identified identity crime as a significant threat and one of the fastest growing crimes in Australia. The internet and other new technologies have provided ideal new instruments for organised criminals to harness and exploit the identity information of others.

The government has a comprehensive identity security strategy and has already taken steps to counter identity crime. It is an offence for a person to deal in identification information for the purpose of committing a crime against Commonwealth law.

The bill will expand these offences to cover people who use a carriage service, such as the internet or a mobile phone, to obtain identification information with the intention of committing another offence. It will also criminalise the use of identity information with intent to commit a foreign offence.

The new offences will carry penalties of up to five years imprisonment.

In keeping with the government’s commitment to combating organised crime and providing strong management of our borders, the bill will create new offences relating to air travel and the use of false identities.

Travelling under a false identity is a tactic commonly used by organised criminals in Australia and overseas to evade law enforcement detection. The bill will make it a crime to use a false identity to book a flight over the internet or to take a commercial flight. It will also be a crime to use a false identity when identifying oneself for the purpose of travelling on such a flight.

The maximum penalty for the offences will be 12 months imprisonment. This penalty is consistent with the penalties for similar offences relating to providing false or misleading information in the Criminal Code.

The bill will also give police powers to request evidence of a person’s identity where a person is suspected of committing, or intending to commit, a serious offence. It is important that law enforcement agencies have the powers necessary to properly deal with these crimes, although of course safeguards will be put into place to ensure that these powers are used appropriately.

The bill will make amendments to the Commonwealth’s penalty unit scheme. This is part of the government's commitment to cracking down on serious and organised crime. We want to make a strong statement about this type of crime and ensure that the courts have the ability to impose appropriate penalties to deal with these offenders.

The penalty unit was introduced in 1992 to enable financial penalties across all Commonwealth criminal legislation to be easily increased in line with inflation with a single amendment to the Crimes Act. The penalty unit was last increased in 1997.

The bill increases the value of a penalty unit to $170 to accommodate increases in the consumer price index. This increase will strengthen all Commonwealth financial penalties, including those related to white-collar crime and serious and organised crime. For example, the maximum financial penalty for the fraud offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception will increase from $66,000 to $102,000 for an individual, and from $330,000 to $510,000 for a corporation. This is a significant increase and should send a strong message that crime does not pay.

The bill also introduces a requirement for the penalty unit to be reviewed every three years to ensure its value continues to be regularly maintained in real terms in the future.

The bill also includes amendments to strengthen the Commonwealth public sector integrity system by clarifying the functions of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner. This is consistent with recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

Firstly, the bill will more clearly state the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner’s statutory functions in relation to detecting and preventing corruption. This will better reflect the objects of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006and enable the commission to take a proactive approach to dealing with corruption.

Secondly, the bill will provide the minister with the discretion to refer a corruption issue involving a staff member of the commission to the integrity commissioner, unless it involves the integrity commissioner or an assistant integrity commissioner, to improve the management of internal corruption issues.

Thirdly, the bill will provide the integrity commissioner with greater flexibility in relation to holding a public inquiry.

Finally, the bill will clarify the laws relating to superannuation orders and corruption offences.

The Crimes (Superannuation Benefits) Act allows for the forfeiture and recovery of employer funded superannuation benefits of Commonwealth employees who have been convicted of corruption offences.

The bill will clarify that a superannuation order made under this act relates to all employer funded contributions made or payable in relation to the person's total period or periods of Commonwealth employment, not just the particular period of employment in which a corruption offence was committed.

Although these laws have always been intended to operate in this way, it is desirable to more clearly express this intention in response to a judicial decision in the New South Wales Supreme Court.

In conclusion, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious Drugs, Identity Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012 contains important measures that will ensure that Commonwealth criminal law remains up to date and effective, particularly in combating serious and organised crime and white-collar crime. This government is committed to making sure that we have the right laws in place to create a hostile environment for organised crime, be that through increased monetary penalties or greater protection for identity information on the internet.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.