Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Law Enforcement Committee; Report
On behalf of the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, I present two reports of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement; one on the examination of the annual report of the Australian Crime Commission 2014-15, and the other on the examination of the annual report of the Australian Federal Police 2014-15.
Ordered that the reports be printed.
That the Senate take note of the reports.
To start with, I would like to regard the Australian Crime Commission's report. This report covers the merger of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and CrimTrac to form the Australian Crime Commission, or ACC, as it is now known. Over this period of this report the Australian Crime Commission has been able to take significant action on the fight against crime in Australia, including the seizure of $1.96 billion in estimated street value of illicit drugs and $175 million worth of precursor chemicals. I think that is very relevant to the committee's work it has been doing over that time and continuing to now. There is an inquiry into crystal methamphetamine and the role of law enforcement.
In relation to the AFP's annual report, this report obviously covers the period of 2014-15, which was, I have to say, immediately after the significant budget cuts to the AFP by the Abbott Liberal government. An amount of $138 million over four years was cut from that 2014 budget. Of course, that cut resulted in the withdrawal of the AFP from the Hobart Airport towards the end of 2014, in October 2014. Now, Hobart is the only capital city in Australia without any AFP presence at its airport. There have been a number of calls to return the AFP presence to Hobart by a number of federal members from all sides of parliament, in fact, as well as by the Police Association of Tasmania and Tasmania's Police Commissioner. There still has been no action and, indeed, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
This lack of a permanent presence at Hobart Airport puts undue extra strain on Tasmania Police, who now have to police the airport in addition to their normal duties. We know from reports that crystal methamphetamine, which the law enforcement committee has been investigating, has been smuggled through Hobart airport into Tasmania, because occasional random drug testing at the airport has repeatedly caught people—but it is random. Just a month ago, police reportedly stopped a passenger travelling from New South Wales with an estimated $500,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine, but we do not know how many other smugglers are getting through the airport undetected on those occasions when Tasmania Police are not in attendance. Tasmania has very high visitor numbers, which is a fantastic thing for our state—I think one million people come through the Hobart airport each year—but we must not risk security by continuing the situation of a lack of AFP presence. While this report does not go into the current budget, in which the government tried to address its previous cuts to the AFP, it certainly does not address the fact that there is still no AFP presence at our airport.
The committee examined a number of other issues contained in the AFP's 2014-15 annual report. The committee notes in our report our own inability to examine counterterrorism activities due to these aspects being covered by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The committee is concerned that having two different committees oversee different aspects of the AFP's work may lead to unintended gaps in parliamentary oversight, and the committee recommends that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement re-establishes oversight of all aspects of the AFP's work. That would be the best way to proceed and for the committee to perform its functions, its due diligence, in providing that oversight function to the AFP. How can we perform our role as effectively as possible if there is a certain section of the AFP for which we have no oversight because it has been sent off to another committee? We are talking about monitoring, reviewing and reporting the performance of the AFP and its functions under part 5.3 of the Criminal Code. I think it is important to address the re-establishment of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement's oversight.
Finally, I want to highlight the importance of increasing the budget for the AFP. The 2014 budget was a train wreck, particularly for the AFP, and this had a detrimental effect that is continuing years later. One of the very important aspects in the way it has carried over is having no AFP presence at the Hobart airport. I urge the government to address this immediately. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.