House debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018


Unexplained Wealth Legislation Amendment Bill 2018; Second Reading

12:06 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great pleasure to make a contribution to the Unexplained Wealth Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 on behalf of the Labor opposition. We believe that this bill is a step forward in the quest to establish a national unexplained wealth scheme in Australia and that that's a good thing. I don't want to overstate our enthusiasm, because people who have been watching this debate will note that there's only one state that's opted in to be a part of the scheme. That's New South Wales. Nonetheless, anything that enhances the opportunity for us to take the profit out of crime is, in Labor's view, a good thing, and that's why we're supporting the bill before the House.

The reason that we need an unexplained wealth scheme in Australia is because, unfortunately, some of the people who profit the most out of crime are people who are not directly committing crimes themselves. What we often observe in organised crime networks is people sitting at the top who have extraordinary wealth that can't properly be explained by the income that appears to be coming legally into that household. This is an instance where an unexplained wealth order is the perfect way that police forces, whether they be state or federal, can get to the bottom of what is behind this wealth.

Before I turn to the detail of the bill, I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge the incredible agencies that underpin the work that's before the House at the moment. This includes the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC, state and territory police forces and many other agencies that are in charge of making sure Australians are safe. Australia is one of the safest countries in the world, and that is in large part due to the hard work and dedication of the outstanding people who volunteer to put themselves in harm's way every day so the rest of us can walk the streets of this country safely.

One of the most privileged parts of this role that I have as the shadow minister for justice is having the opportunity to actually meet and speak with these people who work in law enforcement all over the country. I always ask them one question in the conversations that we have: what is one thing that the federal parliament can do to make your job easier and to make you more effective in your quest to make Australia a safer place? Without question, the most common response I get from people is that we need to work harder to take the profit out of crime.

Serious and organised crime is a very significant problem in Australia. Estimates suggest that this is costing our country's economy somewhere around $36 billion every year. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission estimates that this equates to somewhere around $1,500 out of every individual Australian's pocket every year. It is an enormous cost to our economy and it adds somewhere around 6.3 per cent to the average cost of living. So this is a very important endeavour to try to ensure that we can better crack down on the people who are committing these crimes and who are creating these problems for us as a country.

Unexplained wealth orders are one mechanism by which the federal parliament can assist police in making sure that they are able to keep our streets safe. The Proceeds of Crime Act is a related legislative regime, but the difference with proceeds of crime is that we first need to prove the commission of an offence before we go after the assets that are the result of that crime. Unexplained wealth orders operate in the other direction. Essentially what we need to do is find a situation where someone has extraordinary wealth that doesn't seem to meet their level of credible income, and we can then go into that person's finances if there is belief that there is proof of a crime to come. These orders are extremely valuable for combating serious organised crime. As I mentioned, often those who are profiting the most from crime are cleverly keeping themselves at arm's length from the actual commission of wrongdoing. That can't be allowed.

Because of constitutional limitations, unexplained wealth orders at the Commonwealth level are quite limited. Of course, members in this parliament will hopefully understand that section 51 of our Constitution limits the powers of our federal parliament, and the residual powers that sit outside the things listed in section 51 sit with the states. The issue with unexplained wealth is that, if no commission of an offence is proven up-front, we can't prove that the federal parliament and the Australian Federal Police should actually have any jurisdiction over the crimes that we believe have been committed. That's why the unexplained wealth regimes work well at a state level but, federally, we haven't been able to prove a substantial use for these laws. That's the reason why creating a national scheme is something that successive governments have been trying to do for quite some time.

There is a lot of agreement in the law enforcement community that not having a national scheme is a problem that needs to be fixed. Two former police commissioners, Mr Ken Moroney AO APM and Mr Mick Palmer AO APM, undertook an independent report of the panel on unexplained wealth in 2014. That report recommended creating a national scheme to address this quite significant need for us to address the issues of unexplained wealth that I have described. The bill would extend the existing Commonwealth unexplained wealth regime to offences that are referred by state governments and relevant offences in the Northern Territory. As I mentioned, Labor will support this bill as it is the first step in a long process towards establishing a national unexplained wealth regime.

I would like to speak about a number of concerns that were expressed by stakeholders through the parliamentary process that this bill has gone through. An unexplained wealth regime does have some issues where well-established principles of law that protect us have to be amended for us to be able to put unexplained wealth laws into our parliamentary context. They are valid concerns—they really are—and that's why I want to draw them out in this discussion. They are things like the abrogation of legal professional privilege, the privilege against self-incrimination, issues around use and derivative use immunity, and immunity from liability. These are all core principles in law that essentially allow individuals to protect themselves from admitting to liability for crimes. In some senses, the unexplained wealth regime probably doesn't technically sit well with those principles.

What I want the stakeholders who have made a contribution to this discussion to understand is that the bill before us is not changing any powers that the federal government has over individuals. It's not changing the powers of police in any way. It's just extending existing powers over new offences. There is a debate to be had, perhaps, about unexplained wealth regimes, but this bill is really not the place to do that. I believe we have a good structure in place and we have some really good protections, too, that are enshrined in law.

One of the protections is a judicial discretion to refuse to grant an order when the amount is less than $100,000. That's a protection under the federal regime. It doesn't exist under a lot of state regimes. What that means is that in some state regimes police can use unexplained wealth orders for what are really quite small crimes. I think the people who have worked on this legislative regime over a long of time have agreed that if we are going to abrogate these legal principles, we're going to do it in cases where we believe there are incredibly serious crimes that have been committed.

That's why, when we talk about unexplained wealth, we're usually talking about a regime that is designed to apprehend the kingpins who sit at the top of organised crime networks, or at least people who are in some way party to organised criminal activities. This is not about someone stealing CDs out of a car and then having their legal rights stripped from them; this is about trying to tackle criminals who are incredibly expert at hiding their crimes. In this chamber, as the people who support law enforcement, we need to help those people who are law enforcers to build a skills set and have a set of legal rights that lets them get behind those networks of bank accounts and assets being put around the world, where we know that criminals are often hiding their money.

The current federal law has the judicial discretion to refuse to grant an order when the amount under question is less than $100,000. Again, this goes to that point about targeting people whose wealth is really quite immense and extreme. There is also judicial discretion to refuse to grant an order when it's not in the general public interest. That's a generalised concern—perhaps for where we have a court which considers, for whatever reason, that the legal rights being abrogated in this regime are not worthwhile for the interests of justice. And there is a judicial discretion to exclude certain property from the scope of the order, or to revoke an order when that is in the public interest or the interests of justice to do so.

So I point out to the parliament and to the very learned people who participate in these debates that while I accept that there are issues with this regime I'm also very confident that the federal law actually provides quite good protections and that they're often better than the protections that are provided by the states. In a sense, we have a Commonwealth regime which is taking some of those powers from the states and establishing them in a national framework. I think that's actually going to enhance the protections for a lot of Australians. The protections that apply to this regime also apply to a broader range of offences—again, supporting that point.

In thinking about whether to support this bill, and given some of the issues that were raised, really, the question for Labor was not, 'Is our national unexplained wealth regime perfect?' but, 'Would we like to see a national model, hopefully, at some stage progressing further, rather than enacting one where we have just one state joining—New South Wales?' The answer to that question is, of course, 'Yes, that's a very desirable thing.'

When I discussed this bill with the Australian Federal Police, they talked to me about some of the specific challenges that they face in tackling serious and organised crime without a national scheme. They were very clear that they do need a national approach to help our agencies catch the kingpins who are profiting from some very genuinely and seriously awful crime. We're talking about drug crime, major fraud syndicates and even human trafficking, often at the end of the line. We are absolutely committed to keeping Australians safe and to providing law enforcement with the powers that they need to do their jobs effectively. For that reason, we will support the bill.

The legislation is a step in the right direction, as I hope I have explained properly to the chamber. I don't see this as a game changer. We've got the framework for a national scheme. We've only got one state that has opted in thus far, but I hope that will change over time. But it's certainly not the beginning and the end of what we need to see being done more effectively when it comes to law enforcement. One of the deep frustrations I've had with the various people on the other side of the chamber who've been in charge of this portfolio is this consistent talking a big game about law and order. But when it comes down to budget time and to doing really fundamental things that are important to keeping Australians safe, such as funding the Australian Federal Police, I find the government falling short.

In the 2018-19 budget, the government cut the AFP's core federal police work by $139 million over the coming four years. We were able to follow that up through the Senate estimates process, asking, 'What does $139 million look like when we're talking about people in uniform who are out on the street protecting Australians?' During that process, the Australian Federal Police commissioner confirmed that this would result in a cut of 567 AFP personnel over the forward estimates. That's because of the Turnbull government's cuts.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Hotham will resume her seat. The assistant minister on a point of order?

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

On direct relevance. The member is not speaking to the bill.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll listen carefully to the member for Hotham. Obviously in terms of the bill that is before the House, there are confines around the subject matter. I will listen to the member for Hotham and simply say that any remarks need to be associated with or related to the bill.

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. We are talking here about law enforcement and the tools that law enforcement have to fight crime in our country, so I think the Australian Federal Police and its resourcing is quite relevant to the subject. I think the minister may not agree because he doesn't want to front up to the 567 personnel that will be cut over the forward estimates. He should be willing to stand up to defend his own budget.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

If the member for Hotham can just pause for a second. I'm just going to point this out for the benefit of the House, if that's okay—it's too early in the day to get grumpy. Ordinarily there is some tolerance, in fairness to the member for Hotham, except on this occasion, this bill does have a restricted long and short title. It is really relating to the scheme itself, so I think this is a narrower debate. I just make that point to the member for Hotham.

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you so much, Mr Speaker. I very much appreciate your guidance. The urgent need is for law enforcement to have the resources and the tools that they need, and we are pleased to see a small step being made towards assisting the Australian Federal Police officers who put a uniform on every day to try to protect Australians. It's important that they have the resources to do that. I think I've said enough about that.

Labor is absolutely committed to making sure that the 25 million people who have made the decision to call Australia their home have full safety. We're very lucky today and we do live in one of the safest countries in the world, but we also know that organised crime is a significant and growing problem. Each year $36 billion is being wasted whilst criminals, in some instances, live in the lap of luxury on money that they did not lawfully acquire. It's important that law enforcement have the tools they need to fight those crimes. We're very pleased to support the bill.

12:22 pm

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always good to see you in the chair, Mr Speaker. The point of the Unexplained Wealth Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 is really quite straightforward: if you do the crime, you don't keep the dime.

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

How long have you been working on that one?

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is the basis on which I support this legislation. It isn't just that if you do the crime, you don't keep the dime—just to repeat it for the interjecting member—but also, of course, if you find the dime and you've done the crime, there's a consequence. The actions of organised crime syndicates often have tragic human consequences like theft, violence and, in the worst cases, of course, loss of life.

There are also economic costs associated with criminal behaviour. The wealth accumulation of criminals costs this country tens of billions of dollars each year. They engage in behaviour like illicit tobacco, which I spoke about recently. We have seen people take advantage of government policy that creates high consumer surplus for interchangeable products, and they don't deserve their wealth. What they do deserve is justice. These crooks use to their advantage discreet monetary networks across jurisdictional boundaries and borders to undermine the rule of law; to undermine decent, legal activity; and to the benefit solely of themselves at the expense of our community, the government and our nation at large. That's why a national approach is necessary for our law enforcement agencies with the tools to seize back the wealth that has been taken nefariously and that they acquire by robbing our communities of their health, wellbeing and safety.

That's what this bill seeks to achieve. It recognises that, where people work hard, earn, save, pay taxes and operate in the regular economy, their effort is rewarded and respected. It ensures that those who seek to circumvent that process to their own advantage and to society's detriment will face justice. This bill will allow the Australian Federal Police to confiscate the assets of criminals that obtain their wealth illegally by engaging in illegal practices. It will also allow state and territory agencies to use lawfully intercepted telecommunications information in unexplained wealth matters. Now, don't misunderstand: in this space where people have wealth, I'm not a big fan of a government coming along, surveying and seeing what people are doing. I'm not a big fan of having a big-brotherish approach, even if it is the Tax Office or the AFP or any other regulatory body intercepting what private citizens are doing lawfully. But where there is a basis that people have been doing things unlawfully at the expense of the community at large—including not just unexplained wealth for their own private benefit but also invariably because of activity that is not taxed and that is not treated equally to those of good citizens who are doing the right thing—we do need to take action.

This scheme was recommended in the Final report of the National Ice Taskforce 2015. I know, from the Goldstein community and from talking to many other members in this place, including often those who are representing disadvantaged communities or those in rural and regional areas, that ice is having a horrendous effect and impact on individuals, families and communities across our great Commonwealth. The government's National Ice Action Strategy is expanding access to early intervention and treatment, particularly for high-risk populations. But we must also choke the supply of illicit drugs.

The scale and the complexity of the drug-peddling criminal networks should not intimidate us in this place. We are here to uphold the rule of law and to make sure that it is enforced. They are lining their pockets with wealth gained from human misery and tragedy. It's encouraging to see such strong cooperation with the states and territories in designing this national cooperative scheme with the leadership of the Commonwealth, particularly the New South Wales government, who introduced the supporting legislation only earlier this year. By creating a national cooperative scheme, the unexplained wealth regimes across all jurisdictions will be strengthened so that we can have the legal framework we need, as a nation, to uphold the rule of law so that those people who do the right thing are rewarded and carry no more of their share of the burden on the community as a whole, and so that those people who do the wrong thing face confiscation and justice and contribute, disproportionately, the consequences of their ill-gotten gains. I recommend the bill to the House.

12:28 pm

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

I rise to support the Unexplained Wealth Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. I have supported the notion of an unexplained wealth bill ever since the first iteration back in 2009. I think it's important that we put strong laws in place to combat serious and organised crime. We need to target the profits of crime and remove the incentive for criminals to engage in criminal enterprise. We also need to empower our law enforcement agencies to defeat the sophisticated methods used by those criminal organisations to avoid detection, often by relying on the assistance of skilled professionals. Nevertheless, those at the high point—those responsible for running criminal enterprises—are normally the ones who escape detection by ensuring that they are far removed from the actual commissioning of a crime itself. We have, on this side, always supported various tools to combat serious and organised crime, such as covert investigative tools like controlled operations, assumed identities or telecommunication interception. What we have done, continually, is to ensure that our police, our law enforcement agencies, have the necessary tools they need to fight contemporary crime.

Back in 2009 I had the opportunity, with the parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, to visit a number of overseas jurisdictions dealing with the issue of serious and organised crime. One thing that became very clear to us—and I suppose this is also clear to all the police officers who serve us in this country—is that serious and organised crime is motivated by greed for power and money. It has serious impacts. It threatens our economy, our national security and, for that matter, the wellbeing of Australians.

The importance of serious and organised crime has already been recognised internationally. In 1997, INTERPOL carried a resolution recommending that all member states adopt effective laws giving law-enforcement officials the power that they need to combat money laundering both domestically and internationally, including the reverse onus of proof in respect of confiscation of alleged proceeds of crime.

Back in 2009, at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in the 18th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, the chair of that organisation had this to say:

… in the past quarter century, the nature of crime has changed. It has become organized and transnational; it has reached macro-economic dimensions; it has turned into a global business operating in collusion with legitimate activity. It has become more than localized violence—it has turned into a widespread threat to the security of cities, states, even entire regions.

The Chair of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime went on to say:

The UN Security Council has dealt with the issue of national security threatened by organized crime in a number of countries. Around the world organized crime has changed strategic doctrines and threat assessments. It is causing alarm among citizens, politicians and media alike.

And he summed up one aspect of the fight against crime when he said:

We face a crime wave that has become a security crisis. It must be stopped before it spreads even more fear, corruption, violence and poverty.

This is the key part. I know it threatened many that had views as to civil liberties. But the key part to his address was this:

The political will of states is mightier than the greed and fire power of criminal groups. Working together does not mean surrendering sovereignty, it means defending it. So let us enforce the rule of law where uncivil society prevails.

What the bill before us does is to simply set a national prescription for matters relating to unexplained wealth. As I said at the start, this is a concept that has certainly been around since 2009, when the then Attorney-General Robert McClelland brought legislation into this place. However, as my colleague over there, the member for La Trobe, will well recall, amendments were made by members on the other side, seeking to protect the civil liberties of individuals—in this case, the civil liberties of criminal elements—that, regrettably, had the effect of ensuring that the unexplained wealth legislation could not be relied upon. As a matter of fact, on its first review, it found that not one single case had been used by the police in respect of stripping criminals of their ill-gotten gains or their criminal assets. I commend the member for La Trobe. I know that many, including former President Senator Stephen Parry, have spoken regularly on the issue of unexplained wealth. More importantly, they have also spoken about ensuring our police have the tools they need to fight contemporary crime.

Organised crime is motivated by money. There's a financial incentive to it. Back in 2009, I think, it was estimated that the cost of organised crime was something like $15 billion, annually, to this nation alone. Making criminals account for their criminal assets or making them explain and put in jeopardy those assets that they can't prove were gained by legal means has been an effective way of disrupting and dismantling criminal enterprise. It's clear from various organisations I visited, both here and overseas, together with the member for La Trobe, that the notion of putting in jeopardy the ill-gotten gains of criminal enterprise was something law enforcement agencies thought had considerable merit.

Interestingly, when we were overseas discussing the notion of unexplained wealth, we were one of the few nations exploring it. There's always been the concept of proceeds of crime. With the actual crime that's been committed—after someone's been caught, prosecuted and convicted of a particular crime—the assets from that crime could be in jeopardy and stripped from them, but not the notion of, if they're caught and found to be a criminal, being able to put in doubt all remaining assets they hold, unless they could prove they were gained by legal means.

This was the concept of attacking the very business model that underpins organised crime itself. Certainly all agencies we visited agreed that unexplained wealth attacks the very heart of organised crime. But there were some caveats put on that, things that people believed were necessary. They didn't understand the concepts of Australian states having different regimes when it came to proceeds of crime. That's been one of the challenges to unexplained wealth. Regrettably, it does get back to the money and where the money goes. As my colleague the member for La Trobe would be more than well aware, when there's a reliance on a federal law, whether it's the AFP or the Crime Commission, to that extent, there's the question: which jurisdiction would receive the proceeds of the crime itself or put a claim in for the unexplained wealth that is stripped from criminal enterprise? It got to a situation where we had each state with a different regime when it came to proceeds of crime. The problem with a federal law was that it only related to a federally determined crime.

What this piece of legislation does, to put it crudely, is set a national prescription, a floor, that all our states and territories and the Australian Federal Police can rely upon in terms of making prosecutions and being able to strip assets that cannot be explained. This is something which I think is a new dimension. It's something that's brought the states closer and closer together. It's no longer a situation where each of the states is talking about what's good for their interests. For the first time the states are showing the reality of dealing with criminal enterprise. That is, criminal groups do not look to a map when they want to commit a crime. They will look to loopholes in jurisdictions where it's least likely they're going to be caught or least likely they're going to be prosecuted. Having a consistent approach is going to strengthen all our law enforcement agencies across the country. It will ensure that they are all in a position to attack the very business model that underpins crime itself—that is, making a profit. Simply, if you can strip the assets of a criminal group, it almost invites them to think about whether or not to get into this enterprise in the first place. That's because, if you're caught, not only can you lose the assets of the crime that you've actually committed but you could be called upon to explain, through a reverse onus of proof where you're responsible, how every other asset that you own was gained by legal means. If you can't explain that, it will be open to the prosecutors through the courts to strip all those assets. This is what we mean when we talk about unexplained wealth.

We met with many jurisdictions. Particularly—as the member for La Trobe will recall—the anti-Mafia police in Italy made it very clear to us that serious criminal groups would be happy to spend time in jail being incarcerated. What they weren't happy about were efforts to take away their assets—their blocks of flats, their houses, their vehicles and all those sorts of things. If you take away their assets, you actually take away more than just a person's identity; you show that these people are completely vulnerable to law-abiding citizens of their country.

Unexplained wealth is a relatively new concept. It protects the community by deliberately attacking serious and organised crime. It's designed to disrupt criminal enterprise itself. The effective notion of unexplained wealth is, as I say, to protect our community and to put criminals out of business to ensure that we can live in a safer environment. To all those police and other law enforcement officers, I have complete respect for the work that you do. You make a difference for the better in our communities. We must provide you with the tools necessary to do your job —(Time expired)

12:43 pm

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This speech on unexplained wealth is a bit like deja vu. I heard the member for Fowler talk about it back in 2009. I'll read some of my speech from back then, but we were nearly cracking the champagne bottles, believing the police would have the best law enforcement tool in the country—that being unexplained wealth orders. I just want to explain the difference to proceeds of crime, which people hear about. Proceeds of crime is more where the police have actually charged a person—obviously a criminal—and they can directly connect that criminal to, say, drug money which has then been used to buy cars or other sorts of assets. That is the proceeds of crime. Unexplained wealth fits in where there's wealth which doesn't match that person's employment. It can have connections to, say, organised criminals, but you normally find they're so far removed now from the actual crimes that they've been able to keep their wealth.

The member for Fowler has been a fantastic ambassador for law enforcement. We went on this inquiry back in 2009 with the former President of the Senate Mr Parry, and the delegation was led by Senator Hutchins at the time. It was a bipartisan delegation with one view of really taking on crime and finding out how we can actually make a difference and give law enforcement tools they can use. Back in 2009, estimates were that in Australia $15 billion was being raised for organised crime, which could easily be taken for unexplained wealth. You find, for example, outlaw motorcycle gangs work in obviously the space of major drugs and major crime—organised crime groups. But, as they move up in organisations—the further they go up the ladder, the more money they have—they are more able to distance themselves from the actual committing of crimes. They then pay other people to do the actual crimes. That's what makes the unexplained wealth legislation so special.

As part of our inquiry in 2009, the delegation went to Canada, the United States, Italy, Austria, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In conjunction with the Australian Crime Commission, the delegation examined serious and organised crime and, basically, put together recommendations for going forward. What we were getting told overseas was that you have to follow the money trail. Serious organised crime is about two things: creating great wealth and creating power. But power will not come unless you have great wealth. If you take the money away—we heard this all the time—you will take the power away; it's as simple as that. In every country we visited, there was a view in law enforcement that you needed to go after the money—follow the money trail.

When we were in Italy we spoke to the anti-Mafia police. Italy's unexplained wealth laws were incredible. I still recall a story—they had a business person who owned I think it was a chain of supermarkets and they actually put orders on that person and seized 280 million euros because they could link that person to having meetings with various associates of organised crime groups. Being an ex-police officer, I know how important it is to go after the money in order to remove what the lieutenants from the Mr Bigs. That is what will make a huge difference.

The legislation did go to the Senate, and changes were made by our good friends in the other place. But I remember one of the disappointing things about this legislation back in 2009 was that those changes meant that the police would have to reveal—this was in a civil jurisdiction—to the defendant any informants the police had. Who would want to give evidence or information to police as an informer and have it handed over to a Mr Big? We know what's going to happen there. That was a crazy recommendation. The other disappointing thing was that unexplained wealth could be used to fund the defence of the person; therefore, there's no incentive ever to finalise a case, and it will go on and on and on. This is where this legislation is really important.

I heard the member for Hotham and I congratulate her for her comments; and I see the member for Mitchell, who has been absolutely passionate about this and about supporting law enforcement. It was great to see members of the Australian Federal Police in the building today—Mark Burgess and his body of men and women representing what I think are now 70,000 members across the country. They appeared before our previous inquiries about law enforcement and absolutely backed the need for unexplained wealth legislation. The problem with the legislation, which has come to light again—and we're here now back in 2018—is that at the Commonwealth level the legislation required a specific link to a Commonwealth offence such as drug trafficking in commercial quantities or fraud at the Commonwealth level. You don't capture the people who may be involved in organised crime where the police can't show a link. It could be they've been involved in, as we saw in Melbourne, armed robberies of jewellery stores, for example. It wouldn't fit under the criteria. What we needed to see—and this is all because of the constitutional restrictions of the states and the Commonwealth—is the states basically handing over their unexplained wealth legislation and using the Commonwealth's, with the agreement of divvying up the proceeds. You'd think this would be an easy thing. In my home state of Victoria, if you put the might and power of the AFP and their resources with that of our great state police, the whole purpose should be to go after the money, but, sadly, it's been stalled by governments, probably of all persuasions.

I definitely make the point now that it's great to see that the New South Wales Liberal government has come on board and have expanded their powers to allow the Commonwealth to use their unexplained wealth provisions. This would also be able to help law enforcement when criminal organisations go across states. For example, you may find a criminal has assets in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. What would be required at the moment is for each state to use their own unexplained wealth legislation. You wouldn't have an umbrella approach. That is why this legislation is so important.

When it comes to the Victorian state government, why would the Labor government refuse to do this? They have their own powers. Their own powers will not give them the same amount of money at a Commonwealth level. Why? Because the Commonwealth can link not only states and territories but also internationally and really make a huge difference. I call on the Daniel Andrews government to really make it an urgent need to get this in place. Queensland and South Australia obviously need to come on board too. This is going to be a fantastic tool at a national level. It's going to help law enforcement. Think about this: it's going to get more money from the people we don't want to have that money—those who commit harm on Australians and also people overseas. I emphasise: this is a great day, now that New South Wales has come on board.

In conclusion, I congratulate the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, for all the amazing work he's done in this space, pushing this cause. At the Commonwealth level, in this building, everyone has worked very closely together. Thank you.

12:52 pm

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As those who have spoken before me noted, the Unexplained Wealth Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 provides a legislative framework at the federal level for a national cooperative scheme on unexplained wealth. I note that this policy was first developed under the former Labor government, which is testimony to this side's commitment to laws and policies to combat crime, particularly serious and organised crime. This bill really improves the Commonwealth's capacity to take profit out of serious and organised crime by extending the Commonwealth regime to referred state offences. While it may seem something quite minor, it has a rather significant impact on the way in which our law enforcement agencies have the capacity to target and combat serious and organised crime. With serious and organised crime, often those who obtain the wealth through the crime are not always directly involved in the commission of the offence. In other words, those who are making money from crime are often the ones who have their hands clean, in terms of actually committing an offence.

Due to constitutional limitations, the current Commonwealth unexplained wealth orders can only be used when a court is reasonably satisfied:

(i) that the person has committed an offence against a law of the Commonwealth, a foreign indictable offence or a State offence that has a federal aspect;

(ii) that the whole or any part of the person's wealth was derived from an offence against a law of the Commonwealth, a foreign indictable offence or a State offence that has a federal aspect.

That means that, in practice, law enforcement must prove a federal link in order to pursue these orders. Because serious and organised crime groups often work across state boundaries—and not just state boundaries but also transnational boundaries as well—it can be rather difficult to detect whether their unexplained wealth derives from a Commonwealth offence or from a state offence. This bill, by creating a national unexplained wealth scheme, allows states to refer power to the Commonwealth and for the proceeds from the scheme to be divided on an equitable basis between the participating jurisdictions, being either a state law enforcement agency or a federal law enforcement agency.

In effect, the bill extends the scope of Commonwealth unexplained wealth restraining orders and unexplained wealth orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act to territory offences. It allows participating state and territory agencies to access Commonwealth information-gathering powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act for the investigation or litigation of unexplained wealth matters under state or territory unexplained wealth legislation. I think there's an important point here about the participating states. At this stage, only New South Wales and the Northern Territory have agreed to be party to this scheme. I think that other state law enforcement agencies are perhaps waiting to see how this regime works out in both New South Wales and the Territory, but particularly in New South Wales. In some states—for example, Western Australia—state-based law enforcement agencies have only just gotten powers around unexplained wealth. So for them it will be a matter of trying what they have at the moment and waiting to see how this scheme works for similar law enforcement agencies in others jurisdictions, like New South Wales.

Labor, as I mentioned earlier, supports measures to combat serious and organised crime. I just want to take a little bit of time here to emphasise the impacts of serious and organised crime for Australia. The economic impacts are around $36 billion a year. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission estimates that that equates to about $1,561 out of every individual Australian's pocket and adds about 6.3 per cent to the average cost of living. There is profit in crime, and we need to be doing everything that we can to take the profit out of crime.

More than that, unexplained wealth and crimes associated with unexplained wealth extend across a whole range of criminal activities. Among them are modern slavery and forced labour. I note that sometime this week, we hope, we'll be speaking about a modern slavery bill here in this House, so it's quite timely that these two bills come before the House at this time. There have been cases, as a matter of fact, of unexplained wealth that do involve modern slavery and forced labour.

On top of that, we have unexplained wealth that works across jurisdictions and across states, but also transnationally. There are connections not just with serious and organised crime but also with terrorism. So it's very timely that Australia has come to this point where we introduce a more robust framework for tackling unexplained wealth—not just the economic costs of unexplained wealth but also the costs in terms of the potential damage it can do in criminal matters and in matters of violence and terrorism.

But I do have to make the point that, while this introduces a more robust legislative framework for dealing with serious and organised crime, legislation alone is certainly not enough. We also need to ensure that we have well-resourced law enforcement personnel within Australia so that they can utilise the legislation that is available to them. I think that is what we need to stress here today: the capacity and the capability of our law enforcement to take full advantage of and utilise all the legislative tools that we give them in terms of prosecuting serious and organised crime, ensuring that Australia is free from the profits of these crimes.

The Turnbull government like to talk a big game about law and order; they like to beat their chests a bit about law and order. But we know that behind closed doors there have been savage cuts to the Australian Federal Police. In fact, in the 2018-19 budget, the government cut the AFP's core Federal Police work by $139 million over the coming four years. And at Senate estimates this year the AFP commissioner confirmed that he will have to cut a massive 567 AFP personnel over the forward estimates because of this government's cuts to their budget.

Let's not forget that last year the government also threatened the pay and conditions of AFP officers. Even the most robust legislation that gives our law enforcement agencies the tools to be able to deal with the scourge of serious and organised crime and the threat that it has to the wellbeing of Australians—even with the best legislation—we can't make up for the cuts that this government has made to our law enforcement agencies and to our law enforcement capacity.

I know that our law enforcement agencies here in Australia do a wonderful job. They do the best that they can with the resources that they're given. They comprise some very dedicated men and women who give their lives for the protection of all Australians—who give their lives to fighting against serious and organised crime. Last week, my husband, who works in law enforcement, and I visited Mercy College and spoke to some of the year 11s and 12s there who have an interest in taking up a career in law enforcement. We gave them a bit of a career-counselling session, I might say. To see these young people, who also have an aspiration to become part of our law enforcement framework here in Australia and to join a law enforcement agency, was really quite heartening. I think we spoke to them for about two hours, and they had many questions about how they could forge a career in law enforcement. It was very heartening just to see that there are a number of young people who wish to start a career in law enforcement. I do hope that the government takes heed of what we have been saying on this side with regard to cuts to our law enforcement capability and capacity, because it will also impact on the future of law enforcement—particularly on the capacity of law enforcement to attract and retain young people, who—as I've seen and as my husband saw when we went and spoke to these people at Mercy College—have the hunger, desire and aspiration to contribute to Australia's law enforcement capabilities.

Labor, of course, supports our law enforcement agencies and the important work that they do. On this side, we are committed to ensuring that Australia maintains its strong and effective laws to combat serious and organised crime. The establishment of this national scheme plays a critical role in that; it plays a critical control in crime prevention and it plays a critical role in ensuring justice in the community.

But, as I mentioned earlier, thus far we have only New South Wales signed up to the regime. So I think it is a little too early to tell just how truly cooperative this national scheme will be. And, as I mentioned earlier, I know that other states will be waiting and watching, too. We'd like to see better cooperation between the states and the Commonwealth in this regard, and we'd like to see the government work better with the states, and to explain to the House why it has managed to secure the support of only New South Wales for this scheme.

I look forward to watching with interest the future of this scheme and, hopefully, a future of cooperation between the states and the Commonwealth that will allow our law enforcement agencies to tackle serious and organised crime and that gives them those capabilities. But I also look forward to the day when the government fully resources and funds our Federal Police and our federal agencies, as well as our state agencies, to be able to carry out the work that they need to do to continue the amazing work that they do in fighting crime in Australia.

1:06 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Unexplained Wealth Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. AUSTRAC has estimated that crime generates between $2.8 billion and $6.3 billion every year. Depriving criminals of their wealth is a key element in discouraging and combating serious and organised crime. As a barrister who, once upon a time, used to practise in criminal law, I know that the best way to stop crime is to disincentivise it. To be able to take the proceeds of crime away from criminals—particularly, from organised criminals—is a terrific way of stopping them in their tracks, and certainly a way of giving them something to ponder about.

We know that organised crime flourishes in places such as casinos, and, Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, you might be aware that I've spoken in this place on many occasions about my opposition to the construction of a casino on the Sunshine Coast, one that the mayor of the Sunshine Coast, Mark Jamieson, wanted to see built in Maroochydore. I, with the assistance of 6,500 locals on the Sunshine Coast, fought tooth and nail against the building of a casino on the Sunshine Coast, because we, Sunshine Coast locals, know that, if a casino was ever built on our beautiful stretch of the Earth, it would have, absolutely, a significant, detrimental impact on the way that we lead our lives.

A casino would be like a magnet to organised crime, because casinos enable organised criminals to launder money, whether it's drug money or money gained through other types of offences, such as extortion—all the sorts of offences that organised crime gets involved with. Casinos enable them to launder that money: to turn it into gambling chips and convert it back into cash—to wash it. They clean that drug money, that money that they obtained through crime—those ill-gotten gains. So one of the best ways that we can stop organised crime, in my view, is by restricting the business of casinos. And that is why I fought so hard to ensure that a casino does not happen on the Sunshine Coast.

In fact, it has been estimated that more than a billion dollars in total in drug syndicate money passed through Crown Casino in Melbourne between 2002 and 2012. Police raids on major drug syndicates in Melbourne saw more than $1.2 million in casino chips confiscated in 2014 alone.

I'm very proud to announce that the Labor state government in Queensland has finally, after a great deal of persuasion and arm-bending, come out and indicated that they will not grant a casino licence for the Sunshine Coast. This is a terrific win for Sunshine Coast locals, because we know it will stop, or certainly put the brakes on, organised crime on the Sunshine Coast.

Organised crime in Queensland is most often associated with bikies on the Gold Coast but, unfortunately, the Sunshine Coast is not immune. In 2016 and 2017 Caloundra was the fourth worst suburb for ice use between Gympie and Strathpine, according to the Queensland department of child safety. According to the vice-president of the Sunshine Coast Local Medical Association, Dr Wayne Herdy, throughout 2017 the incidence of doctors treating acute crises caused by ice use on the Sunshine Coast doubled. Most GPs are dealing with at least two of these crises every week, and Dr Herdy expects this problem to increase by another 50 per cent this year.

My daughter works as a nurse at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital. She sometimes tells me stories of young men coming into hospital absolutely charged up with ice and how these men can be almost uncontrollable. It is a real scourge on our community. The Health Retreat, a rehabilitation facility in Maleny owned by Francis McLachlan, suggests that ice is as readily available and cheap as a pizza on the Sunshine Coast. This ice comes, more often than not, from organised criminals operating on the coast. Often they have links to wider criminal organisations nationwide. In July 2018 Queensland police seized more than $1 million in illicit drugs, including cocaine, MDMA and ice, and arrested 28 people on 110 charges following the targeting of a sophisticated Sunshine Coast crime syndicate. This group had links with others in Sydney.

Preventing a casino on the Sunshine Coast will help prevent money laundering on a local level and will discourage the further growth of criminal organisations. At a national level, this legislation before us will give us extra tools to ensure that organised crime does not pay. The scheme of the bill will provide a national approach to target unexplained wealth, enabling all participating jurisdictions to work together to effectively deprive these criminals of their wealth, irrespective of the jurisdiction in which they operate. It will mean that instead of what is currently in place—a patchwork of orders that would otherwise be sought separately by the Commonwealth and, sometimes, state and territory authorities—a single unexplained wealth order could be used to target a national criminal syndicate.

As the law currently stands, Commonwealth orders can only be used in relation to a Commonwealth offence, an international offence or a state offence with a federal aspect, excluding a large proportion of organised crime activities. This bill will expand that arrangement to all offences referred by the state and territory jurisdictions. The bill will also expand the range of powers available to state and territory jurisdictions, to help them work together with the Commonwealth to be more effective in their investigations. It'll give access to an individual's or an organisation's financial information. That is absolutely vital to identify whether they have illicit wealth. Under the bill, law enforcement agencies in participating jurisdictions will be able to apply for production orders or issue notices to financial institutions under the Proceeds of Crime Act. These compel the production of information or documents to investigators. The supply of that information has to be done within 14 days. To protect the public, participating jurisdictions will be subject to the oversight of the parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, and will be required to report to the minister annually on the use of these provisions. The report will be tabled in parliament.

The bill will also expand access to Commonwealth-intercepted telecommunications information for unexplained wealth matters. Currently, this information can be legally gathered under exceptional circumstances and used by the Commonwealth, but it cannot be shared with other jurisdictions working on another case or even the same case. Under this bill, this sharing will be permitted where the information has been gathered. While providing these benefits, the bill also ensures that the state's unexplained wealth regimes are not undermined. The Commonwealth's unexplained wealth orders will only apply to offences which are referred to the Commonwealth by the states themselves. This will ensure that the Commonwealth never ends up with more control over state offences than the states do themselves.

Further, the proposed intergovernmental agreement on the national cooperative scheme on unexplained wealth, which accompanies this bill, contains provisions which ensure that any overlap between operations can be quickly resolved. This system will require the states to sign up, if they want to be involved, for it to be truly effective. Negotiations with the states have been ongoing since 2014, and the government is bringing forward this legislation now because it wants to ensure that jurisdictions that are eager to join the scheme can do so as quickly as possible.

The bill includes an incentive for states to sign up. The bill will lower the threshold of a contribution that must be made by a jurisdiction for that jurisdiction to receive an equal share of the forfeit property. The scheme recognises all contributions, not just significant ones, including providing intelligence of relevance, securing the original conviction that leads to the wealth recovery, or providing the offences relied on by the Commonwealth in undertaking the recovery. Under the proposed intergovernmental agreement on the national cooperative scheme on unexplained wealth, states will be required, in return, to inform the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions about operations or any legislative changes which may impact on them.

Unfortunately, so far most of the states have not signed up to this system. In particular and of worthy note is the jurisdiction of Queensland. It has not confirmed at this stage that it will participate. The Queensland state Labor government does not, unfortunately, have a good track record of participating in national law enforcement regimes which combat criminal organisations. I refer specifically to the Trade Union Joint Police Taskforce, which has been set up by the Commonwealth to investigate criminal offences that have been allegedly committed by trade unions or their officials. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out that some people within the trade union movement, particularly in the CFMEU, are acting and have been acting illegally for a number of years, and yet the Queensland state government refused to sign up to this Trade Union Joint Police Taskforce. This is a blight on the Queensland state government. It is an example of the Queensland state government looking after their union mates, because they know, just as the Leader of the Opposition here knows, that they owe their jobs to the CFMMEU—

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a mouthful!

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a bit of a mouthful. They need to get serious, just as the Leader of the Opposition needs to get serious. He should disown the CFMMEU and make it very, very clear that he will no longer—

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, it's quite a mouthful!

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You ought to try saying it very quickly! They ought to make it very, very clear that no longer will they take their electoral donations. The Labor Party must distance itself from the CFMMEU and no longer take electoral donations from them. Let's face it: the money that has been extorted from hardworking Australians by the CFMMEU is unfortunately being channelled back in to support this Labor Party and the Labor parties throughout all the states. It is an absolute travesty. The Leader of the Opposition here should distance himself from it. He should disown the CFMMEU. In fact, the CFMMEU should be deregistered—make no mistake. I would strongly encourage the Queensland government to get involved in this important initiative to help us combat the bikie gangs on the Gold Coast and the drug syndicates driving ice throughout Queensland. (Time expired)

1:21 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank my colleagues for their contributions to this debate. The Unexplained Wealth Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 will provide a national approach to target unexplained wealth, enabling participating jurisdictions to work together to effectively deprive criminals of their wealth irrespective of the jurisdiction in which they operate. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.