Second Reading SpeechBY Dr STONE (Murray-Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage)
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill amends the Australian Federal Police Act 1979.
The bill will move the primary legislative basis for employment in the Australian Federal Police, the AFP, from the AFP Act to the Workplace Relations Act 1996, consistent with the government's policies for workplace and public sector reform.
However, the bill achieves much more than mere housekeeping.
As the Commonwealth's primary operational law enforcement agency, with a key role in the prevention, detection and investigation of the most serious crimes, the AFP is at the centre of the Commonwealth's law enforcement effort.
It plays a particular role in fighting drug trafficking, fraud, organised crime and money laundering.
The bill will make the AFP a vastly more flexible, professional and dynamic organisation.
Criminal activity in Australia has been greatly affected by two interrelated factors: the globalisation of the world economy and huge advances in information technology and telecommunications. Criminals have been able to exploit the complexity of the global economy and differences in national regulatory and enforcement regimes.
Further, advances in information and communications technologies have provided crime groups with greater geographic reach and an increased ability to avoid detection.
The dynamic and unpredictable nature of criminal activity requires law enforcement bodies such as the AFP to be highly skilled, adaptable and mobile.
The government has recognised the importance of positioning the AFP to tackle crime in the 21st century.
The government's AFP reform program, announced in July 1998, is providing an additional $115 million over three years to assist the AFP to increase its staffing, maximise its capabilities and concentrate resources on fighting crime.
Under the reform program, significant progress has been made in both management and operational areas. However, the key to building on the existing strengths of the AFP is to create a more flexible and highly skilled work force.
Currently, the AFP Act governs employment in the AFP. The provisions are in some parts prescriptive and inflexible.
Accordingly, amendments to the act and regulations are required to complete the government's reform program.
This bill amends the AFP Act by replacing the existing statutory employment regime with a general employment power vested in the commissioner.
The bill abolishes the current rank based structure, creating a more flexible and responsive organisation which will be able to anticipate and respond to Australia's rapidly changing law enforcement priorities.
There is a need for the AFP to balance greater operational flexibility with the requirement to remain a disciplined force. The bill will expressly recognise the roles of command and discipline and distinguish them from matters relating to employment.
The obligation to obey lawful orders, formerly contained in the regulations to the act, will be recognised more formally in the provisions of the act.
The commissioner's power to deploy AFP employees and to assign duties is reinforced as an important element in commanding a police organisation in both domestic and international activities.
The Australian community has a right to expect that the highest standards will continue to be demonstrated by all AFP employees and that strong anticorruption measures will be improved and maintained. Accordingly, the bill provides for employees to submit financial declarations and cooperate with drug and alcohol testing.
The bill complements and builds on a range of initiatives introduced by the commissioner across the AFP's management and operations. It also establishes a framework through which more flexible and efficient workplace arrangements can be implemented.
In this way, the bill will enhance the government's AFP reform program. It also brings the AFP employment regime into line with the government's wider workplace reforms while respecting the unique features of that regime.
The bill is further evidence of the government's commitment to ensuring that the Commonwealth has, in the AFP, an agency which is second to none in law enforcement. I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill.