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Thursday, 17 July 2014
Page: 8287


Mr KEENAN (StirlingMinister for Justice) (09:20): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill will ban the importation of new psychoactive substances and deliver on the key government election commitment to implement tougher penalties for gun related crime.

The bill will also improve Australia's criminal justice arrangements by:

streamlining Australia's international transfer of prisoner scheme

clarifying that slavery offences have universal jurisdiction to ensure agencies are able to investigate and prosecute these offences wherever they occur, and

enhancing Australia's anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing regime.

It will also make minor edits to the Commonwealth's drug regime and arrangements for policing in certain airports.

NPS

New psychoactive substances are designed to mimic the psychoactive effects of illicit drugs, however their chemical structures are not captured by existing controls on those drugs. These substances are often presented as 'legal highs'. This may suggest that they are somehow safer than illicit drugs and that they have been tested or assessed by the government.

This is incorrect. These substances are potentially very dangerous. They have been directly linked to deaths and serious injury. They are untested chemical compounds which masquerade as illicit drugs but are presented as being legal analogues of those drugs.

New psychoactive substances have been a growing problem for governments in Australia and overseas in recent years. Governments progressively ban these substances as evidence about their use and harm becomes available, yet manufacturers can alter the composition of these substances to avoid the law. The large number of potential new psychoactive substances and their rate of appearance means that we cannot stay ahead of the market.

This bill changes the dynamic. From now, the government will be in front. The bill will introduce offences into the Criminal Code to ban the importation of substances based on their psychoactive effect and where they are presented as alternatives to illicit drugs. It will also amend the Customs Act to allow officers of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police to stop these drugs, seize them and destroy them before they can be put on the market.

It will be up to a person whose goods have been seized on suspicion of being a new psychoactive substance to show why they should be returned to them. If an importer cannot do this—for example, by showing that the goods have a legitimate use—their goods will be destroyed.

These measures will not apply to imports for a legitimate purpose. Foods, medicines, industrial, agricultural and veterinary chemicals may all be psychoactive, but they serve important functions in our society and economy. They should not, and will not, be caught up in this regime.

Stopping the sale of new psychoactive substances requires a cooperative effort between the Commonwealth, states and territories to ensure that health, law enforcement and education initiatives are all aligned. This bill will complement the national framework for new psychoactive substances that the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council announced on 4 July 2014.

The bill will stop people from importing these dangerous chemicals for use as alternatives to illicit drugs and pretending they are legal or safe. In combination with state and territory initiatives under the national framework, we can prevent new psychoactive substances from becoming as great a challenge as other illicit drugs.

Firearms

In the lead up to the 2013 election, the coalition undertook to implement tougher penalties for gun-related crime. As the government, we are following through on that promise by creating a more comprehensive set of offences and penalties for the trafficking of firearms and firearm parts.

The entry of illegal firearms into the Australian community can have a significant impact on the size of the illicit market. This growing pool of firearms can be accessed by groups and individuals to commit serious and violent crimes that can result in death. For example, in 2012 firearms were identified as being the type of weapon used in 25 per cent of homicides in Australia [Australian crime: Facts and figures 2013, Australian Institute of Criminology].

Currently, criminals could potentially evade firearms trafficking offences and penalties by breaking firearms down and trafficking their constituent parts. This bill will close this gap by enabling the conviction of those who engage in the trafficking of firearm parts.

This bill will also create a new offence in the Criminal Code for international trafficking of firearms and firearm parts, complementing those international trafficking offences already in existence in the Customs Act. This will extend the current cross-border firearms trafficking offences in the Criminal Code, which are limited to trafficking within Australia, to capture the trafficking of firearms (and firearm parts) into and out of Australia.

Finally, the bill will introduce mandatory minimum sentences of five years' imprisonment for offenders charged for these offences under the Code. The introduction of this type of penalty is appropriate to ensure that high culpability offenders receive sentences proportionate to the seriousness of their offending. However, this mandatory minimum sentence will not carry with it a specified non-parole period, nor will it apply to minors. This will clearly signal the seriousness of the offence, while providing courts with discretion to set custodial periods consistent with the particular circumstances of the offender and the offence.

These amendments create a more comprehensive set of offences and penalties, reflecting the seriousness with which this government views gun-crime, and the gravity of supplying firearms and firearm parts to the illicit market.

International Transfer of Prisoner Scheme

Australia's international transfer of prisoner scheme promotes the successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society of a prisoner, whilst preserving the sentence imposed by the sentencing country in the prisoner's home country. The scheme is important for community safety as it ensures that prisoners can be reintegrated into that country's community and appropriately monitored, supervised and supported during the enforcement of the sentence.

The International Transfer of Prisoners Act 1997,which governs our international transfer of prisoner scheme, came into operation nearly 20 years ago. While it has been effective in enabling prisoners to be transferred back to Australia and out of Australia to their home country, there are opportunities to make the existing processes governing this scheme more efficient, timely and simplified.

The existing processes will be streamlined by:

improving arrangements governing unviable transfer applications by removing the requirement for a decision to be made in unviable cases

implementing timeframes for reapplications so that the Attorney-General is not required to consider a reapplication within one year from the date of refusal, and

simplifying the process of notifying and seeking the consent of the transfer country.

These amendments will alleviate existing time and resource burdens whilst appropriately maintaining prisoner's rights.

Slavery

The bill also makes clear that the slavery offences in section 270.3 of the Criminal Code have universal jurisdiction. Slavery is amongst the most abhorrent of all crimes and this amendment will ensure that Australian law enforcement agencies have the appropriate tools to target this crime wherever it occurs.

Minor Amendments

This bill will also enhance Australia's anti-money laundering regime though amendments to the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988 that will simplify the obligations of cash dealers under Australia's anti-money laundering regime, removing duplication and red tape.

The bill will also validate investigatory action, if any, of the AFP and special members, in relation to state offences having occurred in certain Commonwealth airports during the period between the repeal and passage of regulations. This bill will also make a number of minor amendments to correct inaccurate references and grammatical errors in the Code and the Customs Act.

Conclusion

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Psychoactive Drugs and Other Measures) Bill 2014 contains important measures that will ensure that Commonwealth criminal law remains up to date and effective in combating new and emerging illicit drugs, firearms trafficking and corruption, as well as ensuring existing processes for Australia's international transfer of prisoners' scheme are efficient and timely.

Debate adjourned.