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Monday, 22 February 2016
Page: 615

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (Victoria) (13:31): The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Proceeds of Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2015 amends the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, the POC Act; the Criminal Code Act 1995, the Criminal Code; the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006; and the AusCheck Act 2007.

It contains five schedules which comprise a range of measures to improve and clarify Commonwealth criminal justice arrangements, including amending the POC Act to clarify the operation of the non-conviction based proceeds of crime regime following recent court decisions; amending the Criminal Code to insert two new offences of false dealing with accounting documents; amending the serious drug offences in part 9 of the Criminal Code to clarify the definitions of the terms ‘drug analogue’ and ‘manufacture’ and ensure that they capture all relevant substances and processes; clarifying and addressing operational constraints raised by law enforcement agencies with the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act, and expanding the list of designated agencies authorised to access AUSTRAC information to include the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption of South Australia; and clarifying and extending the circumstances under which AusCheck can disclose AusCheck background-check information to the Commonwealth and to state and territory government agencies carrying out law enforcement and national security functions.

It is important to state that Labor will—as we have in government and in opposition—continue to support building stronger laws that tackle criminal kingpins and take the profit out of crime. Indeed, the shadow minister raised several issues with the minister in relation to this bill, and the shadow minister thanks the minister for his cooperation with briefings and information provided. Also, the bill was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for some further examination and to allow submissions in relation to these measures. Let me go to three areas that were highlighted in the Senate committee report.

Concerns were raised in submissions regarding the fundamental rights and constitutional principles that may be impacted by the proposed amendments. As the committee noted:

At the same time, the committee is cognisant of the importance of an effective proceeds of crime regime in combating serious crimes and those who profit from crime, as emphasised by AGD and supported by a number of other submitters.

The committee acknowledges the department's advice that these amendments were developed in consultation with key stakeholders, and with a view to striking the appropriate balance between effectively combating crime, and respecting the fundamental rights and principles underlying Australia's criminal justice system. The committee notes that the amended legislation will if necessary be tested in the courts, who will be well placed to determine the questions of constitutionality and fundamental rights that have been raised in this inquiry.

Labor joins with the submitters from both within and outside of government to welcomed the proposed new offences in this bill, which will not only support Australia's compliance with our international obligations but actually go further, as was noted in the committee report, in helping combat a range of financial crimes. The committee regarded the breadth of the proposed offences, and the potentially serious penalties for those who commit them, as appropriate in the circumstances, which were canvassed in some detail in the committee's consideration.

In the course of the Senate inquiry concerns were raised by the Law Council of Australia in relation to the operation of some provisions, but it was noted by the committee that the clarification provided by the Attorney-General's Department emphasised that the regulatory powers granted by the bill remain subject to parliamentary oversight. The committee regarded information sharing as crucial to effective action against crime, particularly where antiterrorism and other national security concerns are at stake. As such, the committee and Labor endorse the enhanced information sharing proposed in schedules 4 and 5, while encouraging AUSTRAC and the Attorney-General's Department/Auscheck to ensure that adequate and robust safeguards are in place to protect personal privacy and to appropriately govern and oversee the careful and lawful sharing of information. As the committee also noted in its conclusions:

2.64 Ultimately, the issues … in relation to this bill, [come down] to questions of balance: between effectively combating crime and protection of human rights and constitutional principles; between closing unfair loopholes exploited by criminals and providing sufficient precision to ensure that the offences are appropriate to their context; between information sharing and the protection of privacy.

2.65 With the assistance of the information and clarification provided by the Attorney-General's Department and others in the course of this inquiry, the committee is satisfied that the bill strikes the appropriate balances within each of the legislative schemes, bearing in mind the important matters of criminal justice and national security at stake.

Thus, Labor accepts the fine work undertaken by the committee in this instance and commends the bill to the Senate.