Second Reading Speech – Customs and AusCheck Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill

Customs and AusCheck Legislation Amendment

(Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill

Second Reading Speech

House of Representatives


In July 2010 the Government established Taskforce Polaris – a joint law enforcement taskforce targeting organised crime in the cargo system in Sydney.

It is made up of officers from the:

  • Australian Federal Police;
  • The Australian Crime Commission;
  • Customs and Border Protection;
  • The NSW Police; and
  • The NSW Crime Commission.

It was set up by this Government, funded by this Government and it has been very successful.

To date, it has made 36 arrests, laid 171 charges and seized over 12 tonnes of illicit substances and pre-cursor chemicals.

It has also provided me with advice on further action to strengthen security in the cargo system.

Based on this advice, last year I announced the work of Taskforce Polaris would be expanded to Melbourne and Brisbane.

I also announced major reforms to make it harder for organised crime to infiltrate and exploit the cargo system.

This Bill implements a number of these reforms.

Taskforce Polaris shows how effective State and Federal law enforcement agencies can be when they work together.

Given its success, and the threats it has identified, we are going to replicate this model right across the eastern seaboard.

In Melbourne it is called Taskforce Trident. It has now been established and has around thirty members, including officers from:

  • The Australian Federal Police
  • Victoria Police
  • Customs and Border Protection
  • The Australian Crime Commission
  • The Australian Taxation Office; and
  • CrimTrac.

In Brisbane it will be called Taskforce Jericho. Officers from the Australian Federal Police and Customs and Border Protection have begun setting it up and it will roll out in the middle of this year.

A number of non-legislative reforms have also been implemented to harden the cargo supply chain against infiltration by criminal groups.

This includes:

  • Changes to the Integrated Cargo System to limit access to specific cargo information to those in the private sector who have a direct and legitimate interest in the movement and clearance of specific consignments.
  • On-screen warnings for people who log into the Integrated Cargo System. People who use the Integrated Cargo System now need to agree that they will only use the system for legitimate purposes and will not provide information to unauthorised persons.

This is backed by the new offences in this bill which make it an offence to obtain and use restricted information, including information from the Integrated Cargo System and for unlawfully disclosing that restricted information.

  • Work is also underway to increase the real-time auditing capabilities of the Integrated Cargo System to detect anomalies and gather intelligence.
  • Customs and Border Protection has also increased the number of targeted patrols of the waterfront. These patrols have increasingly been targeted using intelligence provided by both task force intelligence units and normal Customs and Border Protection intelligence areas. This intelligence has also been used to more effectively coordinate the use of overt uniformed presence and covert activities such as CCTV monitoring, static surveillance posts and mobile surveillance teams.
  • Customs and Border Protection has also strengthened licence conditions on key participants in the trading system, specifically holders of customs depot, warehouse and broker licences.

For example, from 1 July last year Customs and Border Protection has imposed the following conditions on all broker licences:

    • licence holders must undergo additional integrity checks when asked;
    • licence holders must advise Customs and Border Protection of any errors or omissions in information it supplies to them;
    • licence holders must not allow Customs and Border Protection systems or information to be used for any unauthorised purpose or to assist, aid, facilitate or participate in any unlawful or illegal activity; and
    • persons holding a licence must undertake continuing professional development.
  • Work is also underway to improve the security of, and access to, Container Examination Facilities.

Security clearance procedures and access have been tightened for external service providers assisting the Container Examination Facilities. Customs and Border Protection is also implementing a range of other measures including enhancing CCTV coverage and security signage.

  • Work is underway to implement a more stringent system of establishing applicant’s identity in the Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC) or a Maritime Security Identification Card (MSIC) schemes.
  • Memoranda of Understanding are also being developed between AusCheck and relevant agencies to formalise existing arrangements and to enable the more timely exchange of criminal record and other relevant information. AusCheck has signed an MOU with the Department of Infrastructure and Transport and work on MOUs with the AFP and Customs is well advanced.

The Government is also updating the list of offences that lead to the refusal or cancellation of an ASIC or MSIC.

The Department of Infrastructure and Transport released a Discussion Paper on this in December last year.

It proposes better and more consistent offence categories across the ASIC and MSIC lists. It also proposes including a number of offence categories that are not currently on either list, including organised crime, currency violations and harbouring of criminals, and a number that are not on the ASIC list, such as unlawful activity relating to firearms.

I understand that, following on from the Discussion Paper, the Department of Infrastructure and Transport is now preparing an Options Paper in consultation with other relevant Departments. The Options Paper will provide a more detailed proposal for Government and stakeholder comment.

This Bill implements four further important reforms.

First, it places new obligations on cargo terminal operators and people who load and unload cargo, which are similar to those that the Customs Act imposes on holders of depot and warehouse licences.

These obligations include mandatory reporting of unlawful activity to ensure the physical security of relevant premises and cargo.

They also include fit and proper person checks at the request of Customs and Border Protection Service.

Non compliance with these obligations will attract criminal or

administrative sanctions.

Second, it creates new offences for obtaining and using restricted information, including information from the Integrated Cargo System, to commit an offence, and for unlawfully disclosing that restricted information. The offences will be punishable by a maximum of 2 years imprisonment, a fine of up to 120 penalty units, or both.

Third, it gives the Chief Executive Officer of Customs and Border Protection the power to impose new licence conditions at any time, and makes it an offence to breach certain licence conditions. This brings the Customs broker licensing scheme into line with other customs licensing schemes.

The Bill also adjusts a range of other controls and sanctions in the Customs Act, including increasing penalties for certain strict liability offences and improving the utility of the infringement notice scheme.

Fourth, the Bill amends the AusCheck Act 2007 to enable an ASIC or MSIC to be suspended if the cardholder has been charged with a serious offence.

The current ASIC and MSIC regimes provide for the cancellation of an ASIC or MSIC where the holder is convicted of, and sentenced to imprisonment for, an aviation or maritime security relevant offence.

The Bill introduces the capacity for AusCheck to suspend a person’s ASIC or MSIC, or the processing of an application for an ASIC or MSIC, if the person is charged with a serious offence.

The list of serious offences will be prescribed by regulation. The list of offences will be developed by the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.

Law enforcement agencies would be able to notify AusCheck when they charge the holder of, or applicant for, an ASIC or MSIC with a serious offence.

Holders and applicants for ASICs and MSICs will also be required to self-report when they are charged with a serious offence. The Regulations will make it an offence for a person to fail to self-report or to return a suspended card, punishable with a fine of up to 100 penalty units.

This measure has been developed instead of the proposed use of criminal threat assessments to refuse or revoke ASICs and MSICs.

This is based on advice from the Australian Federal Police that this is a better model.

The advice of the Australian Federal Police is that this power will enhance the ability of Taskforces Polaris, Trident and Jericho to remove high risk individuals from sensitive aviation and maritime areas.

The Australian Federal Police have advised that they prefer this model to the use of criminal threat assessments because of uncertainty around the definition of what should constitute compelling criminal intelligence, what law enforcement should be required to disclose, and how the appeal process should work.

The Bill also amends the Law Enforcement Integrity Commission Act 2006, which establishes the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

This Bill repeals provisions which prevent the deputy presiding officers from being appointed to the Committee.

This amendment will provide Parliament with greater discretion when appointing members to this important Committee.

It will also make membership eligibility for the Committee consistent with Parliamentary committees with similar functions, including the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

This legislation is part of broader action we are taking to tackle organised crime.

Two weeks ago the Prime Minister and I announced the establishment of a National Anti-Gang Taskforce. This includes:

  • A National Coordination Team and an Anti-Gang Intelligence Centre based in Canberra;
  • Strike Teams in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – made up of Federal Police, State Police and Tax Office Investigators; and
  • Liaison officers in Perth, Adelaide and Darwin.

The Taskforce will be made up of 70 members from the Australian Federal Police and State Police forces and will also include officers from the Australian Crime Commission, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink.

The National Anti-Gang Taskforce will:

  • Directly target, investigate and arrest gang members in Australia;
  • Provide State and Federal law enforcement agencies with intelligence on gangs across Australia and overseas;
  • Provide State and Territory Police with better access to key federal agencies like the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, to get the information they need to make arrests;
  • Investigate the activities of Australian based gangs overseas and the link to crime back in Australia; and
  • Work with international law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, the United States bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Interpol to exchange intelligence and conduct joint operations.

This approach is based on the same model as Taskforce Polaris – the Commonwealth and States working together to tackle organised crime.

It is also based on the FBI’s Violent Gang Taskforce – that has been very successful.

This is about State and Federal law enforcement agencies working together.

State and Federal politicians also have to work together to ensure our law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to tackle organised crime.

Criminals move from State to State. They have assets and associates in other states.

If you clamp on organised crime in one state it tends to move to another. We have seen evidence of this.

That’s why we need national anti-gang laws – so there is no place to hide and no safe havens.

We also need national unexplained wealth laws.

We all know the story of the person driving around in a flash car with no job, who doesn’t pay income tax.

National unexplained wealth laws mean that if you can’t explain where the income comes from to buy the flash car and the big house those assets can be seized.

State and Federal police have called for these powers.

Labor and Liberal politicians from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement have called for these powers.

They require the States to refer these powers to the Commonwealth.

I put this to State and Territory Attorneys-General last year – and they rejected it.

This is a mistake and I am prosecuting the case for these powers again.

The Prime Minister has put this on the agenda for COAG in April, along with a proposal to give law enforcement additional powers to search people who are subject to a Firearm Prohibition Order, as well as any vehicle or premises they are in, for the presence of a firearm without the need to demonstrate reasonable suspicion. South Australian law could be used to as a model.

I am also implementing a number of other reforms to harden the border.

Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister and I also announced the establishment of a $30 million National Border Targeting Centre to target high risk international passengers and cargo.

The National Border Targeting Centre will use an intelligence-led, risk-based approach to target high-risk international passengers and cargo.

The advice of Australian law enforcement agencies is that intelligence and targeting is the key to seizing drugs and other contraband on the streets and at the border.

85 per cent of seizures at the border are the result of intelligence developed by Customs and Border Protection and other law enforcement agencies in Australia and overseas.

The more intelligence that law enforcement agencies have, the more they can seize.

The National Border Targeting Centre is based on the model developed by the National Targeting Centre in the United States and the United Kingdom’s National Border Targeting Centre.

It will provide the basis for co-locating agencies like:

  • Australian Customs and Border Protection Service;
  • Australian Federal Police;
  • Australian Security Intelligence Organisation;
  • Australian Crime Commission;
  • Department of Foreign Affairs’ Passports Office;
  • Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; and
  • Office of Transport Security.

The National Border Targeting Centre will also provide a basis for Customs and Border Protection to work more closely with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

The new Centre will be able to work alongside targeting centres in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

This legislation and the establishment of a National Border Targeting Centre are part of the major reforms I am making to Customs and Border Protection.

I have made the point on a number of occasions that Customs and Border Protection requires major and comprehensive reform to improve its business systems, its law enforcement capability and its integrity culture.

To drive this reform I have established the Customs Reform Board, made up of three distinguished Australians with expertise in law enforcement, corruption resistance and best practice business systems.

The members of the board are:

  • The Honourable James Wood AO QC

Former Royal Commissioner of the NSW Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service

  • Mr Ken Moroney AO APM

Former Commissioner of the NSW Police Force

  • Mr David Mortimer AO

Former CEO TNT Limited, former Deputy Chairman of Ansett, former Chairman of Australia Post and Leightons Holdings.

The Board has already met a number of times, held a number of site inspections and received a number of briefings, and will provide me with its first report by the middle of the year.

I have made it clear I am serious about making sure our law enforcement agencies have the powers and tools they need to target organised crime – at the border and on the street.

I am equally determined to weed out corruption and take action to stop in growing back.

The vast majority of law enforcement officers, public servants and private sector workers who work in the aviation and maritime industries and the cargo supply chain are good, honest, hardworking people.

However organised criminals do try to target and infiltrate ports, airports and the cargo system.

When they penetrate the system they can cause enormous damage.

The purpose of this Bill and the other measures I have outlined are to give our law enforcement agencies the powers they have asked for and the powers they need to stop organised crime from penetrating the system.

This is a constant battle. More reform is required.

I hope that in the near future I will be able to bring forward national anti-gang legislation and national unexplained wealth legislation to give our law enforcement agencies even more power to target organised crime.

In the meantime these are important reforms and I commend them to the House.

– ENDS –