Interview with Adam Spencer, 702 ABC Sydney – 30 March 2012

Topics: Introduction of integrity testing laws, Cruise ships at Garden Island

SPENCER: Reports this morning that integrity tests involving fake bribes will be offered amongst the ranks of federal law enforcement officers if proposed laws are passed by the Federal Parliament.

The measures are being announced this morning by the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, and he joins us.

Good morning, Mr Clare. How are you?

JASON CLARE: Yes, good thanks, Adam. Yourself?

SPENCER: I’m well thanks. Look, I just assumed that Federal Police already had a section that would do set ups and stings and try and try entrap each other as part of routine integrity testing.

JASON CLARE: Yes, well, you see it in state police forces around the country, but it hasn’t existed, to date, for our federal law enforcement agencies. And I’m announcing today that I’m going to roll it out by introducing legislation into the Federal Parliament so that we can do these covert operations or undercover operations to test people’s integrity, whether they’re federal police officers or customs officials.

SPENCER: On specifically the topic of customs officials, is this a direct response to the claims of corruption in customs that have recently surfaced?

JASON CLARE: We know that crooks target customs officers. And we also know that they target police officers. The reports that came out this week showed that we’ve got customs officers that have been suspended for everything from bullying to possession of drugs, through to not obeying the commands or the requests of their senior officers. Someone was also suspended because they didn’t respond appropriately to a member of the public.

SPENCER: And are these measures – I mean you would have known about these findings in customs before they hit the front page of the press for the rest of us – are these measure specifically inspired by what’s been found in the customs service?

JASON CLARE: It’s part of it, Adam. It’s also in response to a parliamentary inquiry last year that called for these powers. I’ve been in the job three months. One of the first things that our corruption watchdog said to me was we need these powers. They can already do things like tap phones. They can search houses. They can coerce or force people to come in and give evidence, but this is an extra power that they’ve said they want and they need.

The argument that’s been put to me is that it’s a great deterrent because if you think that accepting a bribe off a criminal could mean you’re accepting a bribe off an undercover police officer, you’re less likely to do it. So by putting the fear of God into people that you could end up in jail if you’re going to act corruptly, it’ll deter a lot of people from acting inappropriately or acting corruptly.

SPENCER: How extensive is corruption amongst federal law enforcement officers, customs officers et cetera in Australia?

JASON CLARE: Well, by and large, I think the Federal Police and customs do a very good job. But I’m not complacent about it. The nature of the work that these people do at our borders means that they’re going to get confronted from time to time by crooks. And you do need safeguards and powers in place to make sure that people aren’t behaving inappropriately. That’s why we’ve got a corruption watchdog. That’s why it’s got all of the powers of a Royal Commission.

But just like we see in New South Wales with the PIC and the ICAC, you need extra powers – and integrity testing is just another string to the bow of our anti-corruption plans to make sure that people are behaving appropriately.

SPENCER: Realistically, will there always be a degree of corruption in any law enforcement system? And is the job of Government to keep that at the lowest possible levels, as manageable as possible?

You can – and I mean no disrespect to people who work in law enforcement – but you can never have an entirely clean force, can you?

JASON CLARE: Well, there’s no place for corruption, Adam. You know, where you find…

SPENCER: But, realistically, it’s part of human nature that it’s always going to be there in some small amount, isn’t it?

JASON CLARE: There is always going to be crooks and there are always going to be crooks who are going to target cops. There are always going to be crooks that target customs. For that matter there’s always going to be crooks target the waterfront. It’s just the nature of the work, the nature of what happens there.

Our job is to make sure that you identify it and weed it out wherever you find it. You need powers to do that. These are – you know, I suspect this will be controversial. These are tough powers. There are people that are going to claim this is entrapment, this is unfair.

My response to that is that there’s no place for corruption and you need these powers in order to weed it out where you find it.

SPENCER: Who then watches the watchmen? I mean the last thing you then need, I guess, is someone who is susceptible to corruption within the ranks of those overseeing other police officers.

JASON CLARE: Yes, it’s a good point. You do need to have that oversight. The whole system would be oversighted by the national corruption watchdog, called the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

Over and above that there will be oversight from the Commonwealth Ombudsman. In addition to that there’s a joint parliamentary committee that oversights all of this. And they’ll be part of this process as well.

SPENCER: Jason Clare is the Minister for Home Affairs. He’s our guest this morning.

You said it will be controversial. Obviously, some libertarians will have a field day with this sort of stuff. But what do you think within the force? Will some of the rank and file believe they’re not trusted; they’re being spied upon by their own mates?

JASON CLARE: Look, I don’t think so. No-one wants to work with people that are acting corruptly. It’s the bad apple that can spoil the whole bunch. The police officers I’ve spoken to in New South Wales have said that this has been really effective there, for precisely the reason I point out before: it puts the fear of God into people, that if you’re acting corruptly, then you’ll get caught.

I’ve done a lot of work over the last few weeks with the head of the Australian Federal Police, the head of Customs and the head of the Crime Commission on this. They’re fully in favour of it. They think that this is the way to go.

It’s important that it’s targeted, not random. So you do these tests based on good information that somebody may be acting inappropriately. And I think that most police officers, most customs officers out there will say this is the way to go. They don’t want to be working with crooks. They don’t want to be working with people that are abusing the power that’s been placed in them.

SPENCER: Can I ask one quick question on a separate issue? Yesterday a report was released saying Garden Island is not suitable as a permanent site for cruise ships to berth. Do you think that’s the end of the matter?

People are saying we will lose large amounts of the cruise market to other cities around the world, in particular Singapore. Is Garden Island dead and buried as a cruise line destination?

JASON CLARE: Well, where cruise ships can go in we want to make them available, or make it available for cruise ships there. Obviously, the top priority’s got to be defence. It’s got to be national security. There’s limited capacity at the moment.

One of the challenges we’ve got, Adam, is that the Navy is getting bigger, the Navy’s changing. By the middle of the decade we’re going to have two landing helicopter dock ships make Sydney their home. These ships – just to give you an idea – are going to be bigger than our last aircraft carrier.

They’ll be the biggest ships the Navy’s ever had. They’re longer than two football fields and ten storeys high. So if you live at the Fingal Wharf the sun’s going to come up a couple of hours later in the morning every day.

We need to find a place to put them. They’re going to have Sydney as their home, so we do need to manage that. And, at the same time, try and support the cruise industry wherever we can.

SPENCER: Lovely to speak to you, Jason Clare. Thanks for your time.

JASON CLARE: Thanks, Adam.

SPENCER: The Minister for Home Affairs on 702, where it’s twenty-eight past seven.