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Thursday, 11 November 1971
Page: 3419

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) (Minister for Customs and Exercise) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Customs Act to strengthen its provisions relating to the prosecution of offences involving drugs of dependence. At the outset I would like to pay tribute to the Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) and his staff and indeed to the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Hughes) for the assistance they have given me and my Department in drafting this Bill.

Briefly the proposed, amendments include separate penalties for the offence of simple possession as distinct from the offence of possession of a trafficable quantity of drugs. A new provision for the possession of drugs reasonably suspected of having been illicitly imported is also included. I am sure that all honourable members share my concern regarding the dangers that drug abuse already poses for the Australian community. But the present problem, serious though it is, will seem quite insignificant if we, by neglect, permit a drug explosion similar to that which exists in some other countries, to occur in Australia. This Bill is yet another step being undertaken by the Government in an endeavour to prevent Australian citizens being exposed to this dreadful traffic.

No one can exactly measure the extent of drug abuse in Australia. Certainly much drug abuse must go undetected; possibly even unsuspected except by close relatives and friends, However, the tremendous increase in seizures, prosecutions and robberies involving drugs is significant enough. The danger signs have certainly been alarming enough to engender this Government's support of whatever prophylactic measures can be taken to afford the Australian community the maximum protection from those unscrupulous people who are prepared to sponsor drug abuse for their own personal gain. The Commonwealth has sponsored a number of measures which are designed to achieve the maximum national effort in the prevention of drug abuse. I have in mind the creation of the National Standing Control Committee on Drugs of Dependence. This Committee, comprising Commonwealth and State health and enforcement officials, is responsible to Ministers for the coordination of all agencies engaged in combatting drug abuse. Moreover the Commonwealth has made available to date a total of Sim for drug education.

My responsibility as Minister for Customs and Excise is in relation to the international drug traffic particularly the importation and exportation of drugs. Here again a great deal has been achieved on this Government's initiative. I should mention in this context that the creation of the Narcotics Bureau, the training of officers by overseas agencies, the development of international liaison particularly with South East Asian countries, and the convening of a seminar and a conference to further foster international operational co-operation are steps that have already been taken. Despite these measures imported drugs continue to supply a substantial proportion of the illicit market in Australia. Aside from the Narcotics Bureau almost 1,000 officers are engaged daily in prevention and detection activities. Yet it is believed that not more than 15 per cent of drugs smuggled into Australia are detected. At a recent meeting of the United Nations Narcotics Commission it was the consensus that not more than 10 per cent of drugs involved in the world illicit traffic are being seized.

There are clear signs that the drug traffic in Australia is being organised on a highly professional basis. Imports in commercial cargo, involvement by professional criminals, the use of highly sophisticated and expensive smuggling techniques, and the employment of outwardly respectable people as drug couriers, all point to the intervention of professional groups. The involvement of these groups is not surprising when one examines the financial rewards they can achieve. For instance one LSD tablet costing, as low as 20c overseas can sell for $8 to $12 on the illicit market in Australia. One pound of marihuana, costing approximately $10 overseas, will sell, by the time it reaches the user in Australia for almost $1,000. For hashish, the resin from the marihuana plant, you can double this amount. Furthermore, a pound of heroin purchased overseas for $3,000 will sell, by the time it is cut and sold to Australian addicts, for almost $100,000.

Obviously if the drug traffic in Australia is to be countered firm measures are required by both the Commonwealth and the States. The proposed provisions are primarily intended to strengthen the hands of those engaged in the fight against people involved in drug smuggling and to give a clear indication to all, including the courts, of the gravity the Commonwealth attaches to offences involving drug trafficking. I have previously expressed my disappointment at the kind of penalties being awarded by the courts. In the past 2 years, of 157 cases involving significant quantities of drugs, 69 were merely fined and 61 received jail sentences, the average jail sentence being 17 months. I give this information to honourable members to indicate the lack of seriousness with which some courts are apparently treating this problem.

In detail clause 2 of the Bill includes a number of definitions which are necessary for the purposes of the amendments incorporated in the clauses that follow. The more significant of these definitions relate to narcotic substance, narcotic goods being preparations and the like which contain a narcotic substance and trafficable quantity, the unauthorised possession of which exposes the offender to the maximum penalty for drug offences under the Customs Act. Clauses 3, 4 and 6 are consequential for the introduction of a new definition, namely narcotic goods.

Clause 5 of the Bill limits section ">33 of the Act to offences involving prohibited imports to goods o'.her than drugs of dependence. Because of the separate and higher penalties that apply to drugs of dependence some virtue is seen in their being the subject of a separate section, that is, section 233b. Clause 7, sub-paragraphs

(a)   , (c) and (d), merely make it clear that section 233b applies to exportation as well as importation. Clause 7, sub-paragraph

(b)   , creates a new offence for. possession of drugs of dependence where there are reasonable grounds (or believing that those drugs were illicitly imported.

A major legal difficulty encountered by officers of the Narcotics Bureau in bringing drug traffickers to justice is the necessity to produce direct evidence that drugs seized have been imported into Australia. This problem occurs despite the fact that in many instances the drugs concerned exhibit foreign markings or words and obviously have been manufactured in an overseas country. Courts have recently dismissed 4 cases because direct evidence of importation was not available. In one of these cases an admission by the defendant that the drugs had been illegally imported by another person was ruled inadmissable as evidence of importation.

As a result of these decisions a further 13 cases have been withdrawn on legal advice. Since March 1971, investigations involving" more than 50 major cases where direct evidence of importation was not available have been referred to State police authorities with the request that prosecution be launched under State legislation. This has resulted io unnecessary duplication in investigation; wasteful use of resources; divided jurisdiction in some prosecutions; surrender of Commonwealth participation necessary to pursue investigations where international trafficking is involved; and denial to the Commonwealth of the right of appeal when inadequate penalties have been imposed under State legislation. This amendment will enable Narcotics Bureau agents to proceed with both investigations and prosecutions where the courts can be convinced that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the drugs concerned were, in fact, illicitly imported.

Clause 7, sub-paragraph (e) and 1(c), include defence provisions which should reasonably be available to a defendant charged with an offence under this section. Clause 7 (2) merely limits the application of the section to drugs of dependence. Clause 8 of the Bill introduces separate offences for the possession of trafficable quantities of drugs and for simple possession where lesser quantities are involved. The penalties are: For offences involving trafficable quantities of drugs - a fine not exceeding $4,000, or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both; and for offences involving less than trafficable quantities of drugs - a fine not exceeding $2,000, or imprisonment for not more than 2 years, or both.

The National Standing Control Committee on Drugs of Dependence recommended that penalty provisions of this kind should be introduced throughout the Commonwealth. Most States have, in fact, introduced these penalty provisions. Clause 8, sub-paragraph (b), ensures that cases must be taken to the higher courts where the prosecution considers that a serious offence has been committed. Under clause 8, subparagraph (d), the defendant is afforded the opportunity to satisfy the court that he is not engaged in the trafficking of drugs. Moreover, in keeping with existing provisions, the defendant can always elect to be tried in the higher court, that is, by judge and jury.

I believe honourable members will readily see the purpose of this Bill. It is clearly intended to ensure that the drug trafficker, as distinct from the drug user, is exposed to the higher penalty. Nevertheless, in the drafting of these provisions care has been taken to ensure that proper safeguards exist for the rights of the defendant. The Government sees this Bill as a necessary measure to step up the war against those enemies of society who are prepared to seek wealth through the misery and degradation of their fellow men. Law enforcement must play an important role in the control of drug abuse, but it is not in itself a solution to the problem. No matter how active the Government is, how efficient our law enforcement agencies, how effective our education programmes, the answer to the problems of drug abuse lies with the community itself. It is at the grass roots level of our society - in families, in particular with parents-7-that the responsibility lies, and where ultimately the possible solution to this problem will be found. I commend the Bill to honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.

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