Banning the importation of psychoactive substances

This bill is important to Australian families and individuals. The bill will ban the importation of new psychoactive substances and deliver on the key government election commitment to implement tougher penalties for gun related crime. The bill will also improve Australia’s criminal justice arrangements by: streamlining Australia’s International Transfer of Prisoners Scheme; clarifying that slavery offences have universal jurisdiction to ensure agencies are able to investigate and prosecute these offences wherever they occur; and enhancing Australia’s anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing regime. It will also make minor edits to the Commonwealth’s drug regime and arrangements for policing in certain airports. The bill amends the Commonwealth Places (Application of Laws) Act 1970, Criminal Code Act 1995, Customs Act 1901, Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988, International Transfer of Prisoners Act 1997 and the Surveillance Devices Act 2004. There are quite a number of acts covered here.

We know there has been a war waged throughout the world between drug suppliers and those whose job it is to protect our community from the scourge of illicit drugs. Until the introduction of this legislation, there was a loophole that basically helped the drug pushers ply their vile trade. Governments both state and federal tried to identify and ban known illegal psychoactive drugs by placing them on a list. The criminal element subverted the intent of the law by developing minutely different substances that had the same effect but a new name. New psychoactive substances are designed to mimic the psychoactive effects of illicit drugs; however, their chemical structures are not captured by existing controls on those drugs because they are not specifically named. These substances are often presented as ‘legal highs’. They are frequently presented as safer than other illicit drugs and claims are made that they have been tested or assessed by the government. In reality, they are potentially very dangerous and have been linked to serious injuries and deaths.

Such new psychoactive substances have been identified by the Western Australian government as a real and growing problem. On 29 June this year, the WA mental health minister, Helen Morton, listed an additional 33 substances in schedule 9 of the Western Australian Poisons Act. All 33 were psychoactive substances, including synthetic cannabinoids. Currently all synthetic cannabinoids are illegal in Western Australia but are still generally put on the list.

Governments progressively ban these substances as evidence about their use and harm becomes available, yet manufacturers can still alter the composition of these substances to avoid the law. The government is closing this loophole with this legislation. It is very important. That is the intent of the bill and that is what we are doing. It will introduce offences into the Criminal Code to ban the importation of all substances based on their psychoactive effect and not just on their name.

The bill will also amend the Customs Act to allow officers of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police to stop these drugs, seize them and destroy them before they can be put on the market. It will be up to a person whose goods have been seized on suspicion of being a new psychoactive substance to show exactly what they are, what purpose they serve and why they should be returned to them. If an importer cannot do this—for example, by showing that the goods have a legitimate use—the goods will be destroyed. These measures will not apply to imports for a legitimate purpose. Foods, medicines and industrial, agricultural and veterinary chemicals may all be psychoactive, but they serve important functions in our society and economy. In other words, the onus of proof will be on the importer.

The measures in this bill will introduce offences, as I said, to ban the importation of substances based on their psychoactive effect and where they are presented as alternatives to illicit drugs. The Australian Crime Commission’s Illicit drug data report 2012-13 states that the number of cannabis detections at the Australian border increased by 36.4 per cent to 3,629 in 2012-13—the highest on record. That is the reason why this bill is important. The report said cannabis seeds form 89.2 per cent of detections. Of the cannabis that came by parcel post, the greatest weight of seeds came from Iran to Sydney, the greatest weight of cannabis leaf came from Canada to Sydney and the greatest weight of buds and leaves came from the Netherlands to Melbourne. Parcel post—this is an interesting issue—accounts for 98.8 per cent of border detections. Forty-three embarkation points were identified—43 countries, which was more than in previous years. In order, the most came from the UK, with 59.5 per cent, followed by Iran, Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands. The greatest weights came from Iran and Canada.

Clearly the Australian market is driving this demand. The report also noted that the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 35.4 per cent of Australians aged 14 years or older reported using cannabis at least once in their lives. Nationally there were 62,120 cannabis arrests in 2012-13, which was an increase on the previous reporting period. There are great challenges for the Australian Federal Police and our customs services, particularly with the drugs that are sourced online. Members in this House know the work that I do with online safety and online issues. We look at the websites. We look at what is being offered online. Not only are people taking risks with illegal substances; they usually have no idea at all what they are buying from an online source—or what is actually in those substances that they are buying. These come from illicit drug websites. They have absolutely no idea at all what they are buying.

We have seen what happened with the Silk Road website and what was in the drugs from that side that some of the young people had taken. We saw the US FBI deal with the Silk Road website, but we also saw a range of others emerge quite quickly after that site was taken down. We have seen the sorts of impacts of these substances, the hallucinations—young people who think they can fly—and we have seen people risking their health because they have no idea at all what is in those substances that they are buying online. They have no idea what they are taking and no idea what they are ingesting. They are buying it online thinking there is less chance of being detected, perhaps, or simply because it is cheap. I do not know what is driving them, but they are taking a huge risk with their health.

Organised criminals find that the internet provides an ideal platform for their activities. The online buyer has this false impression that somehow they are anonymous because they are online. They think that perhaps they can safely buy a range of illegal substances, from performance-enhancing drugs right through to cannabis and narcotics. This perception of safety—that it is okay and they will be safe if they take or ingest these substances—can come at a very high physical and mental health cost, which is something that people who buy online have no idea that they could well suffer. It is unregulated, the buyers have no idea what is in the products they are buying and those products are not listed. Even those that claim to be health products and healthy for you—besides those that are illegal—are certainly not listed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Stopping the sale of new psychoactive substances needs a cooperative effort between the Commonwealth, the states and the territories to ensure that health, law enforcement and education initiatives—the things I have just spoken about—are all aligned. This is a critical process. The bill will complement the national framework for new psychoactive substances that the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council announced on 4 July 2014. It also introduces new, international firearms-trafficking offences, amends existing cross-border firearms offences and introduces mandatory minimum sentences of five years’ imprisonment for these offences.

The entry of illegal firearms into the Australian community can certainly have a significant impact on the size of the illicit market. This growing pool of firearms can be and is accessed by groups and individuals to commit serious and violent crimes that can result in death and absolute misery. In the current system, criminals could potentially evade firearms-trafficking offences and penalties by breaking firearms down and trafficking their constituent parts. This bill closes that gap as well. It enables the conviction of those who engage in trafficking of firearm parts. It also creates a new offence in the Criminal Code for international trafficking of firearms and firearm parts, complementing those international trafficking offences already in existence in the Customs Act. It extends the current cross-border firearms-trafficking offences in the Criminal Code, which are limited to trafficking within Australia, to capture the trafficking of firearms and firearm parts into and out of Australia. Finally, the bill will introduce mandatory minimum sentences of five years’ imprisonment for offenders charged with these offences under the code. However, this mandatory minimum sentence will not carry with it a specified nonparole period, nor will it apply to minors.

The bill also makes changes to the international transfer of prisoners. The International Transfer of Prisoners Act, which currently governs our international transfer scheme, came into operation nearly 20 years ago. It is time to make the existing processes governing this scheme more efficient, timely and simplified. We will streamline this process. There are a number of measures to    improve arrangements governing unviable transfer applications. These include removing the requirement for decisions to be made in unviable cases; implementing time frames for reapplications so that the Attorney-General is not required to consider a reapplication within one year from the date of refusal; and simplifying the process of notifying and seeking the consent of the transferring country.

Australia’s International Transfer of Prisoners Scheme promotes the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of a prisoner into society whilst preserving the sentence imposed by the sentencing country in the prisoner’s home country. The scheme is important for community safety, as it ensures that prisoners can be reintegrated into that country’s community and appropriately monitored, supervised and supported during the enforcement of the sentence.

The bill will also enhance Australia’s anti-money-laundering regime through amendments to the Financial Transaction Reports Act that will simplify the obligations of cash dealers under Australia’s anti-money-laundering regime, removing duplication and red tape.

In conclusion, the bill contains a range of measures to improve Commonwealth criminal-justice arrangements, including the very important one of banning the importation of all substances that have a psychoactive effect that are not otherwise regulated or banned. Others measures ensure that the Australian Customs and Border Protection officers have appropriate powers to stop these substances at the border, which is of critical importance; correct an error in the definition of a minimum marketable quantity, in respect of a drug analogue, of one or more listed border controlled drugs; introduce new international firearms-trafficking offences, amend existing cross-border firearms offences and introduce mandatory minimum sentences of five years imprisonment; streamline the international transfer of prisoners; amend slavery offences; and validate access by the Australian Federal Police to investigatory powers in designated state airports.

It is all part of how this government is committed to the security and safety of Australian citizens. This bill is very important to Australian families and individuals. I would encourage all families to be aware of what their young people are doing and buying online. The same conditions apply for adults. Be very careful what you are buying. Whether it is supposedly a legal product or something that is supposedly to aid your health, I would encourage you to look at the therapeutic goods list and purchase product from that list only. For those who are seeking to buy illicit drugs online, this bill goes a long way to helping deal with that and giving the powers our law enforcement officers need to deal with those issues.