Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Shadow Minister for Social Services
Shadow Minister for the NDIS
Shadow Minister for Housing
Shadow Minister for Homelessness
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Second Reading: Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015

It is a great opportunity for me today to lend my support to the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015. There is no doubt that there are a suite of measures in this bill which address, quite frankly, the most fundamentally important thing for any government and the most fundamentally important thing for any parliament, and that is ultimately the security, safety and order of our society and the safety of our people. If we are unable to guarantee the safety and security of our people then, in effect, any other discussion or argument that we have in this place is rendered meaningless. The suite of measures that are being proposed in this bill take us a long way to addressing a number of areas where, I think it is fair to say, we have seen gaps in our existing legal security and law enforcement framework.

This bill seeks to deliver on a number of key commitments that we made prior to the last election to ensure that the Commonwealth legal framework is up to date and robust when it comes to providing our law enforcement agencies with the tools that they need to do their job and reduce the impact that crime has on our communities. In particular, this bill seeks to make a number of changes in broadly the four following areas: gun related crime; serious drug offences, including importation; forced marriage; and proceeds of crime. I will seek to briefly address each of those four key areas.

With respect to gun related crime and illegal firearms and to ensure the safety of our community and the safety of our broader society, we know from the swift and important decisions made by the Howard government back in the mid-nineties that being able to limit the number of firearms of any description in our society will have an appreciable and positive impact on gun or firearm related crime. Obviously, the last thing that we would ever want to see is the prevalence of gun crime in Australia that we see in many other jurisdictions around the world, most notably the United States, which is culturally very different with its constitution—but we see the outcome. We see the outcome of the prevalence of illegal firearms in their communities, and it is quite horrific.

Over the last 15 or 20 years, I think we have probably patted ourselves on the back a lot and said, ‘Haven’t we done fantastically well in ensuring illegal firearms have been, in effect, expunged or removed from our society with the gun buyback?’ It is fair to say, though, that, over that period of time, criminal networks, criminals in general, have become extraordinarily adept at getting illegal firearms into this country, and they are often the worst type of firearm. They are handguns, which are easily concealed. They are the source of many, many crimes. That is why we took to the election a commitment to implement tougher penalties on those who engage in gun related crime.

This bill seeks to fulfil that commitment in a number of ways, including through introducing—and this is one that I am particularly proud of—mandatory minimum sentences of five years imprisonment for offenders charged with the trafficking of firearms or firearm parts under the Criminal Code. As I have said many times in this House in relation to a range of criminal matters, mandatory minimum sentences are an extraordinarily powerful way for the legislature to ensure that the wishes of our communities, the wishes of the Australian public, are met. I do not want to use my contribution to bash the judiciary, but, far too often, in every range of crime that you look at, the judiciary do not reflect the wishes, the values and the expectations of our community. That is the sad reality. I am not suggesting for a minute that that is the primary reason that has motivated this particular change, but as somebody who has been a long-time advocate for mandatory minimum sentences, to say to somebody, ‘If you are going to illegally try and bring in a firearm, a handgun or a handgun part or perhaps a whole heap of handgun parts that you will then later assemble, you are going to have a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.’ I think every single person in this House and 99.9 per cent of people in the Australian community would sleep extraordinarily well at night knowing that that person will have a five-year sentence.

The second major area that this bill seeks to address or the major area of concern that we spoke about before the election that we wanted to address is in relation to serious drug offences. We have heard some wonderful contributions about the impact of drugs and the reality of precursor drugs, in particular, being brought into Australia and the impact that they are having on our communities. This is again a very, very important way that we can do some practical things to arm our law enforcement agencies with the ability to address the importation and sale of those drugs.

Most notably, I look back to April this year when the Prime Minister, along with Minister Keenan and Minister Nash, announced the establishment of a national task force to address the growing danger of crystal methamphetamine. I have held forums in my electorate and, indeed, in neighbouring electorates, and there is no doubt that it is a significant issue that is absolutely hitting communities across the country. I do not think there is any community that is immune. Importantly, the task force was set up to provide a forensic assessment of the problems that this drug is causing to the health, welfare and safety of our community and how we can fix the problem. But we are also wanting to give our law enforcement agencies the powers and the resources that they need to limit the supply of these drugs to start with.

Our law enforcement agencies, most particularly in this case the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Federal Police, have had some success. So, we know that they can do it. We know they have the skill and the ability to stop a lot of methamphetamine and precursors being brought into our country, but we have to give them the tools. Do not ask them to do their job with one hand tied behind their back. This legislation unties that hand. One example was 150 kilograms of ice which was stopped only a couple of months ago by those two agencies. That is 150 kilograms of drugs that would do untold damage to our community. It is not just causing untold damage to our communities but it is also a major attraction for organised crime. The more organised crime can peddle in these drugs, the greater the resources that they ultimately have to cause other mischief within our society.

The bill seeks to improve, importantly, the operation of the serious drug and precursor offences in the Criminal Code. This seeks to make recklessness the fault element for attempted offences and removes the intent-to-manufacture element from offences relating to the importation of border-controlled precursors. The amendments in this bill ultimately seek to more easily enable the enforcement of border control in this area without affecting the legitimate use of these chemicals in industry, and it improves our ability to bring justice to those who seek to profit from the manufacturing of drugs such as ice. What could be worse than somebody getting rich by ruining our communities, ruining lives and ruining families?

Another very important area that this bill seeks to address is forced marriage. I never thought that in Australia, in federal parliament, we would have to discuss forced marriage. It is perhaps naive of me, but I never thought that that medieval, barbaric undertaking would be an issue that we would have to deal with in Australia. Sadly, it is. We cannot pretend it does not happen, and we cannot try to appease certain lobby groups by pretending these things do not happen. Our duty is to protect children. That is our duty, and that is what this bill will seek to do.

Under the current legislation, forced marriage offences apply in cases where an individual does not consent freely and fully to marry another, due to coercion, deception or threat. Over recent years, the federal police have learned of cases where—and other speakers have mentioned this—girls as young as 12 have consented to be married to much older males. How can a 12-year-old consent? How? It is absolutely outrageous, quite frankly, that it has taken the Australian parliament this long to fix it. It really is quite embarrassing that it has taken both sides of politics this long to fix it, but I commend the minister. He has acted swiftly: he has seen a problem, he has made an election commitment and he has absolutely ensured that, to the best of our abilities, we can address it.

The bill amends the act to state that forced marriage has occurred in a situation where one of the parties is incapable of making an informed decision. A 12-year-old cannot enter into a contract—a 12-year-old cannot do many things—because they cannot consent. They cannot make an informed decision, therefore the legislation brings in line our criminal law with what is absolutely within community expectations. There is nothing controversial about this, but it took the current minister to make the change. He must, therefore, be absolutely commended for doing that. I know it has huge support within the community. I think, in years to come—though we will not be able to record it in any way, and we will not be able to measure it—there will be countless women in Australia whom we will have saved from a life of subjugation and abuse. That is why that is probably one of the best parts of this bill.

The last of the four broad areas I mentioned at the beginning were the amendments regarding the proceeds of crime. Again, in the community, in my electorate and probably in every one of the 150 electorates in this country, Australians do not want to see anybody who is engaging in illicit activities being able to, ultimately, profit from those crimes. Crime must not pay. How else do we remove the incentive for those people tempted to get into crime? So, in this bill, we are seeking to make amendments which really enhance the Proceeds of Crime Act, to ensure that the old adage that ‘crime does not pay’ actually applies.

The bill increases existing penalties for failing to comply with a production order or with a notice to a financial institution in proceeds-of-crime investigations. No longer will people be able to flout the laws when our law enforcement agencies are exercising those notices and undertaking those proceedings. The bill also increases the integrity of the process for appointing persons to conduct proceeds-of-crime examinations, facilitates the administration of confiscated Commonwealth assets by the Official Trustee in Bankruptcy and addresses ambiguity in a range of other existing provisions.

This bill does a lot. It does a great deal of good towards ensuring that our society is safer and that we are meeting our election commitments in an earnest fashion. I commend the bill to the House.

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