Interview with Stuart Bocking, 2UE – 24 May 2012

TOPICS: Crackdown on organised crime on the waterfront

STUART BOCKING: Well the Federal Home Affairs Minister is Jason Clare. I think he’s a very good operator. One of the real hopes of the Labor Party. He holds Paul Keating’s old seat of Blaxland in Sydney’s south-west. And there are renewed concerns over security at our ports – claims of rampant corruption involving customs and quarantine officials, port workers and organised criminals which is then allowing contraband to flow unchecked through our ports. Now if we are to wage a war on drugs we need to be doing something about this.

It’s also claimed the Maritime Union despite its close links to Labor has been hindering police and government efforts to clean up the ports. And there is a very sobering photo in The Australian newspaper today of fifty dollar bills piled high – some of the proceeds of the drug trade. Now there would be hundreds of thousands of dollars there. So it just shows you what’s at stake with this sort of stuff. How you stop it I have absolutely no idea. There is so much money at stake but the man who does have some idea is the Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare. He’s on the line. Minister good morning.

JASON CLARE: Good morning Stuart.

STUART BOCKING: Yeah thank you for your time. It’s interesting when you look at this – this report which has been released has found that the Maritime Union which is affiliated – a big donor of the ALP has apparently been hindering police and government efforts to clean up the ports. Is that right?

JASON CLARE: Well I’ll say this for the Maritime Union – when I took this report to them and said police have told me that we need tougher laws to rip out people that we think are involved in organised crime the response from the head of the union was – fair enough we’ll support the work of law enforcement.

The one thing they did say to me because what I’ve announced today Stuart – is the power to remove someone’s right to work on the wharf if we’ve got compelling criminal intelligence that they’re working with organised crime – the one thing they did say is well if you’re going to revoke a person’s right to work they need an appeal right.

I said, well of course that’s fair enough.

I’ll work with law enforcement, the stevedores, the private sector companies and their unions when I put this legislation together to make sure police have got the power they need to do this work but also that you’ve got the fairness of an appeal right.

STUART BOCKING: When you look at some of these things there are claims that some of these security flaws have been identified going as far back as 2008 when the government was in power but evidently hadn’t been acted on. Has there been some resistance to act? Have we been a little slow in getting onto this stuff?

JASON CLARE: No, no I wouldn’t agree with that. Let’s not be naive about it though mate. There’s always going to be crooks. There have always been crooks trying to get drugs into the country. You just have to watch TV to see that it’s not just Australia it’s all around the world. I’ve been in the job now for a bit over five months. This was one of the first things police came to me with. They said we’ve had a taskforce operating for over a year on Sydney’s waterfront. We’ve made some arrests, we’ve seized a lot of drugs but we’ve got serious challenges with organised crime and we need more power to do the job that we need to do.

I haven’t been able to announce it until today though because we’ve had a major trial going on in Victoria involving the biggest attempt to import ecstasy anywhere in the world. It’s been going for three months. I actually had the Supreme Court Judge herself ring me and say Minister you can’t announce what you’re going to do until the trial is over otherwise I’ll have to abort the trial. So I’ve been waiting for that trial to finish. Four men were convicted of that yesterday. That’s good news.

And that allows me now with all of the advice from police to take this action which includes really two things. One is expanding the work of state and federal police that we’re doing in Sydney to Melbourne and to Queensland as well. I’m going to set up the same taskforce we’ve got in Sydney in Melbourne as well as in Brisbane. But in addition to that it gives police the powers they need to revoke these licences to work on the wharf if we think people are involved in organised crime.

STUART BOCKING: Well based on these reports this Polaris investigation clearly there are some – how quickly will it occur before some of these people whether they’re working with stevedoring companies, whether they’re on the ports whatever role they have – how quickly might it be before we suddenly identify a, b, c and d as at least suspicion surrounding them and some type of action is taken?

JASON CLARE: Well I’m going to introduce legislation into the Parliament the second half of this year – and if we get the support of the other side of politics we’ll get it passed very quickly. That will give police the powers they need to be able to act as soon as they think they’ve got the intelligence they need that makes them believe that the person that’s working on the wharf is working with organised crime. I’ve got to tell you though mate this is not just the wharf – the tentacles of organised crime are pretty big and they’ll stretch to the customs brokers – those private companies that help move cargo around the country.

STUART BOCKING: I saw that – I mean freight forwarders. These are people who are removed from the actual – the pointy end of the wharves themselves.

JASON CLARE: That’s right.

STUART BOCKING: I notice as well the report detailing how senior managers and supervisors at big port terminals and other employees are corrupt, feeding a culture that is “anti-law enforcement, nepotistic, insular and tolerant of criminality”. I mean how do you break the back of that?

JASON CLARE: Well that is the hardest part of all this – this culture of turning a blind eye or not reporting things.

STUART BOCKING: I mean that’s entrenched isn’t it? That’s systemic and obviously that’s the way things have been done…


STUART BOCKING: And the problem being if you’ve got blokes there on sixty or seventy grand I mentioned earlier on this photo in The Australian newspaper today of these fifty dollar notes piled high – it must be hundreds of thousands of dollars. You slip a bloke ten or fifteen grand a year and they want to turn a blind eye and clearly this sort of thing has been going on – how do you pull the rug from under that and say enough? I’m blowed if I know.

JASON CLARE: Well I’ll tell you how I’ll do it. It’s by making changes to their licence conditions – whether it’s the stevedore on the dock or whether it’s the private companies that work in inland ports or the cargo – the customs brokers and change their conditions to say that you must report where you find evidence that people are involved in criminal behaviour or misbehaviour.

And if you don’t report – if you breach those conditions of your licence then you can lose the right to be a customs broker. You can lose the right to work in the cargo system. You’ve got to change the culture. Now that’s not easy. It’s not going to happen overnight but if you change the conditions on which they have the right to operate it can change their behaviour.

The other thing mate, which is important in this is that it’s not just the law enforcement agencies that have access to the integrated cargo system – the computer system that tells us where cargo is as it moves around the system the private sector has access to that system as well. I’m going to make changes to that so that if there’s evidence that somebody is misusing that information to help out an organised criminal enterprise then that will be an offence that people can go to jail for.

We’re going to also limit access to that information on a must have basis. So if the company or people inside a company don’t have to have access to that information we’re going to restrict it because that’s another weakness that needs to be corrected.

STUART BOCKING: Because this report also argues that the government security identification card system is failing. So again you’ve got a key plank of identifying some of these problems – the report argues well it’s come up short.

JASON CLARE: Yeah, yeah and three things are needed there – first the thing I mentioned a moment ago which is giving police the power to revoke that licence if we think they’re up to no good. The second is saying you can’t get a licence to work on the wharf at all if you’ve committed a number of different serious offences for which you’ve been convicted of in the past.

There’s already a series of those offences that prohibit you from having the right to work on the wharf or in an airport but I’m going to expand those to all serious indictable offences. The third thing is improving the identification process that you have to go through before you get the licence in the first place.

STUART BOCKING: So it’s all in place. Obviously you hope to get the legislation through later on in the year if you find that there are members of the Maritime Union for instance who are identified as being a suspect to be removed you wouldn’t expect any resistance from the Union?

JASON CLARE: Well my view on this is really simple mate. I take advice from the police and if police tell me they need these powers I’m going to give it to them. If the police and the Crime Commission find evidence that people are up to no good and they’ve got enough intelligence to say they shouldn’t be working there then their cards should be removed.

I expect unions to always stand up for the rights of their workers but I’ve got to say the Maritime Union have been very mature in the way they’ve dealt with this. When I approached them about it they said they’d support law enforcement. I think the reason is this – they know like you and I know that ninety-nine per cent of the people that work on the wharf or work as part of that private sector supply chain are good honest hard working people. They don’t want to work with crooks anymore than you or I do. So they want to see these people taken out of play because it will mean more drugs are seized, less drugs on the streets of western Sydney.

STUART BOCKING: Well you’re doing well. Obviously that’s an area that takes in part of your electorate. Always good to chat with you Jason – appreciate your time.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Stuart much appreciated.

STUART BOCKING: Good on you. Look after yourself mate. Thank you very much. The Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare. He’s a very good operator. Member for Blaxland based around Bankstown in Sydney’s south-west and talking some common sense but I tell you what it’s a fair old assignment. You talk about a culture which is viewed as being anti-law enforcement, nepotistic, insular and tolerant of criminality. I mean it’s just unbelievable.

I know probably we’ve got people listening who’ve worked on the wharves that you’ve knocked around with in the port system, stevedoring and customs brokers. You may have some experiences you want to share with us. How you break the back of that – it will take some doing. A culture that is ingrained as being anti-law enforcement breaking the back takes some work. Well give me a buzz – 131332 my number. Sixteen past ten.

– ENDS –