House of Representatives

Law Enforcement (AFP Professional Standards and Related Measures) Bill 2006

Second Reading Speech

Mr Ruddock (Berowra)

I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill repeals the Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Act 1981 and inserts a new part into the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 to modernise the complaints and professional standards regime within the Australian Federal Police. The bill also amends the Ombudsman Act 1976 to align the Ombudsman's administrative review role over the AFP more closely with the role it has in relation to other Australian government agencies.

In 2002 the Commissioner of the AFP commissioned the Hon. William Fisher to review the AFP complaints and professional standards regime. Fisher found that the AFP's current disciplinary system is inconsistent with modern management practices and the organisational needs of the AFP, and that its focus on punitive outcomes, adversarial structure and formalised processes has caused delay and unnecessary dispute. He recommended that the AFP adopt a managerial approach to performance issues, backed by the sanctions of dismissal and criminal prosecution in serious cases. This bill implements the bulk of Fisher's recommendations.

It provides for a new professional standards regime for the AFP which will categorise all matters raised in relation to AFP professional standards according to their nature and seriousness. Minor complaints will be dealt with by local managers, and may be addressed by educational and other non-punitive remedial measures. More serious complaints, including some corruption issues, will be investigated by the AFP's professional standards unit and may result in criminal charges or a recommendation for termination of employment. Corruption issues will also be notified to the Integrity Commissioner under the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Bill. Within this graduated approach, there will be scope for matters initially classified at a particular level to be transferred to another agency as investigation proceeds.

The primary responsibility for the resolution of AFP complaint and professional conduct issues will rest with the AFP. The bill places an obligation on the AFP Commissioner to ensure that appropriate action is taken to deal with all AFP conduct and practices issues.

The bill revises the role of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will retain the capacity to intervene in serious cases and will have a review role in relation to the AFP's administration of the new act. The Ombudsman will no longer be required to be directly involved in the investigation of all complaints. This will enable the Ombudsman to focus resources on more serious matters. The bill provides for review by the Ombudsman of the AFP's handling of conduct and practices issues, both annually and on an ad hoc basis.

Overall, these changes will produce a system that is far less adversarial, faster and significantly more efficient. This system will prove more satisfactory not only for the AFP and the Ombudsman but also for people who raise complaints about actions taken by the AFP.

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

Debate (on motion by Ms Roxon) adjourned.