Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2015

I am very pleased to speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015 and to support the measures contained in it. I have a very strong view about law enforcement and the appropriate level of legislation necessary for our law enforcement agencies to be able to do the job that we expect them to do and that our communities expect them to do. One of the strong commitments of this government has been a focus on keeping our communities safe. This is just another step in that work. I heard the previous speaker talk about the issue of serious and organised crime. The reports in that space are very concerning. When you consider that, internationally, this is an area that is worth $870 billion, it is an extraordinary figure.

The crimes legislation amendment bill is delivering on our commitment to tackle crime and to simply make our communities safer. That is what is asked and expected of members like me at all times in our communities. We have to provide our law enforcement agencies with the basic tools and powers they need to do their job and we have to make sure that our laws are robust and very effective. This bill reflects our efforts to target criminals and to reduce the heavy cost of crime for Australians. They are very personal costs, as you would understand, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The bill contains a range of measures which are covered in Commonwealth acts, including implementing tough penalties for gun related crime, improving the operation and effectiveness of serious drug and precursor offences, increasing penalties for forced marriage offences, ensuring our criminal offence regimes are robust and effective, and ensuring efficient arrangements for administering criminal law and related provisions. These are the simple ways that the government is delivering on our commitment to tackle crime and to help keep our communities safe.

There is no question that our communities around Australia have very real expectations of law enforcement. That law enforcement is enabled not only through the legislation put through this House but also through the legislation that operates at a state level. Criminals are extremely creative and they work overtime to find their way around whatever laws apply. They are extremely creative in the methods they use. The laws contained in this bill will help to increase the possibility of successfully prosecuting individuals who are knowingly engaged in large-scale drug and precursor importations. We want to make sure that the process is effective. That is what the community is asking for. They do not want to see those engaged in this type of crime simply get off on a technicality. This legislation is making sure the laws are simpler so that the prosecution of individuals is likely to be more effective. It will simplify the offences for the importing of chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs as well.

The capacity to prosecute individuals for attempted drug offences is at the centre of this legislation. The first change ensures that the same burden of proof applies to cases involving an attempted drug offence and to cases where an accused actually committed an offence. Under this change, where a person attempts to commit a serious drug or precursor offence, the prosecution will need to prove only that the person knew there was a risk that the substance involved was an illicit drug. This will make it simpler to prosecute individuals who are part of a larger drug enterprise but who deliberately ignore the obvious signs about how their actions fit in to the broader scheme. I think many of us want to see this happening in a practical sense in our communities. We want to see local law enforcement being able to deal with this at a grassroots level. It is particularly important where a controlled operation is used as part of the drug investigation. Simplifying offences for the importation of precursor chemicals is important, as they are what the criminal groups are using in the production of illicit drugs like methamphetamines, including ice.

I want to focus my comments on two key areas of change by the Commonwealth: firstly, the drug and precursors offences and the simplification of offences for importing chemicals; and, secondly, the issue of forced marriage. In this debate the importance of proceeds of crime investigation cannot be underestimated. At my local level this has a major impact on the decisions made by those involved in the drug scene—for want of a better word—and those seriously engaged in major amounts of this particular drug. The Proceeds of Crime Act will be amended to streamline the appointment of examiners and to support the administration of confiscated assets by the Official Trustee, and that is very important. From talking to local police, I know that that is a very effective tool that sends a very clear message to those engaged in serious drug offences and in the manufacture and distribution of drugs.

When local police, for want of a better phrase, kick down the doors of these places, the individuals involved are subject to the proceeds of crime laws and they lose their assets. That sends a very clear message to the broader community and to those involved in the drug trade. At a local level, it has a major impact because of course there are a whole range of others who are involved in the distribution and sale of the drugs. It is a very clear message that local law enforcement needs to make sure that this is having an impact at a local level. We want to see the laws resonate on the ground. This is a really critical area. From talking to local law enforcement, I found that this was one area on which they could not place more importance.

I have been engaged in discussions on this issue, particularly around methamphetamines. I do not think anybody in this place can afford not to be, given the impacts these drugs are having. I see the effects on our voluntary emergency service people, like St John Ambulance and those at the emergency departments in hospitals. Most recently I have seen the effect that ice is having on individuals, some of whom are destroying affordable housing. That has an impact on the agencies that have to deal with such people and remove them from those premises. Then I have seen those who cannot go out—those who are doing this work cannot then go out in the local community, because they become a target because of the work that they have to do. Of course, the violence, the threats and the risk that go with that are huge.

When I looked at the Australian Crime Commission illicit drug data of 2012-13, the detections of amphetamines were the highest on record, as was the number of heroin detections. So organised crime is extremely active in Australia, and the number of amphetamine-type stimulant precursor detections at our Australian borders is also at its highest reported level in the last decade. Yes, our law enforcement agencies are doing an amazing job, and I have great respect for what they do, but in this place we need to make sure that they continuously have laws that underpin their efforts. We also had a record number of national illicit drug seizures and arrests in 2012-13. I would suggest that number—86,918 seizures—is the tip of the iceberg. That is seizures, but the amount of drugs coming into this country is just extraordinary. Organised crime have money to make in this space. That is why they are so active.

I saw an article in The West Australian by the WA police commissioner. He said that WA’s Chief Justice described the numbers of murders and armed robberies committed by people addicted to ice as truly frightening, saying that 95 per cent of armed robberies and up to half of all murders could be attributed to people taking methamphetamines. That article quoted independent researchers saying, at the Perth watch-house, that 15 per cent of people had used methamphetamine and the figure has now risen to 43 per cent. Ambulance data in Victoria, that article said, shows a 318 per cent increase in ice related attendances. It spoke of the importance of enhancing cooperation between state and Commonwealth agencies—something that this government is working very hard on.

The federal government review of interstate freight in Australia showed the challenges in dealing with drug shipments. Commissioner O’Callaghan spoke also about police focusing on key drug transit hubs and corridors —the practicality and the logistics—and rail, air and postal systems. In that article, a federal review of interstate freight showed 63 per cent to 70 per cent of freight entering WA from Victoria and New South Wales is on trains, 8 to 10 per cent is by road, and 22 to 26 per cent is by sea. Because I do so much in cybersafety, I am well aware of how much of the drugs are entering and circulating via Australia Post. At my ice forum, we focused on the community need to be the eyes and ears, on how to respond, on how to report to our local police, and on the need for evidence that can be used in what the police do.

Briefly, I want to talk on the issue of forced marriage. I am very pleased to see the measures in this bill. On the issue of forced marriage of a child in Australia, I ask the members in this House: what should a young girl of 12 be doing? She should be going to school. She should be at home with her family. She should be enjoying her friends. She should be socialising, perhaps playing a bit of sport—whatever. She should not be forced into a marriage with a man perhaps old enough to be her father or—indeed, as we heard evidence of—old enough to be her grandfather. Just the thought of it literally makes you feel sick. So I am very supportive of the measures in this bill.

The members in this House who have children are horrified at the thought of a 12-year-old child being forced into having sex. Physical abuse and violence is often part of that. The risks of internal damage and poor reproductive health are just some of the practical reasons why forced marriage is absolutely abhorrent. It is against the law, and the law will be further strengthened by the measures in this bill. As we know, in many cases forced marriage is just like slavery. It is exploitation. There is no member in this House who would be supportive of that at all. I think that all of us only have to relate it to our own family and our own friends. Any measure to prevent forced marriage will be supported for very sound reasons by the members in this House.

In section 270.1A of the Criminal Code Act, coercion is defined to include force, duress, detention, psychological oppression, abuse of power and taking advantage of a person’s vulnerability. In this place, all members of parliament work overtime to protect children and in this space of forced marriage, even more so. So I am very pleased to speak on this bill. I see this as a key part of how we are working overtime to keep Australian families safe and the community safe.

We are dealing with drugs, in particular methamphetamines, in our communities on a daily basis. The effects on local people are just appalling. In the ice forum that I held, I had a 70-plus-year-old woman who was unable to go home, because she was going to be belted up by her ice-addicted son, and she was living in a refuge. We have put together a number of those people to support each other, because the families who are affected by ice share a dreadful journey and they need people to talk to. One of the simple things that we are doing is linking them up so that they can sit down and have a talk and then talk about what resources might be there to help them. So many of them live in what some of them describe as their own personal hell. What is not well understood is that the first time that young people and people of all ages—I have seen 50-year-olds addicted—try ice they are affected by this and potentially addicted. It is a dreadful drug. I applaud the efforts of all of our ministers and those involved in this space.