Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National – 24 May 2012

Topics: Polaris Taskforce

FRAN KELLY: We’ve just heard from the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare. Minister, good morning.

JASON CLARE: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Now Minister, you’re about to announce tougher laws on Australia’s waterfront after receiving this police report from the task force Polaris. What are you planning to announce today?

JASON CLARE: Well, the first thing is we’ve got a serious problem with organised crime targeting and infiltrating the waterfront. So I’ll be announcing some serious reforms today to target organised crime, both on the waterfront, but also beyond that into the private sector companies that are targeted by organised crime – the freight forwarders, the customs brokers, as well as the under bond handlers.

I guess the biggest thing that I’m announcing today will be the power for law enforcement to revoke the right of someone to work on the dock, if we’ve got compelling criminal intelligence that they’re involved in organised crime.

FRAN KELLY: And I guess that’s a big if, if you get the intelligence. As I say, this is prompted by a police task force, Polaris. What was the key concerns of this report? Or the key evidence they presented to you that something is crook?

JASON CLARE: What they’ve made very clear to me is that serious organised crime either gets onto the waterfront, or has people working for it on the waterfront, or has people working in these private sector companies accessing the integrated cargo system that tells us where cargo is at any particular time. Now when that happens, that’s serious and it requires a serious response.

FRAN KELLY: And it talks about – the report, as I understand it – according to the report in the Sydney Morning Herald today says that people in key positions, as you say, but as I understand it, not just private officials. It says officials with government security clearances including those working for Customs and Quarantine Services have been corrupted by organised crime syndicates. Does this mean only those in private brokers? Or are we talking about public servants here?

JASON CLARE: We’re talking across the board, Fran. We’re talking the stevedores right on the dock. We’re talking those private companies that are linked to the cargo system. But we’ve also seen evidence over the last few months of Customs officials allegedly involved in corruption. It’s the reason why I’ve made a series of announcements since I’ve become the Minister, first announcing that I’ll introduce targeted integrity testing, not just for Customs officials, but for Federal Police and Crime Commission officials as well.

FRAN KELLY: What does that mean Minister, targeted integrity testing?

JASON CLARE: Well, target integrity testing means that if you’re a Customs official and you’re taking a bribe to look the other way from a criminal, then think again because that person pretending to be a criminal could in fact be an undercover police officer. It’s the sort of thing that was introduced in New South Wales after the Wood Royal Commission. Other state police have introduced it around the country. I’ve got plenty of experience of how that worked. It was effective and so it made the decision, after coming to the job that we need to roll that out for Federal Police, for the Crime Commission and for Customs as well.

FRAN KELLY: So you’ll be giving law enforcement agencies the right to ban people from working on the wharfs, presumably marching people off the wharfs, if they have intelligence that they’re crook. What about if someone has a criminal record and applies for a job on the wharfs? We saw this issue with airport security.

JASON CLARE: Yeah.

FRAN KELLY: Will they be eligible?

JASON CLARE: There’s already criteria that restricts people from working either at the airport or on the port if they’ve been convicted of a number of serious criminal offences. So that already exists. But beyond that, I’ve asked my department, the Attorney General’s Department, to look at expanding the number of offences to make it more thorough, basically to say look, if you’ve been involved in any serious indictable offence that links you, potentially links you to organised crime, then you’ve got no reason, no right to be working on our wharfs.

FRAN KELLY: The report apparently finds that the Maritime Union, the MUA, is ‘hindering police and government efforts to clean up the ports’. Are you aware of that and have you spoken to officials in the MUA? I mean they’re very closely linked to the major – the Labor Party affiliated union and a major donor.

JASON CLARE: Fran, I’ve spoken to them once on this. After I formed the view about what we needed to do, I met with the Prime Minister and walked her through the reforms that I wanted to take. Her response was immediate. Do it and make it happen. I picked up the phone to the New South Wales Police Minister recently to tell him what I was planning to do and won his support and also picked up the phone to the MUA. They came back and said look, we’ll support this. We want one thing and that’s a right of appeal. If you’re going to refuse to give someone the right to work on the wharf or revoke their right to work on the wharf, then they should have some form of appeal right. I said look, I was going to give that anyway. I think that’s fair and appropriate and we’ll build that into the legislation.

FRAN KELLY: Is it becoming a bit dangerous for Labor to have such close union affiliations, given what the impact the HSU saga is having on Labor at the moment in the parliament and now here you are, another affiliated union, the MUA, accused of deliberately hindering police efforts to clean up the ports?

JASON CLARE: Look Fran, all I can say is in one phone call I said we need to do this, to clean up the wharf. And the response from the union was yes, I understand, all we want is an appeal right. You know, I think that’s a mature, responsible response. I spoke to the transport workers who were involved in this because of the freight forwarding moving containers from the port to inland ports as well and also got their support. So that’s the feedback that I’ve had from the unions. It’s a good response, in my mind.

FRAN KELLY: Alright. So the initial response and the major response is to give – to put more law enforcement companies on the job, gather more intelligence and give them the powers to kick people off the wharfs, stop people being employed on the wharfs?

JASON CLARE: Yeah. Well, that’s right. We’ve had for two years a joint police task force on the wharf called Polaris – New South Wales Police, Federal Police, Customs and the Crime Commission. It’s been very successful. It’s arrested more than, I think, sixteen people and seized about twelve tonnes worth of drugs. What I’m announcing today is that I’m going to roll that out now across the eastern seaboard, set up the same sort of task force in Victoria and the same sort of task force in Brisbane as well. I’ve spoken to the Police Ministers in Victoria and in Queensland as well and received their support. So that’s a good thing.

FRAN KELLY: You’re listening to RM Breakfast. Our guest this morning is the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare. Minister, you’ve been talking about drugs coming in and out of the ports and that being a key concern. What did the Polaris task force have anything, if anything, to say about gun trafficking? That’s been a major issue on the streets of Sydney over the past twelve months. In Senate estimates yesterday Customs officials admitted screening processes within the postal services have failed to pick up evidence of one of Australia’s largest gun trafficking schemes. Is guns an issue here on the ports, and what are you going to do about that?

JASON CLARE: No it didn’t look guns. It focused on drugs. Organised criminals are principally trying to get drugs in to the country. The difference here is that you can already get guns here. The work that the Crime Commission has done for me has made the point that there’s tens and tens and tens of thousands of guns, part of the illegal black market that’s already here in Australia. Criminals do try to import guns or gun parts from time to time, which is why I’ve asked Customs to establish an intelligence targeting team to focus on that. But what Polaris focussed on was drugs. They’ve seized a lot of drugs already, and they’ve identified weaknesses in the system that let drugs get into the country and come up with a plan on how to stop it.

FRAN KELLY: And just another final question, or the final question, Minister. The operation has apparently found that the Maritime Security identification cards – that’s the system that people get these cards and says they’re an okay person to go to these parts of the port – that has completely failed. Now that seems obvious from what you’ve said.

JASON CLARE: Yes.

FRAN KELLY: Are you planning to revise that system, scrap that system, put something else in its place?

JASON CLARE: Well what I’m planning to do is overhaul it. So one, give police, give law enforcement the power to revoke someone’s access to that card if we believe they’re involved in organised crime. Two, expand the number of offences that prohibit you from getting the card in the first place. But also, I’m going to take steps to increase the identification process before someone gets access to a card in the first place. One of the things that the Transport Workers Union said to me when I briefed them on this a little while ago was that we also need to speed up the process of getting the card in the first place. That will increase security by making sure that before people start work they’ve got the card. I think that’s a legitimate concern and I’ll take that up as well.

FRAN KELLY: Were you shocked when you read this report?

JASON CLARE: Yes. I think anyone would be shocked to see the breadth and the challenge here. I’m not naïve though. Organised criminals have always been around. They’ve always tried to import drugs. It’s not just Australia. It’s a problem all around the world. The difference here is I’m going to do something about it.

FRAN KELLY: And how quickly?

JASON CLARE: Well, I’ll introduce legislation into the parliament the second half of this year and hopefully receive the support of the Opposition.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, thank you very much for joining us.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Jason Clare is the Home Affairs Minister, speaking to us from Canberra.

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