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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4226

Senator HUTCHINS (6:21 PM) —by leave—I should have known better than to think about lodging a report on a day when the Greens are fully active, their broadcast day, but I rise to table the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission to North America, Europe and the United Kingdom, which took place from 12 April to 3 May this year for the purpose of examining the legislative responses of international jurisdictions to the ever-increasing challenge of serious and organised crime. In tabling this report I acknowledge the contribution of my fellow committee members: Senator Parry, sometimes known as DCI Hunt; and, from the other place, Chris Hayes and Jason Wood. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator HUTCHINS —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

It is also prudent to thank the organisations and individuals, too numerous to list, who took the time to share their knowledge and experiences. A special thank you needs to go to the committee secretariat, headed up by the indomitable Dr Jacqueline Dewar and supported by Nina Boughey and Danielle Oldfield, for the time and effort they expended on organising itineraries, making contact with international law enforcement agencies and organising the logistics of the trip. Their dedication to their work and their contribution to making this trip and its report such a success cannot be overstated. Finally, I would like to thank the Australian Federal Police and the Attorney-General’s Department for their contribution.

This report does not make any recommendations but it extensively documents the information and observations shared by organisations like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Europol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the RCMP and others in our discussions. The opportunity to meet face-to-face with organisations that have been dealing with the challenges posed by crime groups like the mafia was immensely helpful and will substantially inform the final report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission on legislative provisions to deal with serious and organised crime groups.

Crime as we once knew it has changed. It has adapted to conventional law enforcement techniques by developing transnational networks and exploiting the rapid uptake of technologies like the internet. Globalisation and technological advancement is giving criminals the avenues and tools they need to expand their businesses. The Executive Director of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa, spoke of the shifting dimensions in criminal activity. He acknowledged that murder, fraud and theft, once our main concerns, are no longer the major crime challenges we face. Consistently, in meetings across every jurisdiction we visited, drugs, the arms trade and human trafficking were cited as the three most prevalent and challenging criminal activities that we now face. In fact, Mr Costa told us that if crime were a country it would have the 18th largest economy in the world.

As the report details, there were five key themes that arose from the discussions the delegation had: the need to follow the money trail, or focus on the economic incentives for and proceeds of criminal activity; the need to improve information sharing and cooperation between law enforcement agencies, both domestically and internationally; the need to focus on proactive measures to prevent organised crime; the need for an approach to tackling organised crime that addresses all aspects of organised criminal involvement in society; and, last but most important, the need for strong political will to take up the challenge and legislate to stop the formation and activities of organised crime groups.

I want to focus on the first and last points, but first we need to acknowledge just how significant the problem of organised crime is becoming in Australia. Our discussions with international law enforcement agencies revealed that, apart from domestic perceptions of organised crime in Australia, the international perception is that Australia is or is certainly becoming a focal point for organised criminal activity. The Netherlands’ national prosecutor for synthetic drugs told the delegation about the lucrative nature of the Australian drug market, particularly for MDMA, or ecstasy. The street value of one ecstasy tablet in the Netherlands would be about three or four euros, or approximately five to seven Australian dollars. We were informed that the street value of the same tablet in Australia is somewhere in the vicinity of four times that. Drug traffickers can make four times as much by peddling their wares on our shores—a strong economic incentive to bring the trade to Australia—and that is exactly what they are doing.

Similarly, the proceeds of organised crime are finding their way to our country. Italian law enforcement agencies, amongst others, informed us that Australia is a prominent destination for the investment of the proceeds of organised crime, particularly funds from the mafia groups. They told us that they had raised this with Australian government authorities and, to date, it does not appear that anything has happened. The common element in both these scenarios is the economic element to criminal activity. In every jurisdiction we visited, the most successful strategy for dealing with organised crime was one where the business model and the financial and material assets of criminal groups were targeted. By depriving criminals of the spoils, the primary incentive for illegal activity is voided. Let’s face it: they are in it to make money.

The United States operates a civil, non-conviction based forfeiture regime where the assets of individuals convicted of, being tried for or under investigation for a number of offences can be frozen and confiscated. Similarly, the United Kingdom has reversed the onus of proof for civil assets forfeiture, requiring those leading a criminal lifestyle to prove that their assets were not obtained illegitimately. Italian courts, recognising the problem with the ever-increasing offshoring of the proceeds of crime, can order that, where criminal assets have been transferred offshore, the individual will be required to forfeit an amount equivalent to those assets anyway. What we see here is an increasingly prevalent international shift towards operating unexplained wealth schemes that lower the burden of proof required to seize criminal assets and the proceeds of crime. These strategies have been very effective in removing the economic incentive to criminal activity.

In many of our discussions the issue of political will was raised as central to a strong, decisive and coordinated domestic and international response to organised crime. It was an issue that was given much attention by the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr Antonio Maria Costa. His address to the 18th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Vienna is appendix F of the report, and I urge people to have a look at it. In his address, Mr Costa said:

We face a crime wave that has become a security crisis. It must be stopped before it spreads even more fear, violence and poverty.

The political will of states is mightier than the greed and fire power of criminal powers.

I am of the firm belief that Australia can demonstrate and provide the requisite political will to challenge and defeat the threat of organised crime. I am pleased to see that just this morning the Attorney-General introduced into the House of Representatives the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill 2009. This legislation will, amongst other things, introduce unexplained wealth provisions that target the ill-gotten gains of criminals in a bid to remove the economic incentive. This is a very welcome and positive step, particularly as we have seen the horrible incidents that have been taking place in Sydney, where people who claim to be nightclub owners and ordinary promoters live a lifestyle that cannot be supported in any other way than through the misery of their drug addicted clientele.

In his media release, the Attorney-General said this:

These measures will target the perpetrators and profits of organised crime and will provide our law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to combat the increasingly sophisticated methods used by organised crime syndicates.

I will reserve my remarks on the bill until the second reading debate, assuming it will come before the Senate shortly, except to say that, from what I have seen of this bill, it responds to many of the issues and concerns raised by law enforcement agencies in the jurisdictions we visited and will implement a number of the measures that have been proven successful in those jurisdictions. It is a very welcome first step to responding to the threat that organised and serious crime groups pose in the 21st century. We need to make sure that we are vigilant.

I urge all members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to read this report to see why we are so concerned. We have been very conscious of the need to ensure that people were exposed to what we saw as the deleterious effects of serious and organised crime organisations.