Second Reading SpeechMr WILLIAMS (Tangney-Attorney-General)
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill will implement the most significant refocusing and restructuring of Australia's national law enforcement effort since the National Crime Authority was established in 1984.
During the election campaign last year the Prime Minister announced that he would convene a summit to focus on producing an enhanced national framework to deal with terrorism and transnational crime. The summit was duly convened in Canberra by the Prime Minister on 5 April and was attended by the premiers of the states and the chief ministers from the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. The communique announcing the outcomes of the summit sets out 23 resolutions-23 initiatives unanimously agreed to by all leaders-which do indeed constitute an enhanced national framework for dealing with terrorism and transnational crime. This government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, has delivered, yet again, much needed reforms in the national interest.
The National Crime Authority (NCA) was established in 1984 as a national law enforcement agency whose purpose is to combat serious and organised crime. It was designed to overcome the barriers to effective law enforcement caused by jurisdictional boundaries in the Australian federal system. The continuing support for the activities of the NCA from the Commonwealth, state and territory governments reflects the important role it has played. There is no doubt that the problems caused by serious and organised crime operating across jurisdictional boundaries continue to pervade all levels of society. The NCA does not deal with simple street-level crime but with the web of complex criminal activity engaged in by highly skilled and resourceful criminal syndicates that utilise expert advice and the latest technologies. The globalisation of markets has brought with it the globalisation of crime. There is a blurring of traditional distinctions. Modern criminal entrepreneurs pay no heed to national or international boundaries. Terrorism is funded by organised criminal activity such as drug trafficking or arms dealings. The events of 11 September last year have heightened in all of us an awareness that society is constantly facing new and emerging threats. We must be vigilant, and it is up to governments to ensure that law enforcement is provided with the best possible framework and tools to combat such threats. It is timely, therefore, to reassess whether the NCA in its present form is best placed to combat such threats in Australia in the 21st century.
Leaders considered this very issue and agreed, in order to strengthen the fight against organised crime, to replace the NCA with an Australian Crime Commission (ACC). The ACC will build on the successes of the NCA in developing effective national law enforcement operations in partnerships with state and territory police forces but will be enhanced by removing the current barriers to its effectiveness.
Agreement reached with the states and territories
To give effect to the leaders summit resolutions in relation to the establishment of the ACC, Commonwealth, state and territory governments have agreed that the ACC will be constituted by Commonwealth legislation as a Commonwealth law enforcement agency, supported by state and territory legislation.
The NCA, the Office of Strategic Crime Assessments (OSCA) and the Australian Bureau of Criminal Investigation (ABCI) will be replaced by the ACC, which will provide an enhanced national law enforcement capacity through:
- Improved criminal intelligence collection and analysis;
- Setting clear national criminal intelligence priorities; and
- Conducting intelligence led investigations of criminal activity of national significance, including the conduct and/or coordination of investigative and intelligence task forces as approved by the board.
The ACC will:
- Provide a coordinated national criminal intelligence framework;
- Set national intelligence priorities to avoid duplication;
- Allow areas of new and emerging criminality to be identified and investigated; and
- Provide for investigations to be intelligence driven.
The intergovernmental committee of the NCA (IGC-NCA) will be renamed the IGC-ACC and it will comprise eight state and territory representatives and be chaired by the Commonwealth representative. It will monitor the work of the ACC and the board and provide broad direction.
The parliamentary joint committee (PJC-NCA) oversighting the operations of the NCA will continue its current role and function in oversighting the operation of the ACC.
Board and Chair
The new ACC board shall consist of 13 voting members and the chief executive officer as a non-voting member. The chairman of the board shall be the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police.
The voting members of the board will be:
- Eight state and territory police commissioners (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the Chief Police Officer of the Australian Capital Territory) and
- Five Commonwealth agency heads - Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, the Director General of Security, the Chair of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the CEO of the Australian Customs Service and the Secretary of the Attorney General's Department.
Chief Executive Officer
A chief executive officer to manage the ACC will be appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Commonwealth minister and federal cabinet. Before recommending an appointment, the Commonwealth minister will accept nominations from members of the board and consult with members of the intergovernmental committee.
The CEO will be an individual with a strong law enforcement background.
Initially the ACC will maintain the current combined operational staffing levels of the NCA, ABCI and OSCA. Over time this will be reviewed by the board to meet operational requirements.
The ACC will have a standing in-house investigative capacity. The mix and composition of in-house and task force intelligence and investigative capabilities will be determined by the board and CEO in accordance with operational priorities.
Initially ACC offices will remain in all current NCA locations at current operational staffing and funding levels. Over time this will be reviewed by the board to meet operational requirements. The ACC headquarters will be located in Canberra.
The ACC will have in-house and task force access to all coercive and investigatory powers currently available to the NCA. The board will need to specifically authorise those investigations or operations which are to have access to coercive powers.
The powers will be the same as those available to the NCA. However, having regard to the focus of the ACC on criminal intelligence, the bill expressly provides that the coercive powers are also to be available for intelligence operations. It clearly sets out the matters the board must take into account before making those coercive powers available to an intelligence operation or an investigation.
Coercive hearing powers will be exercised through independent statutory officers, to be called examiners. In order to guarantee that statutory independence, examiners will be appointed on either a full-time or permanent part-time basis.
Investigative and operational priorities will be determined by the board in accordance with operational priorities.
The first priority task force for the ACC will be illegal hand gun trafficking, both into and within Australia.
The ACC will fund all in-house resources and operational costs (including salaries, staff overtime and travel allowances) under the same arrangements as currently apply to the NCA and the ABCI. The ACC will fund current NCA references as budgeted for in the Commonwealth forward estimates and during that time will maintain its commitment to in-house investigations, subject to the operational requirements as assessed by the board.
Decisions regarding the composition of task forces and the contributions of jurisdictions to these task forces will be determined by agreement between the board, the CEO and relevant jurisdictions on a case-by-case basis.
This includes a commitment by Commonwealth, state and territory police forces to cover salary, salary related and other costs of secondees to additional ACC task forces that they participate in, as agreed by the board and CEO.
After three years of operation, a review will be conducted by the IGC into the balance and mix of the in-house investigative capacity by the IGC.
Almost all of the funding of the ACC is to be provided by the Commonwealth.
The current levels of funding provided for the agencies as stipulated in the forward estimates by the Commonwealth will be provided to the ACC.
Future funding levels will be subject to the normal budgetary processes.
This, then, is the agreement reached with the states and territories, and the bill amends the National Crime Authority Act 1984 to give effect to that agreement.
The ACC will significantly enhance Australia's national law enforcement effort. For the first time, there will be a focus on national criminal intelligence and investigations and operations will be intelligence driven. It will be under the direction of a board comprising the heads of the key Australian law enforcement agencies. Between them they are collegiately responsible for Australia's law enforcement-and who better to set national law enforcement priorities. The ACC will significantly enhance law enforcement coordination and cooperation at the national level. It will complement rather than compete with existing law enforcement agencies. The ACC will be a key player in the fight against organised crime in Australia well into the 21st century.
I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.