House of Representatives

Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011

Second Reading Speech

Mr Brendan O'Connor (Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice and Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011. This bill contains amendments that are integral to the government's efforts to tackle serious and organised crime, and to ensure the integrity of our law enforcement processes.

Firstly, the bill contains amendments to the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006 to bring the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs) within the jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (the commission).

The commission was established in 2006 to investigate allegations of corruption and to enhance the integrity of Commonwealth law enforcement agencies.

It currently oversees all of the activities of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission and investigates allegations of corruption relating to the former National Crime Authority.

From 1 January 2011, the commission has had oversight of the law enforcement functions of Customs, following the prescription of Customs in regulations made under the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act.

The bill being introduced today will amend the act to enable the commission to oversight all Customs' functions.

It is important to ensure that the commission has oversight of all Customs' functions because of the close relationship between Customs' law enforcement functions and many of its non-law enforcement functions. For example, administrative staff and employees employed in other areas of Customs provide support or have access to the agency's law enforcement functions, information and systems.

The government considers it is appropriate, therefore, that Customs be brought under the commission's purview on a whole-of-agency basis. And this can only be achieved by including Customs in the act.

Placing Customs within the commission's jurisdiction will also give effect to a recommendation of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity in its interim report on the inquiry into the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act.

The government is committed to ensuring the integrity of federal law enforcement agencies in Australia, and equipping the commission with the powers necessary to oversight these agencies.

Schedule 2 of the bill contains the other key element of the bill, and delivers an important Gillard government election commitment to combat serious and organised crime.

Organised crime is estimated to cost Australia anywhere between $10 billion and $15 billion each year. This is money that is created outside of the legal economy, is diverted from legitimate services, and often is the result of fraud or theft from Australian citizens.

The government has provided a comprehensive response to this threat; we established the Organised Crime Strategic Framework in 2009, and developed the Organised Crime Response Plan in 2010, both of which recognise the need for a multi-agency approach to combating organised crime. This bill is the next step in this work.

Schedule 2 of the bill will support the newly established Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce, led by the Australian Federal Police, which will strike at the very heart of organised crime, its financial motivation.

The task force commenced operations in January of this year, bringing together expertise in intelligence, operations, forensic accounting, litigation and specialist law enforcement to ensure a highly integrated approach to criminal asset confiscation. Its main objective is to enhance the identification of potential criminal asset confiscation matters and strengthen their pursuit.

To support this work, schedule 2 of the bill will amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to enable the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to commence proceeds of crime litigation on behalf of the government's Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce.

Currently, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is the only authority that is able to conduct proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act. The amendments contained in this bill will ensure that the AFP has that same power.

Extending the act to include the AFP will enable the task force to become a specialised unit focused on proactively investigating and litigating proceeds of crime matters, which will lead to the more effective pursuit of criminal assets. And ultimately, the objective is to ensure that more proceeds of crime money is returned to the community for crime prevention and diversion initiatives.

Under these amendments, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Australian Federal Police will also have the ability to transfer responsibility for proceeds of crime matters between the two agencies, allowing either authority to take over matters initiated by the other, where appropriate.

In addition, the bill contains proceeds of crime related amendments to the Family Law Act 1975. The Family Law Act currently sets out procedures for the stay of proceedings when action is being taken at the same time under the Commonwealth Proceeds of Crime Act. The amendments will make these same procedures available when action is being taken under state or territory proceeds of crime legislation. This will allow family law proceedings relating to property and spousal maintenance to be stayed or set aside where there are Commonwealth, state or territory proceeds of crime proceedings on foot. These amendments are consistent with the government's commitment to ensuring that proceeds of crime are vigorously pursued.

Schedule 2 also contains two amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act to extend the definition of 'property-tracking document' to ensure a magistrate can issue a production order for documents relevant to unexplained wealth proceedings, and to improve the interaction between collection of tax-related liabilities and proceeds of crime proceedings. These measures are aimed at ensuring the full picture is before the court when orders are made.

These elements of the bill show the government's clear commitment to addressing serious and organised crime in our community, by targeting the proceeds of their illicit activity.

We know that organised crime crosses both state and national borders. We also know that organised crime groups rely on the profits from their crimes-money is the lifeblood of their organisations. The task force is aimed at attacking the architecture of organised crime groups by taking the profit out of crime.

These changes are fundamental to achieving the proactive and dynamic approach to asset confiscation needed to detect and deter organised criminal activity in Australia, and I am confident the results will speak for themselves.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.