Interview with Ali Moore, ABC Melbourne – 24 May 2012

Topics: Polaris Taskforce

ALI MOORE: Well it sounds like the waterfront of decades ago, doesn’t it? Corruption, organised crime, illegal drugs. Now the Federal Government is planning new legislation to try to clean up the docks.

Jason Clare is the Home Affairs Minister. Jason Clare, good morning.

JASON CLARE: Good morning Ali.

ALI MOORE: How big a problem is there on the docks?

JASON CLARE: We’ve got a serious problem. We’ve got serious, organised criminals that target the docks because it’s the place to try and get drugs into the country, whether it’s heroin, cocaine, ecstasy or the precursor chemicals to make other drugs. They target the waterfront but they also target the private sector companies that work or are connected with the dock – the customs brokers, the underbond handlers, the freight forwarders. They target all of them because that’s the way to get drugs into the country.

ALI MOORE: They target and they’ve been successful?

JASON CLARE: Yeah, they infiltrate. They either have people to try and work on the dock, or work in the companies to be able to access the computer system that says where a container is or where cargo is. And if you can access the dock or you can access these companies, it makes it easier to get these large hauls of drugs into the country – which is why police have said to me, we need some serious powers to tackle what is a serious problem.

ALI MOORE: Well, there’s been a police taskforce in Sydney. You have no doubt it is the same in Melbourne?

JASON CLARE: No doubt at all. You see evidence of that from the trial which recently concluded in Melbourne. The biggest attempt to import ecstasy anywhere in the world led to the conviction of the kingpin responsible for that – Pasquale Barbaro, who – because the jury has handed down their verdict – has been sentenced to 30 years in jail.

That tells us that this is a problem not just in Sydney, but a problem in Melbourne as well. So the joint police taskforce that we established for the Sydney waterfront, called Polaris, will now roll out to Victoria as well. That will start on 1 July and it will be called Trident.

ALI MOORE: The way you say it, not before time.

JASON CLARE: No it’s not – let’s not be naïve, Ali. We’ve always had crooks who will try to import drugs. It’s not just a problem here in Australia. It’s a problem all around the world. You see it on TV dramas all the time. The difference here is that I’m going to do something about it, and do it based on the advice of the Federal Police and also the Australian Crime Commission.

ALI MOORE: One of the things that is being pointed out, which I guess makes it particularly difficult to tackle, is that there is apparently a culture of no action on the waterfront – an anti-law enforcement culture.

JASON CLARE: Yes, they turn a blind eye if someone opens a container and grabs out a bag of drugs or things like that, and this is in a sense the hardest thing to fix. You can change a law, which is what I’m going to do, to give police the power to effectively rip somebody off a wharf or out of a company if we think they are up to no good. But you’ve also got to change the culture of the organisation.

One of the ways I will do that is by changing the licensing arrangements for stevedores and for these private sector companies to effectively say you have an obligation to report. Mandatory reporting if you see somebody or you see something that you think is up to no good or wrong, then you’ve got a mandatory obligation to report it to us, and if you don’t do that, then that’s a breach of your license conditions.

ALI MOORE: But how would you know? If it’s not reported by its very nature, you’re not going to know what you don’t know.

JASON CLARE: No, that’s right, but if we find it and they haven’t reported it, then they’ve breached their license. Now, for a broker or for a freight forwarder or an underbond handler, that could potentially mean that you’re out of business.

ALI MOORE: You are also making it, as I understand it, illegal to provide information from a customs computer system to criminal groups. It sort of defies belief that that’s not already illegal.

JASON CLARE: It does, doesn’t it? This goes to the other part of the problem. Beyond the wharf, the tentacles of organised crime stretch out into these private companies. The integrated cargo system that helps us to manage cargo is used not just by Government officials, but by the private sector companies on the wharf and the associated with the wharf. And if organised crime gets their paws into those companies, they can find out what’s going on.

So making this a criminal offence is a no-brainer. In addition to that, what we need to do is restrict access to the system on a must-know basis, making a number of other reforms to audit the system so that its integrity is enhanced. We’ve come up with a number of things, some of which we’ve already implemented and others that will be implemented over the next few months.

ALI MOORE: You talk about being able to, under your reforms, rip somebody off the waterfront who you believe is up to no good. This is this Fit and Proper Person test which people will have to go through before they are issued with a Maritime Security ID Card. They need that to work in the cargo sector. If you have an adverse finding against someone, will there be a right of appeal, will they find out why? How will the process work?

JASON CLARE: Yes, they will, but you’re right Ali, this is tough and I expect it’s going to be pretty controversial. But given the nature of the problem and the importance of the security of the waterfront, this is something which I think needs to happen. What we’ll effectively do is say that we can refuse you the right to work on the wharf or revoke the right to work on the wharf if police have compelling criminal intelligence that you are involved in or linked to serious organised crime.

It’s a lot tougher than exists at the moment. You have got to have been convicted of certain offences, but I think it’s necessary. One of the things that will accompany it when I introduce the legislation in the second half of this year is an appeal right. I think that’s appropriate and that’s what I’ll do.

ALI MOORE: But you say, I mean at the moment you have to have been convicted. You are in essence saying that it can be a subjective decision by the authorities. I mean, that’s going to be a very difficult position, isn’t it, that people are going to be put in? I mean they may not have been charged, I mean it may just be talk, if nothing else?

JASON CLARE: Well, it’s a higher standard than talk. You know, police use criminal intelligence every day to stop drugs from getting into the country, use it to survey people to get the right to do telephone intercepts and so forth. So criminal intelligence is more than just talk. But I don’t walk away from the fact that this is a tough and a big change.

I’ll set up an industry working group with the stevedores, with the private sector companies, with the unions and with the law enforcement agencies that have put this forward, to work through the detail of the legislation, and how do we define compelling criminal intelligence and how the appeal rights will work, because I recognise that it is tough. It will effect, I expect, very few workers, but the impact on security on the waterfront will be huge.

ALI MOORE: What do you think the benchmark should be for compelling criminal intelligence?

JASON CLARE: Well I’m not going to pre-empt the work that the industry group will do, but obviously you want to make sure that you know, based on the work that you’ve done, and I’m not going to go into the work law enforcement does in any details here on the program, but you want to know through the work that you’ve done that this person is up to no good.

ALI MOORE: Minister, I mean we’ve seen it and you brought it up yourself – Pasquale Barbaro and the sentence yesterday and huge pictures on the paper today of this massive haul of ecstasy tablets in apparently cans of tinned tomatoes. Who has dropped the ball?

JASON CLARE: Well this is a big victory for police and customs. The biggest haul in the world ever.

ALI MOORE: But it does show that the criminals are pretty complacent and pretty confident at being able to do what they do. You clearly see that there’s a major problem. Who has dropped the ball?

JASON CLARE: Well, I should also say Ali, they’re pretty cunning. You know, they find new ways to get drugs into the country every day. I’ve had evidence come across my desk the other day of cocaine in beer bottles. I’ve seen heroin in hair dye. They find innovative ways to keep getting drugs into the country.

Police have been more successful in the last twelve months in seizing drugs from getting into the country than ever before. So police are getting more and more successful at stopping drugs getting into the country, but there’s more that they can do. The work that this police taskforce has done has told us how to do it. And by implementing these measures I think we’ll be even more successful.

ALI MOORE: Jason Clare, Home Affairs Minister, many thanks for talking to us this morning.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Ali.

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