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Monday, 22 February 2016
Page: 745

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (21:10): I thank honourable senators for their contributions to the debate on this bill, which will make significant improvements to the Commonwealth criminal justice arrangements. Serious and organised crime poses a significant threat to Australian communities. The government is committed to ensuring our nation is safe and secure and to taking tough steps to strike at the heart of organised crime.

The Commonwealth proceeds of crime scheme is an effective weapon in the fight against serious and organised crime. This scheme allows law enforcement agencies to confiscate illicit proceeds from a person to prevent them reinvesting these funds in further in illegal activities. Confiscation proceedings often take place at the same time that criminal charges against a person are being pursued. In response to recent court decisions, this bill clarifies that authorities may proceed with confiscation action under the Proceeds of Crime Act where there are related criminal matters on foot. The amendment seeks to ensure that confiscation proceedings are only stayed where absolutely necessary, as staying proceedings until after a criminal trial is complete would create a significant delay and would undermine the intention of a non-conviction-based forfeiture scheme under the act. This measure is supplemented by additional protections that aim to reduce the risk of prejudice to an accused in relation to criminal proceedings. The bill also makes a technical amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act that will clarify that matters relating to restraint of assets should be heard and finalised before forfeiture applications are heard.

A robust proceedings of crime scheme is vital in the fight against crime. This bill takes a balanced approach to maintaining the resilience of the Commonwealth proceeds of crime laws, whilst ensuring that a respondent's rights are appropriately protected.

The bill will also introduce two new offences of false dealing with accounting documents. These measures reflect the government's zero-tolerance approach to bribery and corruption in all its forms. The new offences will implement Australia's obligations under the OECD antibribery convention. In particular, they will implement a recommendation of the OECD Working Group on Bribery that Australia should increase the maximum sanctions available against legal persons for false accounting under Commonwealth legislation. By creating these two new offences the government is demonstrating its commitment to stamping out white-collar crime.

The bill also makes new amendments to improve the clarity and efficacy of the serious drug offences. They will ensure that these offences apply to all substances that are structurally similar to listed illicit drugs and to all manufacturing processes, irrespective of whether they create a new substance or convert a substance from one form to another. These amendments will make the legislative framework for serious drug offences stronger, clearer and more effective. They will assist our law enforcement agencies in their important work to stop the supply of illicit drugs and bring traffickers and manufacturers to justice, forming another part of the government's continuing work to tackle serious and organised crime, including serious drug offending.

The bill also contains a number of amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act to remove operational constraints identified by law enforcement agencies, facilitate access to financial intelligence information and improve information sharing. The financial intelligence information obtained by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre plays a central role in identifying and preventing terrorist and criminal activity. Recent terror events across the world have highlighted that very little is required to conduct an attack and that the time frame between planning an execution and execution is shrinking. In this environment, the ability to share information quickly between those who need it is critical to preventing the loss of innocent lives. By enabling information to be shared faster and more easily, including with key agencies such as Interpol and Europol, this bill will maximise intelligence value and assist regional and international partner agencies in the early identification, targeting and disruption of terrorism and transnational crimes, where time is often of the essence. By providing the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption of South Australia with access to AUSTRAC's financial intelligence data holdings, this bill will also considerably enhance the commissioner's ability to investigate serious and systemic corruption and misconduct in public administration.

The amendments made by schedule 5 of this bill will ensure that AusCheck's information-sharing provisions are better suited to the current law enforcement and national security environment. It is important that AusCheck can share information with relevant and accredited Commonwealth, state and territory agencies for law enforcement and national security purposes. Information shared by AusCheck is already protected by strong and appropriate safeguards. These safeguards will continue to apply to information shared under the revised provisions.

Bill read a second time.