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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1175

Senator HAINES(8.00) —We are debating cognately the Australian Federal Police Amendment Bill 1985 and the Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Amendment Bill 1985. The Australian Democrats support both Bills which are reasonable pieces of legislation, as far as they go. However, as Senator Lewis noted before dinner, essentially they only nibble at the edges of numerous problems which are currently confronting the Australian Federal Police. I make the point in passing that the associated regulations which are yet to be introduced and which, of course, are not contained in the amendments to the legislation may well create problems with internal disciplinary procedures. The office of the Federal Ombudsman has expressed concern that the application of the criminal standard of proof by the Police Disciplinary Tribunal could make it difficult to obtain convictions. An article in the Age of 18 September this year headed: `New law would help bad police, says ombudsman' states:

The office of the federal ombudsman has warned that proposed changes to the law would allow `rotten apples' in the federal police to get away unscathed.

The office said the changes, to the Complaints Act, would force the Police Disciplinary Tribunal to apply the criminal standard of proof before an officer could be found guilty of corruption or other offences.

It continued:

The Federal Government agreed to make the changes after pressure from the Federal Police Association. According to the ombudsman's office, the move would seriously limit the ability of senior police to stop corruption in the force by making it more difficult to obtain convictions.

At present, the tribunal can choose what standard of proof to apply according to the particular case.

In serious matters for which an officer might lose his job, the tribunal has tended to apply the criminal standard, which requires evidence beyond reasonable doubt that an officer is guilty.

But in minor matters the tribunal often applies a lower, civil standard of proof under which an officer can be charged on the balance of probability.

The flexible standard of proof has meant that where the tribunal cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt that a serious offence has occurred, because of lack of evidence, it has been able to prosecute a lesser charge with a lower standard of proof.

The article goes on at some length to quote Mr Selby. It was followed two or three days later by a letter written by Mr Hugh Selby to the Age in response to the article. He referred to the article `New law would help bad police'. He said that it is:

. . . a welcome sign of interest in a matter of public importance, but it has inadvertently given a somewhat misleading picture. First, the suggested changes to the standard of proof are not in current amendments to the act . . .

I made that point a moment ago. They will be achieved by new regulations. He continued:

Second, my comments were carefully restricted to internal disciplinary procedures. A requirement that police appeared in a line-up-

which was suggested, by the way, in the rest of the article from which I quoted-

could help identification where a complaint has been made by a member of the public. However, where there is a separate investigation of alleged criminal activity a policeman must have the same rights, no more and no less, as any other member of the community. At the moment none of us can be forced to appear in a line-up.

In effect, he was arguing for the continuation of the current flexible arrangement whereby the seriousness of the offence determined which standard of proof was to be used. If in its regulations the Government changes that and, in doing so, causes the higher standard of proof to be used in all cases, it should seriously reconsider doing so, or face the possibility of disallowance in the Senate.

I will return to the two pieces of legislation before us and the problems confronting the police. As Senator Lewis pointed out in his speech, it is quite clear that the force is underpaid, overworked, short staffed and, in fact, quite fed up with its position. Morale is at an all-time low. In recent years, demands on the force have increased many times without a commensurate increase in resources, staffing or funding.

Apart from meeting community expectations that the Australian Federal Police will be our major force against organised crime, which this Government and the previous Government constantly trumpet, members have had to be found to protect Family Court judges after the tragic events of the last few years; to service the Coastal Protection Unit for which the AFP assumed control last year; and to continue all its other responsibilities to the satisfaction of the Government, the Parliament and, presumably, also the general public. They have had to do all this, I might add, on a shoestring budget without adequate staff and resources. With that inadequate budget, inadequate staffing and limited resources, fulfilling the expectations which I just outlined is simply not possible.

In recent months, the depth of feeling within the AFP has spilled into the public arena. Again as Senator Lewis mentioned before dinner, there have been some outbursts from within the Australian Capital Territory in particular. That division's police association has pointed out that some investigations are being shelved indefinitely for want of manpower. I understand that, in the main, those are associated with prosecuting and pursuing fraud. It seems rather strange that in keeping this force understaffed and underfunded we are, in effect, preventing it doing the work that will increase revenue to this country by a considerable amount. It certainly seems to be the wrong way of going about solving crime or pursuing criminals.

It is estimated that some areas within the AFP are understaffed by 20 to 30 per cent. Some have shortages as high as 80 per cent below operational capacity. In May this year it was revealed that the Criminal Records Unit and the Crime Collation Unit had to close for one shift because of restrictions on overtime. So we have a part time AFP in those areas. Again, that is not a very satisfactory position in which to have our Federal Police Force. Obviously, restrictions of that sort on overtime will hamper investigations. The Federal Police officers concerned were extremely outspoken about it at the time.

The Commissioner of Police in the last available annual report-1983-84-pointed out that the best technology and legal advice is available to criminals and is often well ahead of that used by or available to the law enforcement agencies. Of course, it is also true of the Australian Taxation Office officials who are constantly being outwitted by people with considerable wealth, if not actually with criminal tendencies, who are in a position to purchase the kinds of lawyers and accountants who will help them find and make use of loopholes in the law. It is even worse when the position applies to the AFP. The Commissioner stressed that the lesson to be drawn is that if law enforcement is to maintain the status quo, much less redress the balance in areas such as the use of high technology, we as a nation will have to pay. I suggest that if we are niggardly in this area it will be to our cost.

The situation appears, unfortunately, to have deteriorated even further in the year or more since the Commissioner made those points. For example, I understand that it took until the end of May of this year for the Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services (Mr Uren) to announce that a building had been leased as a central location for the AFP instead of the various locations it currently occupies around Canberra. Unfortunately the building, again as I understand it, will not be ready for occupation until April of next year, so until that time the AFP will have added to its other problems a scattering of its staff around Canberra. It does not make for good communications and it certainly does not make for the good operation of a force on whose somewhat limited shoulders, it would appear, rest quite considerable public and governmental expectations.

Recent public statements from the Australian Capital Territory Police Association indicate again just how low morale has fallen. The pattern of resignations is revealing. Experienced police officers are leaving the force for better pay and conditions elsewhere, and just about anywhere else is offering better pay and conditions. The Public Service, the private sector and even State police forces seem to be a better home for many of these officers than their current employment with the AFP. There is no career certainty in relation to promotion and transfer and, sadly, better procedures to deal with the long-standing problem of arbitrariness in transfer and promotions have not been assessed in these Bills. Whether the Government has them on its agenda for some in the future I do not know, but certainly those problems, which are of considerable concern to men who want to make a career in this area, have not been attended to here.

I could go on to detail other problems; for example, the appalling state of Federal drug squad cars, the stress associated with long hours worked by some to cover staff shortages; and the other dangers confronting members of the Australian Federal Police, some examples of which we saw in the criminal injuries compensation paper that was tabled and debated earlier this evening. Indeed, I think it speaks volumes when we read reports in the newspapers that police wives are having to set up units, organisations of their own, in order to cope with the stress placed on them due to the stress placed on their husbands within the police forces in Australia, stress which is not made any easier when the police know that their hands are tied behind their backs because they are not given the resources either in human personnel or in technology to make their fight against crime, whether petty or organised, any easier to undertake.

It is hard to believe that the Government is unaware of these problems when the situation is so bad that the Australian Capital Territory Police Association actually passed a vote of no confidence in the Commissioner. The AFP has 2,470 officers and it seems clear that at least another 1,000 are needed to bring it up to scratch. Governments at the moment certainly appear loath to extend the sort of money required in that area whilst at the same time they are crying out for a more effective and more determined campaign against organised crime. I suggest that even if immediate action were taken in relation to funds and recruitment it would take some years to train the officers necessary to fill the large number of vacant specialised positions.

Senator Lewis spoke earlier about not only the lack of personnel but also the misuse of those people with special skills, people who had undertaken specific training to upgrade and update their skills and who were simply not being used in the appropriate areas, presumably because there was insufficient money for the resources necessary for them to put their knowledge to good work.

Senator Peter Rae —Or perhaps misdirection of effort.

Senator HAINES —Indeed, or perhaps misdirection of effort. Whatever the case may be, this legislation is not going to correct it and nothing will until the Government gets its priorities in order and realises that rhetoric will not catch criminals, will not solve problems of fraud and will no improve morale. Until the Government approaches those sorts of problems we will continue to have the quite unsatisfactory situation that we have before us as far as the Australian Federal Police is concerned.