House of Representatives

Crimes Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications Offences and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2004

Second Reading Speech

Senator COONAN (New South Wales-Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-


The past decade has seen the rapid expansion of the internet into our work, our homes and every aspect of our daily lives. Mobile telephones have likewise become a normal part of Australian life. In all areas of telecommunications, technology has become more advanced and more sophisticated.

The telecommunications environment has changed, and this Bill-the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications Offences and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2004-will ensure that Commonwealth criminal offences remain effective in this changed environment.

This Bill replaces a Bill of a similar name which was introduced into the Senate on 24 June 2004 except that the suicide related material offences have been included in a separate Bill.

This Bill continues the Australian Government's proactive approach to updating criminal laws in light of rapid technological change. For example, the Government developed the Cybercrime Act 2001 to provide a solid platform of criminal offences to assist Australia meet the challenges posed by computer hackers and `denial of service' attacks. Importantly, the cybercrime offences are cast in technologically-neutral terms. The same approach is adopted in many of these new and updated telecommunications offences.

The existing telecommunications offences in Part VIIB of the Crimes Act 1914 were enacted in 1989. This Bill will repeal existing outdated telecommunications offences and insert a package of revised and new telecommunications offences into the Criminal Code. Moving these offences from the Crimes Act to the Criminal Code continues the process of relocating all serious Commonwealth offences into the Criminal Code.

Among the offences included in the Bill are a range of important new measures dealing with use of the Internet to facilitate or exploit the sexual abuse of children.

The Bill contains new offences dealing with use of the Internet to access, transmit and make available child pornography and child abuse material, as well as the possession or production of such material with intent to place it on the Internet. These offences complement existing offences prohibiting the importation of such material into Australia and will carry a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment.

Law enforcement agencies estimate that around 85 per cent of child pornography seized in Australia is distributed via the Internet. In September last year, German police cracked a global child pornography network involving over 26,000 Internet users. By focusing on the Internet, these new federal offences target the very heart of the abhorrent child pornography industry

The new offences will also prohibit the use of a telecommunications service, including by means of the Internet, to procure or `groom' a person who is under 16 years of age, for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with that person or so that a third person can engage in sexual activity with that person. These offences carry penalties of 12-15 years imprisonment.

These new offences target adult offenders who exploit the anonymity of telecommunications services (for example, a `chat room' on the Internet) to win the trust of a child as a first step towards the future sexual abuse of that child. This abhorrent practice is known as `online grooming'.

The new `procurement' offences will also target situations where an offender, having won a child's trust, then uses a telecommunications service to orchestrate a meeting with the child so as to engage in sexual activity.

These new offences would provide a firm legal basis for proactive AFP policing of this disturbing practice. The underlying rationale for the new offences is to allow law enforcement to intervene before a child is actually abused. A typical investigation may involve an AFP officer, or investigator at the Australian High Tech Crime Centre, assuming the identity of a fictitious child, interacting with potential predatory adults over the Internet, and arresting a predatory adult before they have an opportunity to sexually abuse a real child that they are also `grooming'. A Queensland prosecution has been successful on this basis.

The Parliament can take an important leadership role in this area. New federal offences will provide a springboard to a national approach to this issue.

Tough offences targeting sexual predators in this way aligns with the Government's commitment to a nationally consistent child sex offender registration system, and the CrimTrac Agency's work in this area.

The telecommunications offences package also contains new and updated offences dealing with interference with telecommunications and use of telecommunications to engage in inappropriate behaviour. Among these measures are:

new offences dealing with the `rebirthing' of stolen mobile phones and the copying of mobile phone SIM cards

an updated version of the existing offence dealing with use of a telecommunications service to menace, harass or cause offence that is extended to cover Internet content that causes offence

new offences dealing with use of a telecommunications service to make threats or hoaxes, and

new offences dealing with improper use of emergency service numbers, including triple zero.

In addition to the telecommunications offences, this Bill also introduces other significant offences, targeting credit card skimming and the contamination of goods.

The personal financial information offences introduced into the Criminal Code by this Bill are a key component of the Australian Government's national strategy to crack down on credit card skimming and Internet banking fraud. Credit card skimming is the process by which legitimate credit and debit card data is illicitly captured or copied, frequently by means of an electronic skimming device.

These amendments will criminalise dishonestly obtaining or dealing with personal financial information without the consent of the person to whom the information relates. These amendments will also criminalise possession or importation of a device with the intention that the device be used to commit a personal financial information offence.

Internet banking fraud, including `phishing'-where online criminals use apparently legitimate emails to trick people into divulging banking details-will also be covered by the Bill. Any person who uses a deception to obtain another person's financial information will be guilty of an offence.

The proposed laws will ensure that Australians can feel more confident about electronic, telephone and Internet banking, knowing that penalties of up to 5 years imprisonment apply to those who capture or misuse their confidential financial details.

Comprehensive new contamination of goods offences are also included in this Bill. These offences-to be inserted into the Criminal Code-will apply to a person who contaminates goods intending to cause economic loss, public alarm or anxiety, and in some cases, harm to public health.

These offences also extend to persons who threaten to contaminate goods, or falsely claim to have contaminated goods. This recognises that the level of economic loss or public anxiety or alarm can be the same, regardless of whether the contamination is real, threatened or fictitious. It also reflects that in each case, the offender's intention is to cause economic loss, public alarm or anxiety.

The offences will overlap and complement existing State and Territory offences. Importantly, the federal contamination offences will have some extraterritorial reach. For example, a threat to contaminate Australian goods which is made from outside of Australia would be covered.

Finally, this Bill will also make a number of amendments to a range of other criminal law and justice Acts. These include simplifying some procedures under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Laws Act 1987 and amending the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 to outlaw child prostitution on board Australian-registered aircraft outside Australia, ensuring that the application of Australia's criminal laws on board aircraft complies with the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child on the sale of children. It also includes amending Chapter 2 of the Criminal Code, and amending the Customs Act 1901 to make clear the elements of the serious drug offences in that Act.

I believe that this Bill represents a significant advance in upgrading the criminal law to ensure it meets the challenges posed by new technology and the opportunities which it provides to criminals.

Ordered that further consideration of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.