Interview with Marius Benson, ABC Newsradio – 24 May 2012

Topics: Crackdown on organised crime on the waterfront

COMPERE: The Federal Government is moving to tighten security at Australia’s ports after receiving a police report which identified rampant corruption among officials and workers on the waterfront.

The report by the Polaris Taskforce, made up of Federal and State Police, warns that organised crime has infiltrated the customs and quarantine services at the ports as well as the waterside workforce.

The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, has responsibility for port security and he is speaking here to Marius Benson.

MARIUS BENSON: Jason Clare, the picture that comes from this Polaris report, the police report, is that our ports are pretty much a playground for organised crime?

JASON CLARE: We’ve got a serious problem. What the report shows is that we’ve got serious organised crime targeting and infiltrating the waterfront, that’s why it requires serious reforms of the sort I’m talking about today.

I was briefed on this when I became the Minister for Home Affairs about five months ago but I haven’t been able to make this announcement until today because I’ve been waiting on a major trial in Victoria to conclude.

In fact I had the judge responsible for the case ring me and ask me not to make this announcement until the trial concluded. It involved the largest importation of ecstasy anywhere in the world. That judgment came down yesterday, and the king pin responsible for that will now spend the next thirty years in jail.

So with that court case out of the way I’m allowed to announce these reforms today.

MARIUS BENSON: There does seem to be a huge amount of material coming through our ports illegally. The report talks about twelve tonnes in two years. What are you talking about? Drugs, clearly? Guns?

JASON CLARE: No, you’re talking about drugs here. There’s twelve tonnes of illegal drugs. That is about the size – sorry, about the weight of a Mack truck – that police and customs have seized in the last twelve months as part of this joint taskforce called Polaris.

MARIUS BENSON: Can I just get an idea of the extent of the problem you’re dealing with? If twelve tonnes have been seized and all these drugs are readily available anywhere in Australia how much is getting through by your estimates?

JASON CLARE: Well, this is the biggest seizure. This year we’ve already seized thirteen tonnes of drugs on the ports around the country. It’s the biggest seizure of drugs that we’ve made at any time over the last few years.

The reason that we’re seizing more is because police and customs are acting smarter. They’re using criminal intelligence to target the drugs, but you’re right – you walk along the streets of Sydney or Melbourne and you find that you can buy drugs that can kill people. The more we stop at the border the more lives we save.

MARIUS BENSON: And the picture that’s painted in this Polaris police report is that everyone’s involved. You’ve got customs officials involved in corrupt action, quarantine officials, workers, stevedores, everyone’s in there with organised crime.

JASON CLARE: You’ve got a problem on the waterfront, right on the dock. What I’ve said today is I’m going to give police the power, extra power, to remove people from working on the wharf, if we’ve got compelling criminal intelligence that they’re involved in working with organised crime.

But, you’re right, the tentacles of organised crime stretch beyond the dock. They go out to all of those private sector companies that are associated with cargo, the freight forwarders, the customs brokers and the under bond handlers, those inland ports. Organised crime will always try and infiltrate or target the different companies that are involved in the system, that have access to the computer systems to work out where a container is or where cargo is.

And so the reforms that I’m announcing today are also about targeting the corruption that can exist inside those companies, requiring them to report when they find an employee that is using a computer system inappropriately, creating criminal offences if they’re passing information from the computer system on to criminal organisations, and, restricting their access to information on a sort of must-know basis.

MARIUS BENSON: How much difference will these changes to the law make given the extent of the problem?

JASON CLARE: Well my job is to listen to the police and that’s what I’m doing here. We’ve got a report from the Federal Police, the New South Wales Police and the Crime Commission saying that these are the powers we need to cut this cancer out of the wharf.

Organised crime is a serious problem, it’s a big problem for the economy. It costs the economy more than fifteen billion dollars a year, but it’s an even bigger problem for us as a country because of the impact it has – whether it’s drugs in the hands of young people across the country, or whether it’s a bikie war on the streets of Western Sydney fighting over drug markets.

And police have told me that by giving them these extra powers – to rip people off the wharf or out of companies if we think that they’re up to no good but also restricting access to information on a must know basis – that will help us to tackle organised crime the sort of organised crime that we saw in the courts in Victoria yesterday, a serious conviction. It’s a good one, we need more of that.

MARIUS BENSON: Jason Clare, thanks very much.

JASON CLARE: Thank you. Cheers.

COMPERE: Jason Clare, the Home Affairs Minister talking about the large amount of waterfront crime that the Government is trying to act on. He was explaining their approach to Marius Benson.