Monday, 6 October 2014

Speech in Parliament - Crimes Legislation Amendment (Unexplained Wealth and Other Measures) Bill 2014 -25 September 2014

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (11:22): At the outset, I commend the member for Calare for his contribution. He put it very well when he said that the crimes of yesterday will help to prevent the crimes of tomorrow—it is a very apt description of the effectiveness of this legislation. This is legislation that has been in place for a number of years, but that needs to be improved so we can ensure we have the most stringent laws to crack down on crime. It is a series of amendments that will strengthen the framework, and in doing so will strengthen public confidence that those with ill-gotten gains will never have any closure and that those gains can be obtained with unexplained wealth provisions and can be put back into the community. It makes those involved in illegal activities with unexplained wealth think twice that, as I said a few minutes ago, there will not be closure—they can be asked the question any day and if they cannot prove that their wealth was obtained legitimately, they will face the consequences of their actions.

A number of speakers have participated in this debate, and I want to focus briefly on a few aspects. The legislation in this area has been in place for a number of years. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Law Enforcement examined its effectiveness during the last parliament and found that the legislation had some defects that should be corrected and that some of the provisions were not operating in the way that they were originally intended. As the member for Calare and other speakers on this side have pointed out, the coalition took to the last election a strong policy to legislate in the way that we are doing right here in the House today. I want to commend the minister, Mr Keenan, for his focus in this area, both in opposition and in government, and in bringing these amendments to strengthen these important provisions into the House so we can deal with them as soon as possible.

I want to focus on one set of amendments, which a number of people have mentioned, that I think are perhaps the major improvement in this legislation—that is to ensure through the amendments that proceeds of crime which have been seized cannot be used in legal defence. The member for La Trobe touched on this last night. He said that seized proceeds can no longer be used to fund a defendant's legal case. Clearly, when someone with unexplained wealth that has been derived from criminal activity faces the prospect of losing all of it, the capacity to be able to use that for their legal defence means, in many cases, there is absolutely no end to their legal resources. Naturally, they can use it not only to tie up the system, but it is also a situation where the normal incentives do not operate. As the minister outlined in his speech, people of course should have legal representation—that is not at issue: that is why we have the legal aid system—but that is certainly something that was identified, and something that will be a major improvement in the bill.

I want to give a lot of credit to the member for La Trobe. All of us know of his expertise as a former senior member of the Victorian police in this particular area and it is something that he has spoken about in this parliament for many, many years. Back in 2009 he was part of a bipartisan delegation that went to Canada, the United States, Italy, Austria, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands looking at exactly this issue. As he said, the committee learnt a lot of things from the authorities, but they got one consistent message wherever they went, and that was that, if you go after the money, you can bring down organised crime. As he said last night, crime is about creating wealth and creating power, and the world of criminals' power will not come without great wealth, but if you take away the money you take away the power. That is the heart and soul of this legislation. It is something that he has been passionate about in our party room and in the parliament, which has benefited greatly from his expertise.

As speakers have pointed out, the proceeds of crime, once obtained, go back into the community to fight crime. The member for Calare aptly summed that up, as I said in the beginning. The most practical benefits for our local communities are in investments like closed-circuit TV security cameras—a proven weapon against local crime and a proven deterrent against anti-social behaviour. The very first federal grants in this area were made I think in 2005 or 2006. It was the former Howard government that decided it should step in and provide grants for local community groups to install closed-circuit television security cameras in our shopping malls and on our streets. It took the federal government to take the initiative back then, even although we do not run state police forces. I distinctly remember community groups in my electorate applying for these cameras after the federal government invented the program to enable these installations to occur. The very first cameras in our area were installed in Lilydale, at the train station. There were sceptics, but in a very short time where there had been a very high rate of crime and antisocial behaviour—lots of thefts from cars in the car park during the day—crime was reduced by 70 per cent almost overnight.

In the main street of Croydon, now in the electorate of the member for Deakin, they had huge problems, and it was through a federal grant, matched by a big contribution from the local community group, that a batch of security cameras were installed in the main street, with a live feed straight to the police station. That had a huge impact overnight. I know my friend and colleague who is speaking after me, the member for Deakin, has worked very hard and has made a number of commitments in these areas as well. In the electorate of Casey, because of this proceeds of crime legislation and our commitment, we are going to have further upgrades in the area. Consistent with the commitment I made at the last election, we will extend and enhance that network in Lilydale so that it can cover a wider area and we will install new networks in Healesville and Yarra Junction. I pay tribute to the Lilydale Centre Safe Committee and its chairman, Mr Alister Osborne, who is coordinating the rollout which will occur in the not too distant future.

This is important legislation. It is legislation that shows the parliament working at its best and it is legislation that we are very confident will dramatically improve the operation of the act, and with the oversight committee doing its job in the months and years ahead if there is any need for further improvements the government and the parliament will stand ready to deal with them.

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