Interview with AM – 24 May 2012

TOPICS: Crackdown on organised crime on the waterfront

TONY EASTLEY: The Government and Federal Police are planning a new, tougher approach to organised crime and corruption on Australia’s waterfront.

Melbourne and Brisbane will be the focus.

The Polaris taskforce recently targeted organised crime at Sydney’s port and the Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare says 77 charges were laid in the past two years.

Mr Clare has been speaking to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.

JASON CLARE: Well we’ve seen organised criminals either targeting stevedores or getting jobs on the wharf, working inside private companies and trying to access the integrated cargo system.

I’ve got to be limited Alex in terms of what I can say here because operation Polaris is ongoing and continuing to work to arrest more criminals that are trying to exploit the waterfront.

But I’ve seen enough to know that action is needed. Police have asked for extra powers to cut out this problem and I am going to give it to them.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: What extra powers are you going to give them?

JASON CLARE: What police have said is they need the power to revoke the right of somebody to work on the dock if they have got compelling intelligence that a person is involved in organised crime. It’s something they don’t have at the moment but they think they need.

If you want to work on the waterfront you need a, what people call a Maritime Security Identification card. And the change I’ll be making or that I will be putting to the Parliament is that law enforcement should have the right to refuse someone access to a card or revoke access to that card if we have got compelling criminal intelligence that that person is involved in organised crime.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: What happened to the principle of innocent until proven guilty?

JASON CLARE: This is tough. I am not backing away from that. And I think that this will be controversial. At the moment you need to be convicted of certain offences before you can be refused the right to work on the wharf.

But we are dealing with something very important here and that is the security of the waterfront. This is where crooks try and import drugs – heroin, cocaine, ecstasy. Yesterday we had the conviction of the bloke responsible for the biggest importation of ecstasy anywhere in the world in a court in Melbourne. This is the sort of thing that we are dealing with.

I haven’t been able to make this announcement until today because I have had to wait for that trial to conclude. The judge actually rang me and said can you wait until the trial has concluded before you announce this because it might lead to the trial having to be aborted.

Now that that trial has concluded and that bloke is going to spend the next 30 years in jail I can announce the steps that the Federal Government is going to take.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Have you asked the Opposition whether they’ll support increased powers for police?

JASON CLARE: No I haven’t but my expectation is that they should and that they will.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do these changes come with the support of stevedoring companies and the maritime unions?

JASON CLARE: I spoke to the stevedoring unions and the transport unions when I made the decision to do this and they’ve indicated to me that they’ll support this work.

One of the things that the unions have said is if you are going to revoke someone’s licence there needs to be some form of appeal right. I’ve recognised that. I think that’s right.

And so I’ll set up now an industry forum that has got the stevedoring companies, the other private sector companies as well as the unions and the law enforcement agencies to sit down and work through the detail of this before I introduce the legislation into Parliament.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: If you could turn your mind briefly to the issue that’s dominated federal politics for weeks now, the allegations bedevilling Craig Thomson. Tony Abbott says he is mindful of the pressure on Craig Thomson and the toll that it’s taking. He says the best thing the Prime Minister could do to alleviate that would be to allow him or get him to leave the Parliament. Is that the best option, do you believe?

JASON CLARE: Well I think that it’s incumbent upon all of us to treat Craig like a human being. That’s what many good parliamentarians are doing. I think that’s what we should all be doing.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And do you think then it’s the best option for him to leave the Parliament?

JASON CLARE: The short answer to that is no.

TONY EASTLEY: The Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare with Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.

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