House debates

Monday, 22 February 2010


Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity Committee; Report

8:49 pm

Photo of Melissa ParkeMelissa Parke (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, I present the committee’s report entitled Inquiry into the operation of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006: interim report.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

I am very pleased to speak tonight to the tabling of the interim report of the Joint Standing Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity into the terms and operation of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006. As the committee chair, I will begin by thanking the deputy chair, Senator Johnston, and all my fellow committee members for their work on this inquiry. On behalf of the committee, I thank everyone who appeared before us or who made submissions to the inquiry—and especially those who took the time to do both.

Can I also, on behalf of the committee, thank the secretariat and support staff for their diligence, professionalism and hard work. I spoke last year in recognition of the great contribution made to the committee’s work and to the work of the parliament by the departing committee secretary, Jacqui Dewar. Can I take this opportunity to welcome the new committee secretary, Tim Watling, who is continuing the national parliament’s tradition of very high quality public service in support of elected members like myself. I would also like to thank Shona Batge, who acted as committee secretary in the intervening period, and Robyn Clough, who has continued her valuable role as principal research officer throughout.

The review of the act that forms the legislative basis for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity is timely, considering we are three years into the existence of this agency, and considering that it was always envisaged that the scope, powers and responsibilities of the commission and the commissioner, would be reviewed and adjusted as it developed. The review also provides the opportunity to consider ACLEI’s position and function with respect to the current policy environment and to ensure that the act enables the commissioner to respond to the challenges inherent in that environment. Examples include the heightened public expectation of government and government agencies when it comes to transparency and accountability in their operations and decision making and the imperative, at both the domestic and international level, to maintain law enforcement integrity arrangements and standards.

I have noted in the past the fact that one of ACLEI’s founding rationales is the particular vulnerability of law enforcement agencies to infiltration or corruption because of the areas in which they operate and the nature of their work—largely decentralised, with officers having a high degree of discretion and autonomy with frequent exposure to criminal elements. It is out of recognition of a similar level of corruption risk that this interim report recommends the immediate extension of ACLEI’s jurisdiction to include the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. It has been noted, both by ACLEI and by the chief executive officer of Customs, that the intrinsic aspects of Customs work, essentially functioning as a law enforcement agency, make the agency a target for infiltration or corruption, especially by serious and organised crime.

Just as ACLEI was not established in response to any particular instance of corruption or any evidence of systemic integrity shortcomings within the Australian Federal Police or the Australian Crime Commission, this recommendation to extend ACLEI’s scope is not born of any concern for the integrity or propriety of the current operation of the Customs and Border Protection Service per se. Indeed, the committee notes and commends the work undertaken by Customs to improve its internal integrity arrangements. Nevertheless, the committee believes that those existing processes will be complemented and strengthened by the addition of ACLEI’s external scrutiny and corruption prevention assistance.

The recommended immediate extension of ACLEI’s jurisdiction will have resource implications, so the committee further recommends that the government provide the necessary additional staff and funding for this purpose. There is significant evidence telling us that anticorruption and integrity systems and oversight should not wait for the malaise of corruption to break out but rather should be applied as part of a program and a culture of constant vigilance. That was the approach that gave rise to the creation of ACLEI in the first place and it is the same logic that recommends the extension of ACLEI’s scope to cover the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

A number of the further recommended changes to the act follow this essential logic—that prevention is always better than a cure—none more than the recommendation to include explicit corruption detection and prevention functions under section 15 of the act. These additions will remove any existing ambiguity about the role of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner and will provide a clear legislative basis for the commissioner’s work in an area that the ACLEI committee considers central to a proactive and comprehensive approach to law enforcement integrity in Commonwealth agencies.

This interim report by the ACLEI committee on its review of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act is an instalment in what has been a steady, judicious program of looking to see how the integrity commission and the work of the commissioner can be better framed and better supported. The committee’s final report on its review of the act will be presented to the House later this year. I commend the report to the House.

8:54 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in relation to the interim report of the review of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act. In doing so, I would like to acknowledge the work by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, and the excellent work by the chair of the committee, who has just spoken, my parliamentary colleagues and the support staff. The interim report has come about because the committee agreed to a two-stage reporting process, with the final report to be tabled later this year. During its hearings, the committee received evidence which indicated that there may be gaps in the Commonwealth’s integrity systems and the committee also considered that there were several issues which, perhaps, required more immediate attention. I will refer to those issues shortly, but first I will give some background.

ACLEI was formed to provide oversight of the Commonwealth law enforcement agencies—the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission. It is worth noting, as the previous speaker has, that ACLEI was not created because of any findings of misconduct or corruption in these agencies. That does not mean, of course, that corruption does not exist and this leads me to one of the key recommendations of the interim report, which relates to the need to broaden ACLEI’s area of responsibility to include the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. I would like to refer to the comments made during the inquiry by the Integrity Commissioner, Mr Philip Moss, when he outlined what he believes are the inherent corruption risks for Customs, particularly in its law enforcement roles.

I stress again that just indicating that certain activities may have an inherent corruption risk is not to say that corruption is in fact occurring, is rife or is actually a problem. It is simply indicating that the activities being undertaken by such an agency, in this case the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, may make it an attractive target for corrupt activities. This report is certainly not implying that Customs has a major problem with corruption, although some allegations have been made. The committee heard some evidence from a range of witnesses about the high corruption risk within the Customs service due to the nature of the work that is performed by that agency, and there have been some quite serious allegations made. The report does not comment on the veracity of those allegations.

I refer to Mr Moss’s comments, which are recorded in the report, in reference to Customs. These, perhaps, are the justification for why the committee has made its recommendation. Mr Moss has indicated that Customs:

… is a decentralised agency with officers having a high degree of discretion and autonomy in those decentralised locations.

He also goes on to say that:

Customs and Border Protection would be attractive to organised crime—and, in saying ‘organised crime’, I also say to you ‘transnational organised crime’—who have an interest in breaching the border. So Customs is protecting the border and it is in the interests of crime, both national and transnational, to breach it. The other phenomenon that is occurring in this area is that Customs is pushing protection of the border offshore into countries where corruption is sometimes an accepted business practice. So, for those reasons and possibly others as well, I think that Customs and Border Protection would be well suited to inclusion in ACLEI’s jurisdiction.

That is certainly a strong statement by the Integrity Commissioner and it is reflected in the recommendations made by the committee to have the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service included under ACLEI’s jurisdiction on a whole-of-agency basis. The committee also supports the extension of ACLEI’s jurisdiction by means of regulation as a perhaps more timely measure than going down the legislative route. It would be anticipated that legislation would ultimately be required to prescribe Customs as a law enforcement agency within the LEIC Act.

I stress that, within the context of the report and the previous member’s comments, it would be anticipated that there would be a need for additional resources for ACLEI to properly take on such a new role if the government proceeds down the route which has been recommended. It is recommended that ACLEI will need to be fully and appropriately staffed and funded for the expanded role in detecting, preventing and investigating corruption in any agency, particularly one with the size and great complexity of the Customs Service.

In relation to the issue of whole-of-agency involvement I referred to earlier, the committee has received evidence that it is important for all staff within any agency brought within ACLEI’s areas of responsibility to be included within such a definition—that is, the area of responsibility should not be limited to just the law enforcement staff of a particular agency. It was the committee’s view that it would be a double standard if other staff were somehow excluded. People can be involved in a whole range of different responsibilities that may well be soft targets for some form of corrupt activity.

In the time that I have left, I would like to refer to ACLEI’s role in education and prevention of corruption. The committee believes it is essential that ACLEI continues, and in fact expands, its role in corruption detection and prevention activities and that that role should be specifically included within the functions of the act. It is a recommendation in the interim report that I strongly endorse. By its nature, corruption can be very difficult to detect, and there are very complex issues, particularly in dealing with individuals who have a knowledge of the system. (Time expired)

Photo of Janelle SaffinJanelle Saffin (Page, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Does the member for Fremantle wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?

9:00 pm

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the House take note of the report.

In accordance with standing order 39, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. Does the member for Fremantle wish to move a motion to refer the matter to the Main Committee?