BILLS;Crimes Legislation Amendment (Unexplained Wealth and Other Measures) Bill 2014;Second Reading – 09 Feb 2015

As we all know, organised crime can be a very profitable business; because if it was not, obviously criminals would not bother being involved with it. As many of us know, when the notorious gangster Al Capone was finally convicted of a major crime, it was not for murder, kidnapping or extortion: it was for tax evasion. That is because, while it can be very profitable to earn money via criminal activities, it becomes extremely difficult to hide large sums of money obtained through illegal means. It has a habit of being splashed around, because what is the point of earning large amounts of money by criminal dealings if not to live the high life? By following the money trail, as it were, it becomes possible to find the more substantive crimes which created the wealth in the first place. It becomes possible to connect the kingpins of organised crime to their underlings that actually commit the crimes on their behalf and at their direction.

Labor supports this bill, because it builds on the actions of the Labor Party when in government. It was the Labor Party that enacted the Commonwealth unexplained wealth laws that have been in place since 2010 and this bill enhances these laws. It was Labor that first acted on this issue, and I am glad that this government has followed our lead. The bill amends the Proceeds of Crime Act to strengthen the Commonwealth’s unexplained wealth regime and improve the investigation and litigation of unexplained wealth matters.

Organised crime is serious business in Australia. According to the Crime Commission’s Organised crime in Australia 2013report, they conservatively estimate organised crime to currently cost Australia $15 billion annually. That is an extraordinarily large amount of money and a substantial drain on our society. But organised crime in Australia is not an issue that just affects Australians; it is inextricably linked to international organised crime. Serious and organised criminals operating in Australia necessarily have international links to facilitate their activities—particularly the movement of illicit goods into Australia—and overseas-based organised criminals actively target Australia.

As a relatively wealthy nation, we make a good target for overseas based cybercrimes. We have also seen the rise of online trading sites, like the now defunct Silk Road, which have made it easier for organise criminals to sell illegal and harmful products to Australians without ever stepping onto Australian soil. This means that strong and trusted partnerships with overseas law enforcement agencies are now more fundamental to combating organised crime than they have ever been.

The history of international action was outlined in the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement’s report on the inquiry into Commonwealth unexplained wealth legislation and arrangements. They said in that:

The importance of serious and organised crime had already been recognised internationally, with a 1997 Interpol resolution recommending that member countries consider adopting effective laws, that give law enforcement officials the powers they need to combat money laundering both domestically and internationally, including reversing the burden of proof (using the concept of reverse onus) in respect of the confiscation of alleged proceeds of crime.

The idea of confiscation of unexplained wealth in international agreements can be traced back as far as the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988).

We are debating this issue in this place today because the issue of organised crime is becoming more prevalent and is having a wider impact on Australians. As the Crime Commission said:

Once, encounters with organised crime were largely restricted to those who sought out illicit commodities or illegal activities. Today, any Australian on any day can be …

affected by organised crime.

It might not be entirely obvious how Australians can be affected by organised crime, so I will take a quick moment to outline some of the ways that everyday, ordinary Australians can be affected by organised crime. These ways include being defrauded in investment scams, the use of dangerous and volatile clandestine laboratories to produce drugs in suburban areas, the theft of credit card and bank account data through online attacks, or by means of skimming, and the violence between organised crime groups that takes place in public.

As the former Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety I heard stories time and time again of people, particularly senior Australians, losing thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, through online fraud perpetrated by organised criminals. Hundreds of thousands dollars have been lost through fake emails phishing for information. I remember during a hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety in Sydney the Australian Taxation Office showing me two emails purporting to be from the ATO. The first was a year old and was a relatively crude affair, but the second email, a year later, looked extremely professional, with the correct ATO logo, and was very difficult even for tax office officials to identify that it was a fake. The email claimed that the recipient was eligible for a small refund from the ATO. It was not a large figure; generally they are quite small. But when you add all these small amounts together you see that these people are making a substantial amount of money out of their crimes. When the victim clicked on the link they were sent to a website with an almost identical address to the ATO, which was a clone of the ATO site. These criminals are very smart and very clever. I do not think it is very smart or clever of anyone in this parliament to underestimate how much people are getting out of this sort of crime. Organised crime is getting larger and more sophisticated. It involves activities that can every single one of us. Organised criminals are using other sorts of crime, including human trafficking, but today we are talking about wealth.

We support this bill, so I will not take up too much more time. I will say that Labor started the process of this bill when we were in government. Despite assurances they would retain proceeds seized under their own laws the states and territories have consistently rejected this proposal. In June 2013, former police commissioners Mick Palmer and Ken Moroney were appointed by then minister, Jason Clare, to negotiate with jurisdictions and ‘break the deadlock’. Unfortunately, that is yet to be achieved. It was reported in October 2013 that Mr Palmer and Mr Moroney were due to report to government ‘within weeks’. However, we are not sure if this occurred or, if it did, what their report contained. It would be nice of the government to inform this place and the other place about the outcome of these negotiations.

Labor’s Crimes Legislation Amendment (Organised Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012 passed through the House of Representatives in February 2013 but lapsed in the Senate at the end of the last parliament. The bill we are debating today, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Unexplained Wealth and Other Measures) Bill 2014 is fundamentally the same as the lapsed legislation and implements Labor’s commitments of February 2013 in the government’s response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement inquiry into Commonwealth unexplained wealth legislation and arrangements. The bill implements eight out of 18 recommendations handed down in the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement inquiry into Commonwealth unexplained legislation and arrangements.

Minister Keenan, in opposition, made remarks about Labor not embracing the recommendations of the committee which involved the Australian Crime Commission pursuing unexplained wealth orders. In government, however, Minister Keenan has unfortunately failed to keep faith with his rhetoric in opposition. Once again, the coalition have said one thing in opposition and have done the opposite in government. The bill does not contain new provisions concerning the work of the ACC; it is just to continue on.

We support this bill. I am pleased that the government have finally come to the fore in supporting this bill that was begun when we were in government. I commend the bill to the Senate.