House of Representatives

Crimes Legislation Enhancement Bill 2003

Second Reading Speech

Mr Williams (Attorney-General)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This is a portfolio bill which contains a number of minor policy and technical amendments to various Commonwealth criminal laws.

Details of the amendments are set out in the explanatory memorandum circulated with the bill. The amendments will not have any significant financial impact.

Two technical amendments are proposed for provisions in the Crimes Act 1914 dealing with the investigation of Commonwealth offences. The first makes it clear that a judge or a magistrate may order the taking of both fingerprints and a photograph of a convicted person. The second clarifies that if a suspect refuses to take part in an identification parade, then any evidence of that refusal, irrespective of whether the suspect had a reasonable excuse for refusing, cannot be used as evidence of the suspect's guilt. The amendments clarify the language of the provisions to reflect their intended purpose without impacting on their operational effect.

A further amendment to the Crimes Act will extend the class of indictable offences that may be dealt with summarily. Currently, offences that involve property valued at more than $500 must be dealt with as an indictable offence. The amendment increases this threshold to $5,000. In addition, offences that specify a pecuniary penalty only may in certain circumstances now be dealt with as summary offences. The amendments mean more offences may be dealt with in lower courts, thereby contributing to a more efficient criminal trial process.

The bill also makes amendments to the forensic procedures provisions in the Crimes Act. Those amendments will enable the matching of the DNA profile of one unknown deceased person with the DNA profile of another unknown deceased person, clarify and expand the provisions enabling the minister to enter into arrangements with participating jurisdictions for sharing DNA information and clarify the role of CrimTrac. Such measures may assist in the identification of unknown deceased persons or the investigation of Commonwealth offences that occur in Australia.

Amendments are also proposed for the Australian Protective Service Act 1987 and the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 to assist the expansion of the air security officer program to selected foreign destinations. They would enable air security officers travelling on flights to selected foreign destinations to deliver persons arrested on such a flight into the custody of a police force of the foreign country in which the flight ends.

On 1 January 2003 the National Crime Authority was replaced by the Australian Crime Commission. Amendments are proposed for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 and the Corporations Act 2001 consequential upon the establishment of the ACC and the inclusion of the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence in that body. The amendments ensure that, where appropriate, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Reserve Bank will be able to pass information relating to serious contraventions of the law to the ACC in the same way they were previously able to pass information to the NCA. These measures will assist in the transition from the NCA to the ACC. The amendments would also remedy a drafting error in the Australian Crime Commission Establishment Act 2002.

The Crimes at Sea Act 2000 is amended to clarify that the laws that apply in the territorial sea adjacent to the Northern Territory are the laws of the Northern Territory rather than all laws that are in force in that Territory.

The Australian Capital Territory is currently the only jurisdiction in Australia not represented on the Criminology Research Council. Amendments to the Criminology Research Act 1971 will remedy this situation by requiring that the council include a representative from the ACT.

The Foreign Evidence Act 1994 is amended to remove a provision that requires foreign material to bear an official state seal. This requirement was originally included as a means of confirmation that the requested evidence was obtained through appropriate official channels. However, a number of countries have experienced difficulties in meeting this requirement, and it is not considered necessary that foreign evidence be sealed in order for the Attorney-General to be satisfied that the material has been received through official channels. For example, a covering letter from the relevant foreign central office for mutual assistance in criminal matters would suffice. This change should increase the efficiency of the criminal justice system.

The bill provides for several technical amendments to be made to the mutual assistance in criminal matters provisions of the International War Crimes Tribunals Act 1995.

Those provisions reflect similar amendments which were made in 1986 to the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987. The amendments will ensure consistency between the regimes for assistance under the International War Crimes Tribunals Act and the provisions in the amended Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act.

The Mutual Assistance in Business Regulation Act 1992 is also amended by the bill to remove restrictions on the Attorney-General's delegation powers under that act. The amendments will allow the Attorney-General to delegate his powers to either the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department or to an APS employee. They also remove the requirement that the Attorney-General personally deal with a request which the delegate considers should be refused on national interest grounds. The current limitation on the delegation provision is unnecessary. Routine requests will be dealt with by the Attorney-General's delegates, and more sensitive requests will be referred to the Attorney-General for personal consideration.

Amendments are also proposed for the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to clarify that the Official Trustee has the power to sell restrained property where the Official Trustee is obliged to repay legal aid commission costs out of property of a suspect or other person covered by a restraining order.

The Service and Execution of Process Act 1992 will also be amended to enable arrest warrants issued by parole boards and other similar bodies to be executed interstate. Currently, the act allows arrest warrants issued by a court in one state to be executed in another state but does not cover arrest warrants issued by parole boards and other similar bodies. The amendment will remedy this deficiency by allowing such bodies to be prescribed by regulations for this purpose. Enabling the warrants issued by these bodies to be executed interstate under the act will contribute to the effective administration of justice by recognising the problems that may be caused when a person absconds interstate while on parole.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.