Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012

Crimes Legislation Amendment

(Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012

Second Reading Speech

House of Representatives

This Bill is part of the work this Government is doing to tackle the illegal firearms market across Australia.

It also contains important reforms to strengthen laws that target criminal wealth – and help crack down on organised crime.

In February this year I asked the Australian Crime Commission to undertake a national intelligence assessment of the illegal firearms market.

In April the Australian Crime Commission provided its interim findings to the national meeting of Attorneys General and Justice Ministers.

In June the Australian Crime Commission presented its final report to the meeting of Police Ministers from across the country.

It is a very serious document.

It reveals that this illegal market is made up of more than a quarter of a million firearms.

It also reveals that once these firearms enter this illegal market, they can remain in circulation and operational for many decades.

Firearms don’t have a use-by date. The oldest firearm traced by the Australian Crime Commission was a functioning revolver manufactured in 1888, seized from criminals in Victoria, and still functioning.

The Australian Crime Commission undertook a tracing analysis of 3,186 firearms seized by Australian law enforcement agencies.

This tracing analysis confirmed that most of these firearms had been stolen or were not handed in after the Port Arthur massacre.

Less than one per cent of firearms traced by the Australian Crime Commission were illegally imported.

Based on this report, I took a series of reforms to the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management in June this year.

These reforms are designed to tackle the illicit firearms market from every angle – to seize illegal firearms, to break the code of silence, to improve our ability to trace illegal firearms, to strengthen laws and harden the border.

They include:

  • introducing tough new penalties for firearms trafficking across state and national borders
  • establishing a National Firearms Register
  • expanding the Australian Ballistics Identification Network nationwide
  • developing a National Firearms Identification Database
  • firearms training by United States specialists for Australian law enforcement
  • establishing a Firearms Intelligence and Targeting Team inside Customs
  • embedding Customs and Border Protection officers in relevant organised crime, gang or firearm squads in States and Territories
  • a national campaign on unlicensed firearms, and
  • expansion of the Australian Crime Commission’s Tracing Capability and conducting annual national intelligence assessments of the illegal firearms market.

This Bill implements the first of these reforms.

It creates new aggravated offences for people who traffic 50 or more firearms or firearm parts – either within Australia or across its borders.

The maximum penalty for these offences will be life imprisonment.

This will make the maximum penalty for trafficking in firearms the same as the maximum penalty for trafficking in drugs.

It is designed to send a very strong message that trafficking large numbers of illegal firearms is just as dangerous and potentially deadly as trafficking large amounts of illegal drugs, and the same maximum penalty should apply.

The Bill expands this to also cover the trafficking of firearms parts, as well as the trafficking of firearms.

Currently, it is an offence to traffic firearms across State or Territory borders.

Importing or exporting prohibited firearms is covered by offences in the Customs Act 1901. The Bill creates new offences in the Criminal Code for situations where firearms are trafficked across Australia’s national borders.

Work is also underway on the other reforms that the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management agreed to.

The Standing Council met again last week.

Police Ministers were briefed on the status of these reforms and I can provide the House with the following information:

First, the establishment of a National Firearms Register.

In June Ministers agreed in principle to develop a national register.

There are currently more than 30 different registers and databases across federal, state and territory agencies which are not linked. According to CrimTrac, 14,000 firearms are lost track of each year.

Nous Consulting Group was commissioned to undertake an analysis of model and funding options for the establishment of a National Firearms Register. Police Ministers were briefed about their work at last week’s meeting.

The work they have done to date confirms systemic weaknesses in the current system that result in thousands of firearms moving from legitimate hands into a ‘grey market’ each year. It also confirms that these weapons constitute a major source of the firearms used by criminals.

Their work has also confirmed that a National Firearms Register would make it easier for law enforcement to track the movement of firearms across state borders and choke off the flow of firearms into the ‘grey’ and criminal markets.

They will now develop model and funding options to establish a National Firearms Register, and this will be considered by Police Ministers at the next Standing Council meeting in 2013.

In June Ministers agreed in principle to roll out the Australian Ballistics Identification Network (ABIN) nationwide.

Work is underway on this important initiative.

The ABIN uses advanced technology to undertake ballistics analysis of firearms that are seized from criminals. It can link firearms seized to previous crimes.

The ABIN is currently used by the Australian Federal Police and the NSW Police force.

Rolling out the network nationwide will build a database of all weapons used in crimes recovered by Police in every State and Territory.

It will be able to be accessed by Police Forces in every Australian jurisdiction.

At the Police Ministers meeting in June, Ministers agreed to the implementation of a National Firearms Identification Database. This database, developed by CrimTrac, will provide law enforcement with a searchable web interface as an invaluable resource for identifying firearms across the country.

It will provide law enforcement with a searchable web tool containing key description information for all known firearm models, including images, configuration details and other reference information.

The first stage of the National Firearms Identification Database will be completed in February next year when the online database set is released.

Experts from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will travel to Australia in February 2013 to deliver firearm identification courses to Federal, State and Territory Police and firearms officers from Commonwealth agencies including the Customs and Border Protection Service.

I reached agreement with the ATF to provide this training during a visit to the United States in July this year.

The training will be held in Australia, rather than the firearms tracing facility in West Virginia, to allow up to 40 Australian law enforcement officers to receive training on the latest developments in firearm identification and technical advice.

The courses will further enhance the skills of Australian law enforcement in identifying firearm markings, parts and components, and the methods that can be used by organised crime to hide firearms.

This team was established within Customs and Border Protection to fuse together all available intelligence from law enforcement agencies and target key criminal groups at the border.

This team is now fully operational, with one officer embedded in the NSW Police Firearms and Organised Crime Squad.

This officer recently accompanied NSW Police to Nashville, Tennessee to work with the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency to shut down an illegal firearms supply route between Australia and the United States.

These joint operations and collaborative working relationships demonstrate the power of working together to defeat organised criminal networks seeking to import illicit firearms into Australia.

We are working with other jurisdictions about possible expansion to relevant State and Territory organised crime, gang or firearms squads.

At last week’s meeting Police Ministers agreed to a national community national phone-in campaign encouraging people to dob in firearm criminals.

People will be able to anonymously and safely ring up and identity people they know who possess illegal firearms.

It will be up and running in the first half of 2013.

The Australian Crime Commission is developing an Enhanced National Firearms Serial Number Tracing Capability that will build on its role as Australia’s principal firearms tracer.

Since June, over 500 firearms have been referred for tracing by State and Territory law enforcement agencies.

At last week’s meeting Police Ministers were also updated on ACC’s preparation for the next National Illicit Firearms Assessment for 2013-14.

The assessment will build on the ACC’s 2011-12 Assessment and provide an up-to-date intelligence picture of the illegal firearms market.

I have also asked the States and Territories to consider introducing laws giving police the legal authority to search a person who is subject to a Firearm Prohibition Order (FPO), as well as any vehicle or premises they are in, for the presence of a firearm without the need to demonstrate reasonable suspicion.

We need to give police stronger powers to search for illegal firearms.

If we are really serious about getting the quarter of a million illegal firearms off the streets we need to give police more power to go and get them. This means the power to randomly search for firearms.

If someone is a serious criminal police should have the power to stop and search them for illegal firearms at any time. This includes searching any vehicle they are in and any premises they are in.

South Australia already has laws like this.

A joint working party has been established to consider this and develop recommendations to be considered by Police Ministers at the next Standing Council meeting in 2013.

This Bill also makes important improvements to laws that allow our enforcement agencies to target unexplained wealth.

Serious and organised crime is driven by the pursuit of money.

One of the most effective ways to deter these criminals is to take away the wealth and the property they have obtained from their crimes.

Organised criminals are more afraid of losing their money than they are of going to jail.

Unexplained wealth laws reverse the onus of proof so criminals have to prove their wealth was obtained legally.

It makes it easier to confiscate their assets.

This is what makes it one of the most effective ways to bring down organised criminals.

The Commonwealth has a comprehensive Proceeds of Crime scheme to trace, investigate, restrain and confiscate criminal wealth and property.

These laws are having an impact.

In October I announced that the Australian Federal Police restrained more assets from criminals in the past year than ever before.

Last financial year over $97 million of proceeds of crime were restrained – more than double the $41 million seized the previous year.

This includes multiple Rolls Royce’s, a Lamborghini, an Aston Martin, a BMW and yachts.

Unexplained wealth laws are the next piece of the puzzle in targeting the proceeds of criminal activity.

In 2010, we introduced important new unexplained wealth provisions into the Proceeds of Crime Act.

These new unexplained wealth laws allow a court to order a person to attend court and demonstrate that his or her wealth was lawfully acquired.

If they can’t prove that their wealth came from lawful means – the court can order them to pay the difference between their lawful wealth and their unlawful wealth.

These laws target senior organised crime figures – criminals who orchestrate and accumulate wealth from criminal activity, but distance themselves from committing the actual crimes.

Some States and Territories -Western Australia, Northern Territory, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia – also have unexplained wealth laws.

However, there are significant differences and limitations in the way they operate.

There are also significant constitutional limitations in the reach of our Commonwealth unexplained wealth laws.

For example, while the Commonwealth can explore unexplained wealth in relation to people smuggling or drug importation, it is much more difficult for the Commonwealth to link these investigations to state-based offences like murder or theft.

In 2011 the Commonwealth Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement commenced an inquiry into the Commonwealth’s unexplained wealth legislation.

It reported earlier this year.

It found that a national approach to unexplained wealth laws would be more effective than the current regime.

It recommended that the Commonwealth Government take the lead in developing a nationally consistent unexplained wealth regime.

It also recommended that the final objective of a national unexplained wealth scheme should involve a referral of powers from States and Territories to the Australian Government to legislate for an effective and nationally consistent unexplained wealth scheme.

A referral of power to the Commonwealth would help remove current constitutional limitations and enable the Commonwealth to enact more effective unexplained wealth laws.

Importantly, the intention is not to take away the ability of States to act on unexplained wealth.

Referring these powers is intended to boost the combined powers available nationally against organised crime.

If a referral were made, jurisdictions would be able to retain and use their own unexplained wealth laws. They could also use the Commonwealth laws.

The Attorney-General and I put this request to our State and Territory colleagues at our Ministerial Council meetings in April and October this year.

Unfortunately they have rejected our request to create a national unexplained wealth regime.

This is a bad and short sighted decision. It will mean more criminals will keep more of their illegal wealth.

In the absence of this support, there are a number of other things we can do now.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee made a number of other recommendations on amendments that can be made to improve the operation of the unexplained wealth system.

The Government supports all the recommendations in the report in full or in part, and will formally respond to the Committee report shortly.

This Bill introduces legislation to implement a number of these recommendations.

They include:

  • Amendments to prevent restrained assets, which may have been unlawfully acquired, from being dispersed on legal expenses by people who are trying to frustrate an unexplained wealth case. They will instead be able to seek representation through legal aid, as is the case with other proceeds of crime orders.
  • Amendments to improve the ability of police to obtain evidence that may assist in establishing whether a person’s wealth has been lawfully acquired.
  • Amendments to broaden search and seizure provisions in the Act to ensure that material relevant to unexplained wealth proceedings can be seized by officers executing a search warrant.
  • Amendments to allow courts to extend the time limit for serving notice of certain unexplained wealth orders.

These important amendments will make the laws more effective for law enforcement agencies and enable them to better target serious and organised crime.

The Committee made a number of other recommendations which the Commonwealth is also taking action on.

We have implemented the Committee’s recommendation that the Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce be prescribed as a taskforce under the Taxation Administration Act 1953 and associated regulations to allow the disclosure of taxation information to the Taskforce for law enforcement purposes.

We are considering the feasibility of allowing the Australian Crime Commission to use its coercive powers in support of unexplained wealth proceedings, as recommended by the Committee.

And we are considering options for improving the process for seeking preliminary unexplained wealth orders to reduce duplication where relevant requirements have already been met at the restraining order stage.

This is an important Bill. It targets two key enablers of serious and organised crime – the money they make and the firearms they use.

They are also part of a bigger package of reforms. And there is more to come.

I commend the Bill to the House.

– ENDS –