Tuesday, 3 December 2019
Australian Crime Commission Amendment (Special Operations and Special Investigations) Bill 2019; Second Reading
Labor supports the Australian Crime Commission Amendment (Special Operations and Special Investigations) Bill 2019 before the House. Labor believes that the safety and security of Australians and our economic and social wellbeing demand action against serious and organised crime. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission plays an important role in gathering intelligence and undertaking investigations that help to inform the nationwide picture of and response to crime in Australia. The work of the commission includes developing strategic criminal intelligence assessments and advice on national crime; working with partners, both domestic and international, to disrupt the activities of serious and organised crime; conducting special operations and special investigations of priority areas; and developing and maintaining national information- and intelligence-sharing services and systems. Last financial year the work of the commission led to the discovery of 95 previously unknown targets, the disruption of 28 criminal entities, the arrest of 169 people, the laying of 607 charges and the seizure of drugs and precursors with a street value of $2.3 billion. This is vital work that helps to combat serious and organised crime and to keep Australians safe.
Labor will always work in a cooperative and bipartisan manner to ensure our police and national security agencies have the powers and resources they need to keep our nation secure and our people safe. Labor supports the work of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and we support sensible and appropriate measures to ensure that current and previous operations and investigations are lawful. This bill will ensure that the commission can continue its work to detect, prevent and disrupt serious and organised crime. It will amend the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002 to streamline the authorisation process for future special operations and special investigations and it will confirm the validity of existing special operations and special investigations determinations. The bill will also make consequential amendments to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Act 2010 and the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979.
As the Minister for Home Affairs noted in his second reading speech, through this bill the government is not seeking to expand or otherwise amend the powers available to the commission 'in the course of undertaking a special operation or special investigation'. Labor supports this bill because it wants to ensure that the commission can effectively fulfil its statutory functions and continue its important work.
I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the bipartisan manner in which the Minister for Home Affairs and the government have acted with respect to this matter. I note that the minister has also provided Labor with an assurance that within 12 months of this bill passing the parliament the government will refer operation of the legislation to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement for review. I thank the minister for providing that assurance.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge the assistance provided by the CEO of the commission, Mr Phelan, and express Labor's appreciation to the staff of the commission for the work they do to protect our community from organised crime and serious criminal activity.
The Australian Crime Intelligence Commission can access a specific suite of powers, under the Australian Crime Commission Act, to carry out a special operation or investigation. These include access to broad examination powers which enable the examiner to regulate the conduct of proceedings as he or she sees fit. But the bill does not expand or in any way alter the powers available to the ACIC in the course of undertaking a special investigation or operation. Rather, the bill streamlines the authorisation process for the ACIC board to determine special future operations and investigations and to confirm the validity of current and former special operations and special investigations. It is the latter that does concern Centre Alliance.
The retrospective application of a law to provide legitimacy to investigations into private citizens is one that should be scrutinised very closely. I am also concerned about the short time frame, in this place, between the introduction of this bill and us voting on the bill. I also note today reports that the High Court is considering the validity of these laws in the context of an alleged unlawful investigation. I do not suggest that the minister has sought to avoid an adverse outcome in the High Court, but I do believe that the consequences, even if unintended, should be explored by the appropriate parliamentary committee.
While I support the bill today in this chamber, I do so with some reservation. But Centre Alliance most certainly reserves its position, in the other place, pending further and deeper consideration of this bill.
I'd like to thank all of my colleagues for their contributions to the debate on the bill. The Australian government's first priority is to ensure the safety and security of all Australians and the Australian way of life. To this end, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has a critical role in collecting intelligence and investigating the evolving and emerging threats of organised crime, cybercrime and national security threats that directly endanger the prosperity and unity of Australia.
The measures in this bill are technical in nature. They confirm existing special operation and special investigation determinations and streamline the process for the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission board to make future determinations. These measures are essential to ensuring the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission is able to fulfil its statutory functions as Australia's national criminal intelligence agency without interruption. I commend the bill to the House.
The question is that this bill be now read a second time. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133 the division is deferred until after discussion of the matter of public importance.