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Thursday, 25 May 1989
Page: 2700

Senator ZAKHAROV —My question is addressed to the Minister for Justice. Has the Minister read the report in the Melbourne Age of 23 May about concern expressed at the Australian Police Ministers Council (APMC) meeting about the increasing rate of car theft in Australia? Can the Minister inform the Senate of the details of the proposed national blitz on car theft and how this campaign will be coordinated?

Senator TATE —I have read the article to which Senator Zakharov referred. It is headed `Car Theft: A racket with thriving profit margins', and indeed that is the case. The Australian Police Ministers Council, meeting in Adelaide, was, of course, much interested in this matter because most of the participating jurisdictions are those of State governments and the question of car theft is, of course, high on their law enforcement and political agendas. This is particularly the case in New South Wales where the number of cars stolen and not recovered is exceedingly high. Indeed, I believe some 15 per cent of stolen vehicles are not recovered within a week. It is in relation to that 15 per cent, of course, that most concern is expressed because they are reintroduced into the system either as reregistered whole vehicles or as component parts due to the stripping and the conversion of the parts.

The Ministers were most concerned at the assessment by police forces that a significant component of thefts of unrecovered vehicles is conducted by organised groups who make very considerable profits from their activities. It is not just a question of a spur of the moment decision by people seeking to take a car for a short time. Notwithstanding consideration of this matter over some time in a jurisdiction by jurisdiction way, the APMC was convinced that nothing less than a totally coordinated effort against all aspects of the problem of organised motor vehicle theft is required. That coordination is required because, if one jurisdiction deals with the matter in a strong way and perhaps puts special vigilance, supervision and surveillance on panel beating shops and so on, the car subject to the theft can be transported across State borders or, indeed, into the Northern Territory.

The Council discussed this matter at its meeting last week in Adelaide. The report concluded that law enforcement agencies cannot be expected to be successful in their efforts against organised motor vehicle theft if holes remain in key areas of the system outside their control. Indeed, there are matters which have to be taken into account by licensing and registration authorities and not merely by police forces and those involved in the law enforcement community. Thus, for example, it is recommended that registration procedures be standardised across all jurisdictions. That would embrace a number of matters and factors, including registration records containing both engine and chassis numbers as prime identifiers. That would be only one part of the uniform registration process which is recommended by Australian police Ministers. It was recommended that the registers of encumbered vehicles should be made compatible between jurisdictions. That would obviously be an important step to take. It was also recommended that component identification on new vehicles be introduced; that the vehicle identification number be stamped directly on the vehicle chassis; and that the establishment of wrecks registers of repairable and non-repairable vehicles be looked at.

The opinion of the New South Wales Police Minister, Mr Ted Pickering, who has taken a very keen interest in this matter, was that perhaps the single most important thing that could be done would be the introduction of component identification on new vehicles so that each component could be readily identified. At the moment that does not occur, as I understand it, in relation to vehicles produced for domestic sale within Australia. Mr Pickering commented that cars produced for export from Australian factories and manufacturing agencies have this component identification stamped on them. There seems to be a disparity which requires some explanation. Nevertheless, the Council has appointed a working party, headed, I think, by Mr Ted Pickering and supported by representatives from three jurisdictions, to implement the recommendations of the APMC. I believe this matter of great importance to Australians with regard to the safety of their motor vehicles will be very speedily attended to.