Wednesday, 12 August 2015
Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015; Second Reading
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is so good to see you up there in the chair. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015 delivers on the government's continuing commitment to implement tough and effective measures to assist in the fight against crime. The measures in this bill will help make our streets, homes and communities safer. Fighting and preventing criminal activity is a key priority for this government since only safe communities can become safe, strong and prosperous communities.
I take this opportunity to thank the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights for their constructive contributions to this debate. I have formally responded to both committees. I also thank the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for its consideration of the bill. That committee recommended that the bill be passed subject to the Commonwealth, states and territories considering a review of under-age sex offences to ensure they are consistent with the forced marriage offences in the bill. My department will work with the states and territories, as appropriate, to consider the relevant laws and arrangements. I also thank honourable members who have contributed to the debate on this bill.
I would now like to address some of the key points that have been raised. The member for Batman, who joins us in the chamber, has suggested that the' knowingly concerned' measure is uncertain in its scope and application. The measure will be inserted into section 11.2 of the Criminal Code and will apply in the same manner as existing forms of secondary criminal liability, namely measures which make it illegal to aid, abet, counsel or procure an offence.
In order to be guilty of being knowingly concerned in the commission of an offence the person must have intentionally involved themselves in the commission of an offence. 'Knowingly concerned' is not intended to capture situations where a person innocently or unknowingly participates in a crime or associates with an offender. While 'knowingly concerned' has not been part of the Criminal Code in recent times it has a significant history in federal legislation and currently forms part of the Australian Capital Territory's Criminal Code—hardly a jurisdiction that is known for its right-wing views on criminal matters. This means that there is a large body of case law for prosecutors and courts to draw upon when assessing new cases under this provision. The member for Batman also argued against this measure on the basis that the Model Criminal Code Officers Committee, which was established in the 1990s to develop a model criminal code for all jurisdictions, did not support it.
The majority of jurisdictions have not adopted the model code or even enacted reforms to the principles of criminal responsibility that ministers agreed to over a decade ago. In addition, the extension of liability is generally more applicable to Commonwealth offences, such as fraud and drug importation. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth has endeavoured to ensure that its Criminal Code is as consistent as possible with the model code. However, the committee's historical decision to omit 'knowingly concerned' from the model code should not prevent the government from making important reforms to matters within its jurisdiction where an operational need exists. In this case, there is a clear indication from Commonwealth law enforcement and the prosecutorial agencies that in practice at the Commonwealth level the absence of a provision for knowingly concerned is a deficiency.
The member for Batman has also suggested that a further public consultation process, in addition to the one that the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee has already undertaken, is required before it will support the knowingly-concerned measure. The Attorney-General's Department liaises with stakeholders and relevant professional bodies when appropriate to do so. The department also consults state and territory governments, as necessary, on cross-jurisdictional reforms. However, the measures in this bill are designed to equip Commonwealth law-enforcement agencies with the tools they need to investigate and prosecute Commonwealth crimes. Accordingly, the bill was primarily informed by these agencies' assessment of emerging crime trends and operational gaps. Just as other Australian jurisdictions prepare laws to suit their requirements, it is appropriate that Commonwealth laws be adapted to support our agencies respond to the day-to-day challenges they face in investigating and prosecuting Commonwealth offences.
The member for Batman also suggested, in his contribution, that it is preferable to increase the maximum penalties for firearms offences as opposed to introducing a mandatory minimum sentence. The maximum penalties for firearms offences, under the Criminal Code Act 1995, are imprisonment for 10 years, a fine of $425,000 or both. The government considers it appropriate to introduce a mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment rather than increase the maximum penalty.
We believe the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences will act as a stronger disincentive for people seeking to illegally import and export firearms and firearms parts into and out of Australia. This is a similar view to that of the United Kingdom government, which has introduced mandatory minimum sentences for firearms-trafficking offences. The member for Batman also suggested that we have failed to explain the need for mandatory sentencing. The government considers that illegal firearms trafficking is a serious offence worthy of mandatory minimum penalties. This sends a strong message on the seriousness with which the government takes gun related crime and violence, and it is appropriate that the new mandatory minimum sentences capture all offenders who engage in the illicit firearms trade not just those who trade in large numbers of firearms or parts.
The entry of even a small number of illegal firearms into the Australian community can have a significant impact on the threat posed by the illicit market and, due to the enduring nature of firearms, a firearm can remain within that market for many years. Regardless of the number of articles that have been trafficked it is necessary to put in place substantial penalties on all trafficking offences—with the aim of preventing even one more firearm from entering the illicit market.
This bill makes a range of important amendments to combat serious criminal activity, support our law-enforcement agencies and ensure that the Commonwealth criminal laws remain comprehensive and up-to-date. The bill will impose tough mandatory minimum penalties for firearms trafficking and the supply of firearms and firearms parts to the illicit market. These measures will ensure that the punishments for these serious offences are commensurate with the threat to Australian society posed by gun related crime.
The bill will improve the operation of the serious drug and precursor offences in the Criminal Code. These amendments will support the government's response to the growing problem of methamphetamine and ice, and the widespread devastation and destruction this drug causes. The amendments will improve our ability to bring to justice those who seek to profit from the trade in illicit drugs, and will ensure that they face severe punishments for their crimes.
This government is committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our society. The bill will clearly demonstrate this commitment by increasing the penalties for forced marriage offences, and it will expand the definition of 'forced marriage' in the Criminal Code. These offences will assist authorities to protect potential victims and will punish offenders appropriately for this insidious crime.
The bill will also strengthen Australia's war crimes regime by simplifying and clarifying war crimes offences relating to violations of dignity of deceased persons in non-international conflict zones. These amendments support Australia's international obligations and reflect our strong commitment to hold those responsible for atrocities in conflict zones to account.
The bill also contains a range of measures that reflect the government's ongoing commitment to supporting law-enforcement agencies and to providing them with effective and appropriate tools and powers. In order to bolster Australia's tough response to money laundering and terrorism financing, the bill will make several amendments to address enforceability issues and redress operational constraints identified by Austrac.
The coalition government has made an election commitment to stamp out corruption within Australia's law enforcement and border enforcement agencies. To support this important commitment the bill empowers the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner to perform their functions efficiently and effectively, whilst also providing sufficient safeguards around the exercise of those functions. The bill will also improve the efficiency and effectiveness of special operations and investigations undertaken by the Australian Crime Commission.
Finally, the bill contains a range of measures aimed at ensuring that the Commonwealth's criminal offence regime remains robust and effective. It is imperative that people who actively participate in crime can be prosecuted for their behaviour.
The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill delivers on the government's continuing commitment to tackle crime and keep our community safe. It does so by providing our law enforcement agencies with the tools and the powers they need to do the job and by ensuring that Commonwealth laws are robust and effective.
The bill continues to reflect the government's unwavering efforts to target criminals and reduce the heavy cost of crime for all Australians. I again thank those who have participated in this debate and I commend the bill, in its unamended form, to the House.