House debates

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012; Second Reading

5:22 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

It is great pleasure to talk on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012. Serious and organised crime is a genuine national security issue for our country. It threatens our economy, it threatens the well-being of the Australian people and it threatens our way of life. The opposition believes that all the resources and focus of the federal government must be brought to bear on this issue. It is very difficult to get an accurate estimate of the financial cost of organised crime to our community, but it is certainly very significant and, by some estimates, would be up to $15 billion. So the impacts of organised crime are serious not just for those directly affected but also for the community as a whole.

Sadly, since the government changed in 2007, the Labor government has pursued policies which have made it easier for criminals to prosper. They have made it easier by savaging our law enforcement agencies, by occupying the time and efforts of those law enforcement agencies on their self-induced border protection crisis and by failing in their duty to properly police what comes in and out of our country. Since they have come to government, Labor has axed 750 staff and significant funding from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, leaving our borders vulnerable to infiltration by serious criminal syndicates.Slashing funding for Customs has meant more opportunities for criminals to put drugs and guns onto our streets.

We saw shocking revelations late last year of Customs officers being directly involved in corruption at Sydney airport, including allegations of a iding drug traffickers and laundering money for the very bikie gangs that are terrorising Sydney streets. Under Labor , less than 10 per cent of air cargo and less than five per cent of sea cargo are inspected when they enter Australia's borders , giving criminals a better chance of successfully smuggling weapons, drugs and other contraband into our community.

Extensive cuts to the A ustralian Crime Commission mean that the Commonwealth's capacity to provide intelligence on organised crime is severely limited. Similarly , cuts to the Australian Federal Police have impacted on their ability to function to their full cap ability. These cuts have come at a time when an enormous amount of police and law-and-order resources have been directed to dealing with Labor's self-induced border protection crisis —a crisis that has seen over 32,500 people smuggled illegally into Australia on 557 boats.

If the Minister for Home Affairs and the Labor Party we re serious about stopping organised crime , the first thing they would do is not lecture the states about what the states should be doing . The first thing the federal Labor Party should do is do properly the job they have been given by the Australian people . It i s an unfortunate fact that the cuts they have inflicted since they have come to office have allowed criminals a better chance of getting guns and drugs onto our streets . A ll of this is happening at the same time as they have reduc ed funding to our law enforcement agencies, such as the Australian Crime Commission , the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police. The Commonwealth government is just not pulling its weight in this area. In fact , they are systematically undermining the ability of the federal government to fulfil its law and order responsibilities.

While making legislative changes is not in itself enough to tackle organised crime, clearly the right legislative framework gives our law enforcement agencies a more workable way of tackling this very serious issue—and unexplained wealth laws are a very important part of that . This bill seeks to implement some of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, which inquired into the Commonwealth's unexplained wealth legislation and reported early last year. The committee made a total of 18 recommendations. Unfortunately, this bill implements only six of them. I am particularly disappointed by the failure of the government to embrace the recommendations of that parliamentary committee which involve the Australian Crime Commission pursuing unexplained wealth orders. The ACC has significant coercive powers to force witnesses to answer questions, and those significant powers—which are unavailable to other law enforcements agencies—would have been very helpful in pursuing proceeds of crime. But this is an agency that has been systematically attacked by the ALP for funding and staffing cuts. As a committee member I am disappointed to see that the recommendations which specifically recommended that the ACC be given this extra role have not been embraced in the legislation presented to the House by the government. I would like to have seen the government act faster to implement the other recommendations. I note that they have not formally responded to that report, even though it was handed down almost a year ago. Despite this, the coalition welcomes the measures contained in this legislation to strengthen our proceeds-of-crime framework. This will help our law enforcement agencies target criminals and crack down on organised crime.

I turn now to some of the specifics of the bill. Part 1 of schedule 1 implements recommendations made in the committee's final report. During the course of the committee inquiry, the Australian Crime Commission informed the committee that serious and organised crime groups continue to prove resilient and very adaptable to legislative changes, law enforcement intelligence and investigative methodologies. I remember very distinctly that they said that the best way to tackle organised crime is to remove the proceeds of illegal activity. That is one of the most significant deterrents we can have to unlawful activity. The police in particular gave us some very vivid examples of hardened criminals who were reduced to tears when the police confiscated their luxury cars. This really hits criminals where it hurts—taking away the proceeds of their illicit activities. Indeed, doing that is one way to deliver heavy blows to organised criminals.

That is why it is vitally important that the Commonwealth has a proceeds of crime framework which actually works and which our law enforcement agencies can use effectively to tackle organised crime.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee is currently inquiring into this bill. The Australian Federal Police Association and the Police Federation of Australia were supportive of it, particularly the measure to remove judicial discretion from unexplained wealth orders, noting: 'We would like to publicly state that we support the removal of judicial discretion for unexplained wealth restraining orders, preliminary orders and final orders. This brings unexplained wealth into line with other kinds of proceedings conducted under the Proceeds of Crime Act.' Both the PFA and the AFPA have been long-time supporters of strengthening Australia's unexplained wealth laws and have voiced their concerns about the weaknesses in the existing Commonwealth regime. I note that both of those agencies do a very good job of representing the voices of police men and women across the AFP and, more broadly, across the state and territory policing agencies. Since I have become shadow minister for justice, customs and border protection, they have spoken to me about the deficiencies within the current Commonwealth proceeds-of-crime framework.

The bill also makes amendments to expand existing cross-border firearms trafficking offences in the Criminal Code and to introduce new aggravated offences for dealing in 50 or more firearms and firearm parts. The bill's explanatory memorandum notes that the amendments are aimed at expanding existing cross-border trafficking offences in the Criminal Code to deal with firearm parts.

The coalition is particularly proud of its record in taking dangerous guns off our streets and therefore tackling gun crime. As all Australians will remember, in April 1996, Martin Bryant, a very disturbed man, used a semi-automatic rifle and a semi-automatic assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania. At the time, newly elected Prime Minister John Howard made the controversial decision to reform gun ownership laws.

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

And it was a very courageous decision. Of course, it was highly controversial amongst owners of guns in the community, who rightly said that they had not committed these crimes and had lawfully owned these weapons. To take these weapons off the street involved an enormous amount of political courage from the Prime Minister and his cabinet at the time. Members of parliament had to go out and talk to people about why they believed it was necessary to crack down on these sorts of dangerous weapons. I think it is fair to say that, despite the controversy at the time, those gun laws have been incredibly successful in reducing our gun related homicide rate. They have also reduced the suicide rate in Australia. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun related murders and suicides fell sharply after those laws were introduced 1996. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered a rather astonishing total of 13 gun massacres—a massacre being a gun crime with more than four victims—causing over 100 deaths. I note there has not been a single massacre since 1996. Those figures probably provide some salient lessons for our friends in America. I do not think that any Australian would deny that today our country is safer as a consequence of the coalition's bold changes to gun ownership laws.

The coalition knows that organised criminal syndicates now seek to import their illegal guns from overseas. Sadly, I do not think this fact is sufficiently acknowledged by the present government. Indeed, the minister refuses to acknowledge the extent of the problem, even with evidence of illegal guns slipping through our borders and coming into New South Wales, as was the case with the Sylvania Waters post office in Sydney when in March last year 220 Glock pistols from Austria were imported via a gun dealership in Germany, using falsified documents. This was not discovered by the federal law enforcement agencies which are tasked with policing our borders. It is important to make the point that it was the New South Wales Police that discovered this significant importation of pistols. This highlighted the devastating effects of Labor's cuts on our border protection agencies, in that the Federal Police no longer had the ability to pick up such a significant importation of illegal firearms.

The cuts have meant a significant reduction in the higher rates of cargo inspections that were occurring under the previous government. When we left office in 2007, 60 per cent of air cargo consignments were inspected by Customs and Border Protection. Labor's significant cuts to the Customs cargo-screening budget has meant a staggering 75 per cent reduction in the percentage of air cargo inspections conducted under the coalition. We have seen a similar decrease in sea cargo inspections.

Labor's cuts have resulted in a $22 million funding cut to the Australian Crime Commission—the agency which, to my disappointment, is not more heavily involved in policing unexplained wealth. The astonishing number of 144 personnel have been taken out of the Australian Crime Commission. It is not a large agency, so that cut represents about 20 per cent of its personnel.

Labor say they want to be taken seriously on law and order issues. You cannot be taken seriously when your record since coming into office has been to cut the Australian Federal Police, to savage Customs and Border Protection and to savage the Australian Crime Commission. Labor have demonstrated year after year a blatant disregard for tackling organised criminal activity by targeting these key Commonwealth law enforcement agencies for vicious cuts. The Australian Federal Police has been subjected to a $265 million cut since the Labor Party came to office.

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Small Business) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there any chance of talking about the bill?

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

These funding cuts to Customs, the ACC and the AFP have clearly had a significantly impact on the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to do their job properly. The minister at the table says, 'Is there any chance of talking about the bill?'

This bill deals with the smuggling of guns across state borders. The point is that, when you cut resources—the number of personnel available—to Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, it impacts on the ability of those agencies to do their job. This is the problem with the government. They are more interested in spinning away their failure than they are in doing something to tackle the problems which their cuts have significantly contributed to.

We are supportive of measures to combat gun crime. We are particularly supportive of anything we can do to take guns off our streets. Sadly, we are seeing on our streets the impact of these cuts to Customs. More and more guns have been smuggled into our country because of the very significant cuts that the Labor Party have made since they came to office. We in the coalition believe that the Commonwealth should do its job properly. The law enforcement role of the Commonwealth is to increase the ability of the states to fight crime. Of course, the states have primary responsibility for law and order within their home jurisdictions, but when the Commonwealth is not policing its borders and it is cutting Commonwealth law enforcement agencies then we are making the job of state law enforcement agencies harder. That has to stop.

This Labor government has systematically made damaging cuts, and this has placed an enormous burden on our state police forces, who are called upon to deal with the consequences of more illicit drugs, more contraband and more illegal firearms on our streets because our borders have been penetrated by organised criminal syndicates. If the Minister for Home Affairs is serious about tackling organised criminal activity—and he says that he is—the first thing he should do is seek to rectify the damaging cuts that have been made to the agencies which he is responsible for. But unfortunately we have a minister who has not proved capable of doing that to date and, until he does so, he cannot be taken seriously when he comes into this place and says that law and order is a significant priority for the Labor government.

The priority for the Labor Party at the moment seems to be to deflect blame for the fact that we have had this spike in the number of weapons coming into our country because of these cuts and their impact on our borders. Clearly, if you are going to cut resources—if you are going to cut the number of personnel in our agencies—it is going to hamper the ability of law enforcement agencies to do their job. You cannot possibly believe that these savage cuts will not have an impact on our law enforcement agencies to do what we expect of them.

Due to the nature of the measures proposed in this bill, it is right and proper that it have an airing within the Senate committee process, and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is due to report back on the bill by 13 March. We will be scrutinising what they have to say once they report. Clearly, we will reserve our right to move amendments in the Senate if they highlight areas in which we should do so. We do support the measures contained within this bill. It is important that the Commonwealth have a workable proceeds-of-crime and wealth confiscation program, but, sadly, we do not believe that implementing six of the 18 recommendations that the committee—which was chaired by the member for Fowler, who is due to speak after me—reported on will achieve that. The member for Fowler will not say this, I suspect, but I am pretty sure that he will be very disappointed in his government's response, because he takes his responsibilities on that committee very seriously. He listened to what the police forces around the country had to say to us about these matters. So we will look to rectify and strengthen this framework when we come to office. But, until Australia gets the election it deserves, we will support these measures, albeit reserving our right to make appropriate amendments if the Senate committee highlights areas in which we should do so.

5:41 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012. The bill will amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 and strengthen our nation's fight against organised crime. The bill does this primarily by strengthening the laws related to the illegal firearms market, with the proposal to reduce firearms related crime nationally. The bill will also amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and enhance our law enforcement agencies' ability to attack organised crime by targeting unexplained wealth.

When I first came into this place, following a by-election in 2005, I indicated in my first speech that issues such as drug related offences and firearms offences were not just matters for state and territory police. I indicated that these the importation of weaponry or drugs was something which the Commonwealth had a very clear and abiding responsibility for. I am pleased to say that this legislation follows the sentiments that I expressed in 2005, with the Commonwealth taking greater responsibility in the fight against organised crime.

We understand that organised crime is a business and that, like any other business, will look for windows of opportunity. It will exploit state and territory boundaries; it will exploit constitutional difficulties. Therefore, it does require the Commonwealth, together with state and territory bodies, to be able to work in a cooperative manner to defeat the ravages of organised crime in our society.

This bill creates new aggregated offences for trafficking 50 or more firearms or parts of firearms within a six-month period across state, territory or national borders. It increases the punishment for such serious offences to life imprisonment or 7,500 penalty points or both. It also, importantly, brings the maximum punishment for trafficking firearms in line with drug trafficking, recognising that the illegal firearms market poses as great a challenge to our law enforcement agencies and to the community at large as does drug importation and distribution. Interestingly, the Australian Crime Commission has estimated that the current market for illegal firearms in this country is about a quarter of a million firearms. Notwithstanding the illicit market, the total estimation of firearms throughout our community is 2.75 million. Therefore, it is very important that we keep track of legal firearms as well as be able to monitor those that fall into the illicit market. The fact is that, once these firearms are in the market, they can circulate for many years.

It is strange to relate that, even in the 2002 gun buyback, not many of the criminal elements would have traded in their weaponry at that particular time. With all the gun theft that we see—that is, theft of legal weapons, which come into the illicit market, which is one of the major concerns for most of our security agencies—these weapons will stay in circulation for a long time.

Increasing the maximum punishment for firearms trafficking is just one part of a much larger campaign to strengthen Australian gun laws. One of the other measures includes the establishment of a single national firearms register with a database of all weapons used in crime. This register will link together the 30 separate databases currently being used and, hopefully, prevent another 14,000 firearms being lost into the illicit market. We are also strengthening our firearms laws by establishing the Australian Ballistics Identification Network, which is able to analyse and link firearms obtained through previous crimes; by raising community awareness; and through more extensive training in firearms for Australian law enforcement agencies and other organisations. Illegal firearms trade is often a significant aspect of the work of the serious and organised crime groups. This bill ensures that we are better equipped to tackle the illegal firearms trade and, therefore, minimise the effect of firearms on our community.

Importantly, the bill also amends the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to improve our nation's ability to use unexplained wealth as a tool of law enforcement to combat serious and organised crime. It is important to me because, as chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, I am proud to see that the recommendations made through the committee's extensive inquiry into the Commonwealth's unexplained wealth laws are being adopted. Those recommendations were a bipartisan opportunity for members of the committee to come together and seriously look at the contemporary tools that our law enforcement agencies need to combat serious and organised crime. As a matter of fact, my committee has never once had a minority report. I commend all members of the committee for approaching their jobs seriously and with diligence.

The law enforcement committee has been working pretty hard in relation to unexplained wealth because we see this as one of the key methods of targeting serious and organised crime. Specifically, the amendments will broaden the search and seizure provisions to enable materials relevant to unexplained wealth proceedings to be seized by officers executing a search warrant. It will also allow the court extended time for the serving of notice of unexplained wealth orders and will also provide for increased scrutiny of those bodies, principally the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission, where these powers are used and greater scrutiny by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement.

One thing that is quite apparent is that, in terms of policing and law enforcement, regrettably we as legislators will inevitably have to increase powers in order to protect our communities. Again, on a bipartisan basis, with the increase of those powers comes an increased level of oversight, and that is certainly the case in respect of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission.

I have nothing but respect for their officers—for the dedication and commitment they show in combatting crime—but in terms of protecting the integrity of the powers, and the circumstances in which those powers can be used, it is only appropriate that the level of oversight be at the high level we currently have.

In order to prevent and disrupt crime we must address some of those drivers that underpin criminal activity. As I said a little earlier, criminals are many things—they certainly participate in nefarious activities—but at the end of the day they are business people. They are in business to make money. They are profit driven. So, to disrupt their businesses you go about threatening their businesses and threatening their profits. Essentially, that is what unexplained wealth is about.

The Australian Crime Commission estimates that at the moment the cost of organised crime to Australian society is somewhere between $10 billion and $15 billion every year. That is not the effect on individuals or the economic effect of crime; if you take that into account, those figures are probably very conservative. Therefore, it is very important that we give the people that we charge with the responsibility of protecting our community the powers that they need to combat crime—not simply to arrest people after the event, bring them to trial and then punishment, but to deter and prevent criminal enterprise. If we are able to do that it means that we can prevent crime. If we can prevent crime it means we stop there being another victim of crime in our community.

I am glad this legislation is supported by both sides of the House, because this represents a huge step forward for Australian crime fighting. Having had the opportunity to spend some time with colleagues looking at some of the contemporary issues of law enforcement overseas, I can see that the suite of laws that are being presented at the moment through this bill puts us very clearly on a superior footing to most law enforcement agencies throughout the world. What we are adopting here is basically what has been recommended by Interpol back in, I think, 2004. Very few agencies have been able to achieve what Australia has been able to target through this suite of legislation.

Clearly, whilst there is no doubt that this legislation will put people's liberties at risk—particularly if their business is in a crime related field—it will do something that is not all that common in law enforcement: it will target the issue of preventing and disrupting crime.

Being the son of a police officer, I know only too well how my father would come home and celebrate when they took some serious criminal off the street. I know the father of the member for Cook would have been in the very same predicament. The member for Cook probably heard the same stories around the kitchen table at his place.

The fact is that contemporary crime fighting is not waiting around for a crime to be committed; it is not waiting around while a business advantage is being exploited by criminals; it is getting involved and doing something that actually shuts down criminal enterprise. Regrettably, people's liberties will be affected by that. We do not make any bones about that. In terms of the suite of tools that are necessary for policing, this is one of those which rate very highly.

I must congratulate Mark Burgess and officers of the Police Federation of Australia. Going back some, I think, three or four years, they were the first organisation that came to my parliamentary committee saying that this is what they thought policing requires in this country.

It was this government that took on that challenge to do something—make those changes and provide police officers with the necessary tools they need in contemporary crime fighting.

It cannot be only with the Commonwealth. There are a few constitutional barriers here; therefore, it requires a very concerted effort between the Commonwealth and state and territory bodies to work together with a common view of attacking serious and organised crime. To that extent, it will require a certain amount of coming together, sharing power to make sure that the proper aspect of this legislation is not only arrived at on paper but fully executed in the various courts around the land that are designed to put criminal elements out of business.

I am very pleased to be the chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement—as I said, a body that has taken seriously its responsibility in looking at what is necessary in contemporary crime fighting. I am pleased to support this. And, as I said, as a son of a police officer, regardless of what my dad's view may have been earlier in the piece, I think this will actually put far more people on the criminal side out of business than simply waiting around for another drug deal on the street. I support the bill.

5:56 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

Also as the son of a police officer, like the member for Fowler, these issues are matters of close interest to me personally as well as in terms of my electorate in the seat of Cook—and I will refer later to the incidents that took place there last year with the smuggling of Glock pistols through a post office in my electorate. They are also of concern to me as part of the broader issue of national security, in which I have a keen interest, and these matters go directly, I think, to matters of national security.

When one is debating these matters in this place, never far from our mind are the tragedies, not only in our country but also in places around the world. Sadly, even quite recently, we have seen the horror and the tragedy of guns getting into the hands of bad people—into the hands of criminals who hold our society to ransom and to hostage and selfishly seek to impose their greed and their evil on others. There will be no debate in this place about the evils of these things. I think the sentiments and the intentions that sit behind this bill are respected and appreciated, and I commend the government in bringing this bill to the House. I also commend the minister, who has brought this bill to the House, on his appointment to the cabinet.

It is the job of a national government to protect our borders and to keep Australians safe behind those borders. That is the goal informing governments from this place. That is a core responsibility of a national government. At its heart, this is a bill about national security and especially about protecting our borders from the movement of illegal firearms and weapons parts. The measures contained in this legislation seek to better protect Australian communities from the clutches of criminal syndicates and ensure that they are not able to profit from the nefarious trade.

The coalition will support this bill in principle. We understand the intent behind it, and that is something we can identify with. But, pending further advice from the Senate committee, we reserve our position on other amendments and things that may be brought up as a result of those investigations. I would hope the government would work constructively with the opposition on the things that may come from that process. If things are identified then, in the spirit of the shared intention, they should attract support. The coalition remains committed to strong border protection, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters in this place, because the truth is that when it comes to border protection more broadly the Australian people have already registered a pretty clear verdict about the government's competence in that matter.

Last year, Commissioner Andrew Scipione from the New South Wales Police Force—I would argue the most trusted and respected law officer in the land and over many generations—referred to the issue of guns being imported illegally overseas as the elephant in the room. He said that it is not just a border security issue but a national security issue. I could not agree with the commissioner more. Any piece of legislation concerned with removing guns from Australian streets should merit our close attention. Any bill that strives to make our neighbourhoods safer by virtue of making it harder for criminal syndicates to operate is worthy of scrutiny in this place.

This legislation would effect several key changes to both the Criminal Code Act and the Proceeds of Crime Act. Firstly, this legislation seeks to strengthen the investigative powers and Commonwealth prosecution of cases in relation to unexplained wealth. Secondly, this legislation seeks to expand existing offences for cross-border trafficking of firearms. The new regime would include aggravated offences with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for dealing in 50 or more firearms or parts within a six-month period.

As I said, we cannot fault the intent behind this legislation, but we have a duty to examine these matters closely to ensure that any unintended consequences do not compromise the outcome that we are trying to achieve. It was almost a year ago now that the New South Wales police discovered a gaping hole in our borders on gun control, with 220 Glock pistols allegedly smuggled right into the city of Sydney, guns that ended up on our streets in the hands of criminal gangs. Those guns found their way into my electorate of Cook, into the shire and into southern Sydney, allegedly through the Sylvania Waters post office. That alleged smuggling operation was described by Andrew Scipione, the Commissioner of Police in New South Wales, as perhaps the biggest illegal syndicate doing this type of illegal gun trafficking that Australia has ever seen.

What is worse, our Customs and Border Protection Service had no idea that it had happened. It had to be brought to their attention late into the investigation in order to effect the sting that saw the arrests that followed. They were not brought on board that investigation early. One still wonders to this day why the New South Wales police made the decision not to involve Customs and Border Protection earlier when they were aware that these guns were on their way to Sydney. That raises serious questions. I remember raising those questions in this place and proposing that we have a commission of inquiry into that incident to understand the failings in the system that had let that happen. That proposal was rejected by the government and ridiculed by others. But this incident was the canary in the mine.

What did we see at the end of last year? To our shock and surprise, we saw Customs officers involved in embedded corruption at our airports and our sea ports. That was going on. This was a serious matter. It was a matter that the New South Wales police had identified and brought to the attention of Customs. There is a serious need to deal with what is happening in our Customs and Border Protection Service. At the end of last year, there were revelations that as many as 20 Customs officials had been allegedly involved in extensive corruption at Sydney airport. As my colleague the member for Stirling has mentioned, these included allegations of aiding drug traffickers as well as money laundering for bikie gangs. An entire shift had been compromised. One Customs and Border Protection officer arrested by the AFP was charged with offences including conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border controlled precursors, weapons offences, receiving a bribe and abuse of public office.

These crises do not happen in a vacuum. They have been allowed to occur and continue against a backdrop of mismanagement and chaos on our borders under this Labor government that the Australian people have watched with horror. Specifically in the area of Customs, they take the knife to the Customs budget, dropping from inspecting 60 per cent of air cargo inspections under the Howard government to just 8.3 per cent under this government. Those drastic cuts to cargo screening have allowed weapons and illicit drugs to come into this country and then onto our streets and into the hands of organised criminal syndicates. The people of Western Sydney know that. When the coalition left office, we were inspecting 6.2 million air cargo consignments. That figure today, taken from the government's budget papers, is 1.5 million.

At the same time there are about 10 million air cargo consignments. Today that figure exceeds 15 million, yet the percentage of air cargo consignments being inspected continues to shrink. It comes down to this: under Labor criminals now have a 90 to 95 per cent chance of successfully smuggling weapons, or rather, contraband, into our community. Those are terrifying odds.

It is all well and good to be implementing these laws to improve our powers to charge and prosecute offenders. And this an iterative process. The parliament should always be looking at ways we can better equip those on the front line with the resources, the authority and the legal backing they need to do their job to the best of their ability. But we must be mindful about how the guns are getting in in the first place. I turn to none other than the now Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr. When he was Premier of New South Wales this is how he believed guns were getting into the country. All these guns, he said, 'the guns on our streets, the guns being traded, the guns that form this black market, have got into Australia through pretty porous borders.' That is what Senator Bob Carr said when he was Premier of New South Wales. Now he forms part of a government that denies this is the case. When he said this, air cargo screenings were many multiples over what this government is doing today, and the resources, proportionally, were greater at the time than they are today.

This is a government that has moved quickly, even today, and over the last few days, to try to divert attention, to say, 'It is not our fault. We just control what comes into the country. We need to shift the focus and say it is what is happening in state enforcement with our police forces.' What is important is that an incompetent federal government needs to take over the powers of state governments, which actually alerted them last year to the problem. They are the ones who blew the whistle. Customs did not know they were on fire on this issue until the New South Wales police turned up with a hose and put them out.

We do not want diversions and distractions from this government, for which they are well known when it comes to the issue of gun crime. We will see plenty of announcements and we have seen plenty of stern faces looking into the cameras, incredibly earnest, calling on people to lay down their swords and get together and work constructively on this issue. Well, here is a tip for the government: do your job well and the guns will not get into the country.

This government has not stopped the guns, it has not stopped the drugs and it has not stopped the boats, and the Australian people know it. You can go out there and argue about your alleged competence on our borders until you are blue in the face but the Australian people know that this government is the biggest failure on our borders in our nation's history. And they will be judged for it. That day is coming—14 September is coming—when this government will be judged for its failures on our borders. The people are waiting and they want to issue that judgment for your mismanagement and incompetence on our borders. We on this side of the House will work towards that day, not only continuing to prosecute that case but continuing to firm up and build further the policies that we know are necessary to get things right on our borders once again.

This government slashed 750 staff from our Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. They have stripped funding and personnel out of the agency, leaving it vulnerable. Clearly, a culture of corruption is evident in these agencies—in this agency specifically. It is about restoring the confidence of the Australian people in these agencies. The many hardworking enforcement officers who work in the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, like those who work in similar law enforcement agencies around the country, will be horrified—the good officers, the ones who want to do the right thing, the ones who want to be proud of their organisation and the job it does, because it is an important job. But you have to get the settings right. You have to allow those who want to do the right thing and uphold the integrity of their organisation to be the ones whose activities are rewarded—and rewarded in the sense of having an organisation that has the support, both in terms of the financial support for the resources provided and in terms of the political support, to do their job.

The failures of this government on borders are well known. They are not limited to the area of Customs. They are well known in the area of immigration. I note that yet another minister for immigration has entered into the revolving door of policy failure in these last few days.

He will not have big shoes to fill—because his predecessor allowed almost 25,000 people to cross our borders illegally into this country—but he is a minister who is returning to the scene of the crime. The now minister for immigration is the same minister who, along with the now departing Senator Evans, was responsible in large part for the unwinding of the controls that we had on our borders under the Howard government. So he returns to the scene of his crime and to the scene of failure when he previously served in the area of customs and border protection, only now to babysit this government's failure on our borders to an election.

The coalition will continue to stand up for national security in this country. We continue to believe strongly, as we demonstrated in government and stand ready to demonstrate again if elected at the next election, that we need to enforce the laws on our borders, strengthen the force of our borders and ensure that Australians are kept safe behind those borders by doing the federal government's job and working with the state governments to ensure that they can do their job, rather than trying to distract attention, as the minister has done today by alleging all sorts of things about New South Wales. It was the New South Wales police who set off the alert here on the issue of guns coming into this country, and the government should do its job. (Time expired)

6:11 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last year the Australian Crime Commission did a national intelligence audit of the illegal firearms market in Australia. That audit estimated that, while there were more than 2¾ million registered firearms in Australia, the illicit firearms market consisted of around a quarter of a million weapons—around 250,000 long arms and, perhaps more concerning, about 10,000 handguns. Illegal firearms sourced through theft from licensed owners and firearms dealers consist in part of weapons that were made illegal in the 1997 gun laws, about which I will say more later, and deactivated firearms that have been reactivated.

This bill is a response by the Australian government to these concerning findings. It deals with the spread of illegal firearms by introducing new offences for aggravated firearms trafficking. It extends existing cross-border offences and introduces new basic offences for trafficking firearms across borders. Our aim is to hold traffickers responsible for the consequences of providing firearms to the black market. They are aiming to tackle the illegal firearms market from different angles—to seize the firearms, to break the code of silence and to improve our ability to trace firearms—and they complement other reforms the government is putting in place. These reforms include the rollout of the Australian Ballistics Identification Network, a national database which will allow police in states and territories to link up their information on weapons recovered from crime; better training, from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which will happen in February this year; and an in-principle agreement with police ministers for a national firearms register. This national firearms register really is an important development, and I would urge those police ministers who are currently considering it to act immediately. I think it is vital that state and territory firearms registers are joined up. Australians move states or territories frequently and the information about those weapons should follow them.

These laws are also part of a package of reforms dealing with unexplained wealth.

As the Minister for Justice explained:

These laws will help us to catch criminals. Just like with Al Capone - you can catch criminals by following the money.

And through this broad suite of reforms we are cracking down on the illegal firearms market. In so doing we are supporting law-abiding recreational shooters. Law-abiding recreational shooters have the most to lose from an illicit firearms market in Australia because it is law-abiding firearms owners who are tarnished when these drive-by shootings occur, when crimes are committed with illegal weapons.

I am fortunate to have within my own electorate the firing range used by the Canberra Rifle Club. The Canberra Rifle Club is, I am told, the city's oldest surviving sporting body. It traces its conception back to a report in the Queanbeyan Age newspaper on 6 May 1913, nearly a century ago:

There was a representative gathering of riflemen at the residence of Mr. Hector McIntosh, Canberra, on Saturday last, to discuss the proposal of forming a rifle club at that place.

And there had previously been rifle ranges at the Black Mountain Peninsula picnic grounds and the Mount Ainslie summit road, but the club's present facilities are at a better location in the Majura Valley. They opened in September 1969 and, in passing, I note that they are just off Majura Road, near the Majura Parkway. The club's facilities will not be adversely affected by the construction of the Majura Parkway, the ACT's biggest road-building project, fifty-fifty funded by the federal and ACT governments and which it was my pleasure to attend the sod turning of this morning.

The range is named the McIntosh Rifle Range after Hector McIntosh, and since 1972 it has been the venue for the National Queen's Prize shoot. In 2004 the Canberra Rifle Club and Bungendore Rifle Club ran the inaugural Canberra Queen's Prize meeting, and they are a premier state and national rifle competition. The member for Griffith attended the presentation ceremony for the Queensland Queen's Prize in 2012.

The Canberra Rifle Club, importantly, has strict requirements for its members regarding firearms licences. Its rules say:

All members and users of the range may be required at any time to satisfy the Club that they hold a valid Firearms Licence as issued by the State or Territory in which they reside.

This is especially the case when purchasing ammunition or ammunition components from the Club. Consequently, you should carry your current Firearms Licence and your current NRAA Membership Card at all times.

This is an example of a well-managed and regulated facility for sport shooters.

That stands in stark contrast to the behaviour of some of the sport shooting associations in the United States. Following the Connecticut school shooting we have seen again on display the awful intransigence of the US National Rifle Association, a body which took a moderate stance in the 1930s when it supported federal gun control; which in the 1960s supported a ban on 'Saturday night specials' because, as they said at the time, they had 'no sporting purpose'; but which was taken over in 1977 by people like Harlan Carter, Wayne LaPierre and the like and found itself in the 1980s opposing bans on armour-piercing bullets, which were being used to kill police on US streets.

The debate on gun control in the United States is so different from the debate in Australia. In part that is because of the initiative that was taken in 1997 by then Prime Minister John Howard and Tim Fischer, Leader of the National Party, who were willing to take on the extremists in their own party to see a gun buyback passed. I think sometimes in this place we pay too little tribute to the other side of politics. I was in here about an hour ago speaking about the fiscal profligacy of the Howard government, but let me in a different spirit recognise the forward-thinking actions of the Howard government and Tim Fischer in the Australian gun buyback.

By tightening firearms legislation, by buying back around two-thirds of a million weapons, Australia achieved a substantial fall in the firearms death rate. Firearms homicide and suicide rates fell by about half and have stayed down. These are figures that are sometimes contradicted by shills speaking for the National Rifle Association or other bodies in the United States, but the facts do not lie: fewer Australians die as a result of firearms homicide and suicide thanks to the actions of the Howard government in 1997.

But we have to remain vigilant. We have to continue updating the laws to fit the times. This bill cracks down on the illegal firearms market. It is important that we keep the challenge in perspective. Australia's firearms death rate is low by international standards. Christine Neill of Wilfred Laurier University and I carried out two studies looking the Australian firearms buyback. We found when we looked at the time trends and when we looked across states it was very clear that the firearms buyback had saved lives.

Prior to the Port Arthur massacre Australia had experienced a mass shooting—that is, a shooting with five or more victims—on average every year for the previous decade. Since then we have not had a mass shooting in Australia. That could be coincidence but the odds of that are less than one in 100.

Importantly, we have brought down firearms suicide, because that is the most common form of gun deaths, and we have brought down firearm homicide. The United States, though, still experiences over 80 gun deaths every single day—a horrendous death rate. One of the things that we in Australia can do is to present to United States legislators who are dealing with this very complicated issue—President Obama and Vice President Biden are now considering a package of gun law reforms—a bipartisan model of dealing with gun deaths. This is a bipartisan model that does not undercut the role of sporting shooters but recognises, as I have in my own electorate, groups of sporting shooters who are committed to enjoying their sport with shooting licences and with gun registration. They recognise that good laws are essential if people are to enjoy sport shooting in a safe environment. They recognise that the scourge of gun death in Australia has, in the past, been too high and that it needs to come down.

So I would urge those opposite to try and refrain from some of the partisan politicking in this debate. One of the things that has traditionally characterised the firearms legislation debates has been their bipartisan nature. Then opposition leader Kim Beazley did not hesitate before supporting John Howard in the package of laws that were put in place after the Port Arthur massacre. I urge those opposite to be wary of point-scoring and to recognise the value that we can bring to this place from sober, sensitive, reflective debate over reducing gun deaths.

We will probably never reduce the number of deaths to zero but we ought to do all in our power to bring it down. And we ought to do all we can to tell the world the story of Australia's firearms regulation. It is a good story. It is a story of conservatives who were willing to stand up to extremists in their ranks, of bipartisan law reform, and of ongoing law reform recognising that, as criminals advance in their methods of evading detection, Australian laws have to move to keep pace.

I commend the bill to the House and I commend the work of the minister, who is here in the chamber, on this bill.

6:24 pm

Photo of Laurie FergusonLaurie Ferguson (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a person who has more than a passing interest in this matter—in fact, my maiden speech to the New South Wales parliament 30-odd years ago was about gun laws—and as a person who had the honour, and I say 'honour', to represent the federal opposition at a huge rally in Sydney's Domain, where we indicated total support for former Prime Minister John Howard's gun law initiatives, I join with the previous speaker in expressing disquiet over the opposition's contribution to this debate. The member for Cook spoke of diversions and distractions. Quite frankly, I think that encapsulates the total performance of the opposition in this debate.

The opposition's leading speaker on this debate, the member for Stirling, said that the government had only implemented a number of the recommendations that came forward. He did not belabour his argument on any that were not pursued. He did not specifically declare that it was the end of the world if any of them were not pursued. He made some references to a Senate inquiry. He did not seem to have any ideas of his own. Then the member for Cook came along and tried to draw some sort of personal connection with gun problems in this country because a post office in his electorate was the site of the importation of guns. But I live in an area of Sydney which has been characterised by a huge spate of gun related incidents over the last year or so, so for me this a very personal issue.

For the opposition to come in here today, when the government has made serious efforts after a series of police ministers meetings in, I think, June and November last year, and say that this debate is completely about the number of customs inspections concerned with the illegal entry of guns into this country is appalling. Yes, of course both sides of politics would like to minimise the number of guns that, through importation, end up on the illicit market in this country, but if we look at a number of commentators on this problem we find it is very complex. In April last year, the member for Wentworth said that a fundamental requirement is more policing of gun offences in this country. The final report of the national investigation into illegal firearms noted that 44 per cent of the guns we are concerned about were those not surrendered or registered after the Port Arthur massacre, 12 per cent were stolen or the subject of staged theft in Australia, and a mere one-half of one per cent seemed to come from illegal importation. The Australian Crime Commission commented:

The illicit firearm market is predominantly comprised of firearms which have been diverted from the licit market through a variety of means.

It further commented:

Illicit handguns have principally been sourced by criminals who took advantage of differences in state and territory definitions of firearms and other loop-holes—which have been closed for over a decade.

It is a very complex problem, made up of so many elements. So for the opposition to come in here today and say, 'We're going to solve the illicit gun issue in this country by enhanced inspection of imported goods,' is just preposterous.

There are further examples of how complex the problem is. I note that Dr Bricknell, a leading criminologist, pointed to Queensland legislation, where it emerged that deactivated guns could be reactivated and the serial numbers transferred to working weapons. She analysed a major problem in Queensland legislation, a loophole that had partly led to this issue. I note that former Federal Police officer Nigel Phair, director of the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra, who has spent the last four years heading the High Tech Crime Centre, looked at the question of the failure of police authorities to move onto the internet, a major source, as he sees it, of gun problems in this country.

As I say, how guns enter this market is an extremely diverse, complex problem. It is not a matter just to be toyed with and played with by an opposition that is trying to connect this issue with the entry of people by boat into the country. The member for Cook's contribution was really about further haranguing the chamber on the number of boats coming into the country and border security et cetera. It had nothing to do with the issues that we are facing today. We see a variety of real measures in this bill. It will provide for the addition of an aggravated offence to existing cross-border offences based on the disposal, acquisition, taking or sending of 50 or more firearms. It will extend the coverage of the existing cross-border offences, including providing new offences to deal with international firearms trafficking. It will provide for the basic import-export offences to be punishable by a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. These measures are worthwhile and should be commended.

I also note that the shadow minister spoke about listening to the police force. That is his supposed way of dealing with this problem. I wish he would talk to the Queensland government about the police force views on guns in this country, because one of the first actions of the new government in Queensland was to appoint a gun committee for the state. I seem to remember the police force in Queensland going on national television to complain very vehemently about the total domination of this committee by people with commercial interests and other interests in promoting gun ownership in this country. We are seeing in Queensland a situation where the conservative side of politics is trying to, in a sense, please people in the gun lobby. It is nascent. It is not very strong, like in the United States. But this is a leading indicator of the real things that should be done about guns, not rhetoric about importation and the number of crates that are opened at the airports or the harbours. They are putting a committee up there to basically liberalise gun laws, to try and make sure that restrictions, controls and limitations are broken down.

Also, if we are so concerned with regard to gun homicides, gun suicides et cetera in this country, one only has to look at the recent experience in New South Wales politics as to where the agenda is going. I have been very critical of the previous Labor government in New South Wales for kowtowing to the gun interests in that state because they held a few votes in the upper house. And what have we seen since the government of New South Wales has come into power? Very swiftly the very controversial decision to allow shooting in national parks. That is deplored by the very public servants who dedicate their lives to their parks and safety—not just because of mercenary self-interest and the wages they get paid—coming out and absolutely moving towards industrial action because of the way in which that government is again kowtowing to the gun interest.

A series of measures have been supported by national police committees. They follow the 1996 National Firearms Agreement, the reaction of the federal government under John Howard to the Port Arthur disaster, the 2002 national agreement on handguns et cetera. In the spirit I indicated earlier of trying to be nonpartisan in a very important issue for the safety of Australians, I also take the point of commending the former Prime Minister for involving himself in the current debate in the United States. For those who are unaware, John Howard wrote a leading editorial in the New York Times, an opinion piece, last week about the way in which Australia's tougher gun laws after Port Arthur had led to improvements in the safety of Australians.

What is often lost in this debate on guns is that the question of criminal use is minor. Essentially, the real danger of guns is the use in domestic arguments between parties: the danger to the neighbour by the person next door who supposedly needs a gun to protect themselves and who, in a rage over how high the fence is or someone making too much noise, goes out and shoots their neighbour. The other serious reality with gun ownership in this country is the question of accidental death.

I am very much concerned with the performance of the opposition in this debate. After Port Arthur the opposition did the right thing by the Australian people by fully, totally, unequivocally supporting John Howard in a move toward tighter restrictions. If we move in the way that the Queensland government is at the moment in kowtowing to these interests, we will see the reality of what we see in the United States, where the presidential candidate for the Republican party last time, Mitt Romney—and it was so fake, so transparent—had to pretend he liked shooting. He had to go out there. Now we have had the President of the United States also having to parade around as a skeet shooter. Both sides of politics are so intimidated by the National Rifle Association that they have to lower their dignity, lower their morality, to do these kinds of things.

It is interesting to note the debate in the United States. It was only in 1977 that the NRA went down this road of taking total disinterest in the safety of the American people. Before that, they believed in things like making sure that there was a preservation of shooting rights for people in hunting, making sure that there was preservation of national parks et cetera. But an extremist element seized control in 1977, and we have seen the downward spiral since then.

The opposition attempts to give everyone a perception that there is rampant crime all over Western Sydney and that it is all caused by the importation of Glocks from Germany, that it is all related to the federal government's Customs failures. It is interesting to note the figures in Australia. There has actually been a substantial improvement in the low level of gun homicides in the country. For 2001 the rate was 1.06 per 100,000 people. But before 2001 the rate was never, ever, in any one year at all, lower than 1.67 per cent. That is in contrast, of course, to the United States picture, where 31,000 people are killed a year, and 16,700 of them are actually murdered. There is a rate of 867 guns per 1,000 citizens, and 30 to 40 per cent of homes own them.

If we allow a wider proliferation of gun ownership in this country, if more people have guns in their hands, then more people have a direct interest in preserving the rights of that lobby group, and its power is enhanced. These are the real issues at hand with regard to gun ownership in this country. The opposition is unfortunately trying to politicise this debate today where the government is providing a series of measures. The final throwaway line from the opposition was that they support the measures, but it was accompanied by a lot of rhetoric which was carrying on about border protection and every other issue except that which is at hand today. I commend the legislation.

6:36 pm

Photo of Jason ClareJason Clare (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Home Affairs ) Share this | | Hansard source

Last year at my request the Australian Crime Commission conducted a national investigation of the illegal firearms market. They presented their report to police ministers in June of last year. It is a very serious document. It reveals a black market of a quarter of a million firearms in the hands of criminals.

In the conduct of that investigation, the Australian Crime Commission traced 3,168 firearms that police had seized across the country. That tracing analysis found that 44 per cent of those weapons were not surrendered or registered after the Port Arthur massacre, 12 per cent of those firearms were stolen or involved in staged theft and less than one per cent of those firearms traced by the Crime Commission were illegally imported. In other words, the majority of those weapons that form part of this massive illegal black market are weapons that either were not handed in after the Port Arthur massacre or were stolen. In New South Wales alone, 10 firearms are stolen every week. In the last decade, 7,000 weapons have been stolen in New South Wales and not recovered. I read in a South Australian newspaper today that there have been more than 11,000 weapons stolen in South Australia in the last decade.

All of this fuels that black market. Criminals do try to import weapons. We have seen evidence of that. One illegal gun import is one too many. That is why I have established a Firearms Intelligence and Targeting Team inside Customs, and it is getting results. It is working with the New South Wales police, as well as the FBI, the ATF and the DEA in the United States. They broke a gun-running syndicate only late last year. It is also why I have brought forward this legislation, but it must be clearly understood that this is one small part of what is a massive illegal firearms market: a quarter of a million guns in the hands of criminals across the country.

If we are serious and if we are going to tackle this illegal firearms market then we need to tackle it from every angle—not just on the border but on the street. We need to make sure our police have got the powers they need to seize those weapons off the criminals that are infesting Western Sydney and shooting up streets. We need to make sure that our law enforcement authorities have got the powers that they need to break the code of silence surrounding people that are too afraid to talk and to give information to police. We have to improve our ability to trace the firearms that police do seize. We have got to strengthen laws—and this is an example of that—and harden the border.

I put a package of reforms to police ministers in June last year and got their in-principle support for a package. This legislation is the first of these reforms. It introduces tough new penalties for firearms trafficking across state and national borders. It creates new aggravated offences for people who traffic 50 or more firearms or firearm parts either within Australia or across its borders. The maximum penalty for these offences will be life in jail, which is the same maximum penalty for drug trafficking. Additionally, the bill expands existing offences to cover the trafficking of firearm parts as well as the trafficking of firearms. It will also create new offences relating to the trafficking of firearms across Australia's national borders. This will send a strong message that trafficking in firearms and the violence that it creates will not be tolerated.

As I said, this bill is just one part of a package of reforms that I took to state and territory police ministers last year. These reforms have been agreed in principle, but there is now a lot of work to do to ensure that they are fully implemented. They include, firstly, the establishment of a national firearms register. There are firearms registers in each state and territory. According to the federal agency CrimTrac, about 14,000 firearms disappear off these registries ever year and can slip into the black market. We need to fix this, and that is the purpose of a national firearms registry.

The next thing we agreed on was the in-principle rollout of an Australian ballistics identification network nationwide. This is effectively technology that enables police to identify, from the firearm they seize, the firearm's involvement in previous crimes. It is like DNA testing for stolen weapons. The New South Wales police have this technology and so do the federal police. We need to roll it out to all police across the country. That is what we agreed to in principle last year.

We also need to improve the skills and the training of our law enforcement officers across the country in the tracing analysis that they do of firearms. For that purpose, this month I am bringing to Australia experts from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to train state police, federal police and Customs officers. I mentioned the Firearms Intelligence and Targeting Team that I have established in Customs and the work that it is doing. In addition to that, one of those officers has now been embedded inside the New South Wales police. This makes sure that officers are working together with a common aim. The next step is to embed Customs officers in similar squads and similar task forces right across the country.

If we are serious about this and if we are serious about making sure that we get these guns of the streets, I think we need to go one step further and give police the powers that they really need to go and get these guns. What I am talking about here is the power for police to randomly search serious repeat offenders for guns. Police know who most of these criminals are, but people are too afraid to talk. We need to give them the power to go and get these guns. If someone is a serious criminal and they have a record of using firearms then police should have the power to stop them and search them for guns at any time. South Australia has laws like this at the moment and I have asked state police ministers across the country to consider implementing this as well. If we are serious about this, if we are serious about tackling this a quarter of a million firearms on the streets of Australia, then this is what we have to do. We have to tackle this from every angle.

This bill also makes important improvements to laws that allow our law enforcement agencies to target unexplained wealth—the ill-gotten gains of the actions of organised criminals. They are very important reforms. They are the first stage in the implementation of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement. The Attorney-General's Department at the moment is consulting with our federal law enforcement agencies in preparation for the implementation of the other recommendations in that report. The key one in that report was the recommendation of the committee that the states and territories of this country refer their powers to the Commonwealth to create national unexplained wealth laws so that there are no soft spots across the country, no safe havens and no place for criminals to hide their assets—the same law across the country. It will give police more powers to seize the cash, the cars, the homes and the assets of these criminals.

I have spoken to police who are at the centre of the drive-by shootings in Western Sydney, and their advice to me is pretty plain. They say the best way to break these gangs is to seize their assets, to take their cash off them. A lot of them are gen Y criminals. It is all about the power and status that comes with the crime—and power comes from money, which enables them to pay off the people who are involved in the criminal enterprise. Take their cash and you take their power. They are often more afraid of losing their money than they are of going to jail. That is why these laws are so important.

As I said, money creates power in the criminal underworld. The more powers we can give our law enforcement agencies here, the more it can help to alter the balance of power on the street and undermine the influence of these criminals. If states do as our Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement has recommended—and it is a bipartisan recommendation; both sides of the House think this is the way to go—if states agree to give the Commonwealth these powers to create these laws, then states will have the option of using their existing unexplained wealth laws and asset seizure laws or using these laws as well. So they give up nothing. Any concern the states have that they will lose out from this is a concern that is misplaced. This will only add to the powers of state police and add to the ability of states to recover more assets.

In the course of this debate, one member of the opposition said that this was a good thing and asked why the government was not implementing it straightaway, and then another member of the opposition said that this was just a distraction. Well, the Australian Federal Police Association and the Police Federation of Australia do not think it is a distraction. The police in Western Sydney do not think it is a distraction. They think it is a critical part of the armoury that police need: seize their cash, seize their assets and shift the balance of power on the street. So I back these calls. I back the recommendation of our committee, and I will work as hard as I can this year to see it implemented.

I put this case to attorneys-general last year, twice. I asked them for these powers, and on both occasions they rejected that. I think that is a mistake. I think our committee got it right. I think it is a bad decision by the states to think that national laws here will not help. I will continue to prosecute the case for these laws and for national antigang laws this year. This is a good bill. I thank the opposition for their support for this bill. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.