Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

BILLS - Unexplained Wealth Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 - Second Reading

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (11:07): Labor is committed to ensuring Australia maintains its strong and effective laws to combat serious and organised crime. Labor will be supporting the Unexplained Wealth Legislation Amendment Bill 2018, as it is the first step in a long process towards a national unexplained wealth regime. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission estimates that serious and organised crime costs Australia $36 billion each year. This is the equivalent of just over $1,500 out of every Australians' pocket each year. It adds an enormous 6.3 per cent to the average cost of living. A critical way that we can help take the profit out of crime as a parliament is by ensuring our law enforcement agencies have the powers and resources they need to crack down on serious and organised crime.

Before I turn to the substance of the bill, I'd like to acknowledge, on behalf of Labor, the extraordinary work that our agencies do to keep us safe. In particular, I want to acknowledge the Australian Federal Police. They are on the front line of the fight against serious and organised crime. They do tremendous work and must be supported in their role by the government. Unfortunately, at budget estimates earlier this year, the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police confirmed that there would be a $205 million cut to resourcing for our AFP over the forward estimates because of Liberal government budget cuts. He confirmed that the AFP's work to tackle fraud, organised crime and antinarcotics are the areas that would be most affected by these cuts. Most shocking was the commissioner's confirmation that staffing at the AFP is predicted to fall from 6,448 personnel in 2018-19 to 5,881 personnel in 2021-22 because of budget cuts. This is an extraordinary reduction of 567 AFP personnel. If the government is committed to keeping Australians safe, it must explain why it has inflicted such savage cuts on the AFP.

Labor supports our law enforcement agencies and Labor will be supporting this bill. As we know, often those who benefit most from crime are not directly involved in the commission of a specific offence. They keep themselves at arm's length, profiting from the sidelines. Unexplained wealth orders are a powerful way for us to target these serious and organised criminals and confiscate their ill-gotten gains. Unexplained wealth orders allow authorities to confiscate assets when a person cannot demonstrate that their wealth has been lawfully obtained. Unlike other Proceeds of Crime Act orders, unexplained wealth orders do not require proof of a link to the commission of a specific offence. However, unexplained wealth orders at the Commonwealth level are currently limited because of the Constitution. In order to get such an order, authorities currently need to prove a link to a federal offence, a foreign indictable offence or a state offence that has a federal aspect. This undermines the key benefit of unexplained wealth orders. The establishment of a national unexplained wealth scheme would play a critical role in crime prevention and ensuring justice in the community. The bill would extend the existing Commonwealth unexplained wealth regime to offences referred by New South Wales and relevant offences in the Northern Territory.

A number of concerns were raised in the course of the Senate inquiry into the bill around the abrogation of privilege. These are valid concerns. However, it is important to note that this bill only extends our current regime to specific offences at the state and territory level. The concerns raised already exist under law. Importantly, all the existing protections at the Commonwealth level will apply to any state and territory offences picked up by the proposed national scheme. These include: judicial discretion to refuse to grant an order when it's not in the public interest or when the amount is less than $100,000; and the discretion to exclude certain property from the scope of the order or revoke an order where it is in the public interest or in the interests of justice to do so. This bill will apply this regime and these protections to a broader range of offences.

Labor believe that Australia should have a national scheme to combat unexplained wealth. We are absolutely committed to keeping Australians safe and providing law enforcement with the powers that they need to do their job. For these reasons, we'll be supporting this bill. Before I conclude, I want to note that this is just the start of a process towards a national scheme. At this stage, the only state to sign up to the regime is New South Wales. If the government want to implement a truly national co-operative scheme, then they need to work harder to get the other states and territories on board. Labor supports the bill and is happy to work with the government to implement a national unexplained wealth scheme.