House debates

Monday, 22 September 2014


Crimes Legislation Amendment (Unexplained Wealth and Other Measures) Bill 2014; Second Reading

8:51 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This week I have received many emails and comments on Twitter and Facebook about how the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, is as close as possible to the Liberal Party and the government on national security. I want to point out that most of the legislation in this House is actually supported by both sides of the chamber, and that has been the case for most parliaments. I have only been here since the 42nd Parliament, but it is the case that both sides generally support 80 per cent of the legislation that comes before this chamber. The 43rd Parliament was a little bit different with a minority government and the now Prime Minister who upped the anti by saying 'No' to commonsense legislation. That was an anomaly, most often governments and oppositions work together because they are looking at the national interest.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the Labor Party will be supporting this piece of legislation. In fact, this legislation was written by the Labor Party. This bill is almost word-for-word identical to the previous Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012. That bill was introduced into the House on 28 November 2012 and passed on 5 February 2013. Unfortunately, while the bill was introduced into the Senate on 6 February 2013, it lapsed with the sad demise of the 43rd Parliament in September 2013. Hence, I congratulate Minister Keenan on bringing Labor legislation back to the House so that it might become the law of the land.

The unexplained-wealth laws enable a court to issue a declaration unless the subject of proceedings can establish that his or her wealth was lawfully acquired. An assessment is made of the quantum of unexplained wealth and then the subject of the declaration must pay the amount to the relevant jurisdiction. Unexplained-wealth laws are a powerful tool against organised crime. They enable authorities to seize assets that exceed a person's legitimate wealth. This enables the targeting of criminal kingpins who profit from crime without being directly involved in the commission of an offence.

Labor led the way in implementing unexplained-wealth laws. Commonwealth unexplained-wealth laws have been in place since 2010. However, due to the need for a connection with a constitutional head of power, their application is limited to instances where a connection can be established to a Commonwealth or foreign office or a state offence with a Commonwealth aspect. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement undertook an inquiry into Commonwealth unexplained-wealth legislation and arrangements. The then chair of the committee Chris Hayes—who I always acknowledge as a great member of parliament—has long held a passionate interest and policy expertise in law enforcement matters. The committee's report of March 2012 made an important contribution. That PJCLE recommended in March 2012 that the Commonwealth see the referral of powers from the states and territories in order to legislate for a broad-based national unexplained wealth scheme. The PJCLE found that the unexplained-wealth provisions had not been operating as it had intended when it recommended them in 2009 or as the originating bill first introduced in the same year.

The committee made 18 recommendations for improvement. Recommendations 1, 5 and 8 to 13 worked with specific amendments to the act. Recommendations 2, 3 and 4 concerned the Australian Crime Commission's potential role in supporting unexplained-wealth proceedings. Recommendations 6 and 7 related to improving information sharing between law enforcement agencies and the Australian Taxation Office. Recommendations 14 to 18 related to development of a national unexplained-wealth scheme and international agreements relating to unexplained wealth. Despite assurances from the Commonwealth that the states and territories would continue to obtain any proceeds seized under their own laws, the states and territories have consistently rejected any proposal to refer powers to the Commonwealth and thereby enable a single national scheme.

In June 2013 former police commissioners Mick Palmer and Ken Moroney were appointed by the then minister Jason Clare to negotiate with jurisdictions and to break the deadlock—unfortunately, something that has yet to be achieved. The ABC reported in October 2013 that Mr Palmer and Mr Moroney were due to report to the government within weeks. The minister confirmed recently that this report has indeed been received, but its content and recommendations remain secret. Unfortunately, it seems to be a bit of a habit that the government says one thing in opposition and then does a completely different thing when in government. In government Minister Keenan has failed to keep faith with his rhetoric in opposition. Once again, they said one thing in opposition and then did the opposite. They are almost in the running for gold medals when it comes to hypocrisy. Minister Keenan criticised the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organise Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012 on the grounds that it only implemented six of the 18 recommendations of the PJCLE, and now he brings that very same legislation into this 44th Parliament.

Speaking on the 2012 bill, Minister Keenan said:

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.

However the bill before the chamber right now does not contain new provisions concerning the work of the ACC. Minister Keenan was using sheer mindless rhetoric when he spoke on the 2012 bill, and his own legislation proves the point—he is hoisted on his own petard. Now Minister Keenan is hoping that short memories will protect him from the fact that in government he has been marked by reality and his inflated claims and fearmongering while in opposition have not survived first contact in government.

The bill does not contain new provisions concerning the work of the Australian Crime Commission. In opposition Minister Keenan was always keen to condemn the Labor government for the level of resourcing enjoyed by agencies such as the ACC, the Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police. Despite Minister Keenan's overblown political rhetoric in opposition, the May budget revealed that the Justice portfolio is anything but immune from Treasurer Hockey's savage budget cuts. The Abbott government announced as part of the 2014-15 budget that it will increase the AUSTRAC supervisory levy. When speaking in the chamber on AUSTRAC, Minister Keenan said:

AUSTRAC does provide a very valuable service but we believe that it is not reasonable to come back and ask the 199 largest users to cover the costs of its running.

However, having denounced Labor's measures in 2011, Minister Keenan effectively demonstrated that he said one thing before the election and then did another in government. I am sure that he will apologise for doing so when he comes to sum up this legislation later. The Australian Federal Police also got its share of empty opposition rhetoric. During a press conference in 2013, Minister Keenan criticised Labor's cuts to the AFP's budget, stating that 'Australia's national security becomes weaker with this latest cut to the AFP's budget'. The May budget exposed that $11.7 million was axed from the Australian Federal Police. These cuts will have a direct impact on the AFP's ability to protect our community, with more than 300 AFP jobs now at risk because of these cuts. These cuts prove that the Abbott government was prepared to say anything to get elected, but that in government that they are quick to break their promises—they folded like Superman on washing day, Madam Speaker.

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! It being 9pm, I interrupt the honourable member and propose the question:

That the House do now adjourn.