Crimes Amendment (Penalty Unit) Bill 2022 – Second Reading

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Mr Leeser: The Crimes Amendment (Penalty Unit) Bill 2022 will increase the value of the Commonwealth penalty unit from $222 to $225, with effect from 1 January 2023. The bill also provides that indexation will occur every three years from 1 July 2023. Effectively, the government is imposing an additional increase on the value of the penalty unit from 1 January 2023, with triannual indexation resuming on 1 July 2023.

Penalty units determine the maximum fines which can be imposed for offences in Commonwealth legislation and territory ordinances. When the penalty unit was introduced in 1992 its value was set at $100. This was adjusted to $110 in 1997, $170 in 2012, $180 in 2015 and $210 in 2017. In 2015 the Crimes Act was amended to introduce an indexation mechanism to automatically increase the value of the penalty unit, every three years, in line with the consumer price index. An indexation occurred on 1 July 2020 when the penalty unit was increased to $222.

This bill will increase the revenue return to the Consolidated Revenue Fund for pecuniary penalties imposed, for the commission of Commonwealth criminal offences, by $31.6 million over four years. It’s not entirely lost on members of the coalition that the amount to which the Commonwealth penalty unit is being increased, $275, is the one amount that the Prime Minister doesn’t want to talk about in this House—because that was the same amount he promised Australians their power bills would be reduced by.

Mr Fletcher: The number that dare not speak its name!

Mr Leeser: As the Manager of Opposition Business reminds me, it’s the number that dare not speak its name, except in the penalty unit bill, and we should be reminded that the Prime Minister’s failure to keep his promise in reducing power prices effectively is a penalty on the Australian people. The coalition supports this bill. I want to take the opportunity talk a bit about some of the things that the coalition in government did, to fight crime and keep our communities safe, in the context of this bill.

In the March 2022-23 budget the coalition government announced an investment of $170.4 million, in the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force capabilities, to harden our border against transnational, serious and organised crime. These measures include: the establishment of dedicated AFP strike teams to target the importation and manufacture of illicit drugs, firearms and money-laundering; boosting the Australian Federal Police’s specialist capabilities to keep pace with the growing threat of outlaw motorcycle gangs, organised crime cartels and other crime groups; and strengthening investment in the Australian Federal Police’s Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce to further disrupt criminal business and remove the profit out of crime.

Ensuring our community and borders are protected has always been a priority for the coalition. That’s why in government the AFP’s funding was increased to a record $1.7 billion. The coalition government strongly backed in Australia’s law enforcement agencies when we held office, and I’m concerned how these national security agencies will fare under the government.

This contrasts with the last time Labor were in government. They raided the accounts of our law enforcement agencies to prop up their budget bottom line. Labor’s safety record at our airports and seaports has been abysmal. Labor were dragged kicking and screaming to finally support our legislation for tougher security requirements for those who worked in those protected areas at ports and airports. The Prime Minister’s union bosses opposed security checks for ports and airport staff. Labor opposed it for years, before finally agreeing in 2021.

In one of the last sitting weeks before the election we saw a major Labor backflip, in relation to firearms trafficking. Organised crime syndicates, outlaw motorcycle gangs and other criminals who traffic firearms face tougher penalties under national gun laws secured by the Morrison government—after a backdown from the Labor Party, after five years in which they objected to them. The Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Act 2022 increased the maximum penalty for firearms trafficking from 10 to 20 years imprisonment, and under a second aggravated offence for the most serious of traffickers offenders face up to life imprisonment.

For five years, Labor claimed they couldn’t support this law because of their opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing, before suddenly abandoning that long-held policy. Transnational, serious and organised crime threatens the safety, security and trust of all Australians and their way of life. It affects all Australians. We in the coalition will continue to take every possible action to combat this threat to our way of life and to bring criminals to justice.

In government, the coalition provided our law enforcement, intelligence and border agencies the power and resources they needed to take the profit out of crime and harden Australia’s supply chains against criminals. From the latest analysis by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, transnational, serious and organised crime costs the Australian economy up to $60.1 billion a year. This has devastating impacts on families and communities, causing lost income, health and social impacts as well as the erosion of public trust in our government, business and public institutions. The Australian Federal Police led Operation Ironside, which publicly exposed the insidious and pervasive impact that transnational, serious and organised crime has on the safety and security of Australia. While Operation Ironside was a success, there’s much more work to do.

I want to talk a little bit about outlaw motorcycle gangs and the coalition’s approach to organised crime. This approach was multifaceted. We locked up criminals, but we also kicked out foreign criminals and thugs who abused our nation’s hospitality. When the coalition was in government, we cancelled or refused the visas of 335 outlaw motorcycle gang members and removed 233 of them from Australia for breaking our laws. In total, from 2014, we cancelled or refused over 10,000 visas on character grounds, keeping Australians safe from the triads, the mafia and the bikies who seek to ply their deadly trade in our community.

In government, the coalition didn’t tolerate noncitizens who engage in criminal activity or behaviour of concern, including involvement with outlaw motorcycle gangs and organised crime, and we will continue to act decisively to protect the community from the risk of harm posed by these individuals. Australian Border Force worked closely with the Department of Home Affairs and law enforcement agencies to identify and, where appropriate, cancel or refuse the visas of noncitizens engaged in organised criminal activities or associated with criminal gangs.

All noncitizens who wish to enter or remain in Australia must satisfy the requirements of the Migration Act and Migration Regulations, including the section 501 character test. A noncitizen may not pass the character test on a number of grounds, including, but not limited to, if they have a substantial criminal record or they’re suspected of associating with, or being a member of, a group involved in criminal conduct. A noncitizen’s visa must be cancelled if they’re serving a full-time term of imprisonment for an offence committed in Australia and they have at any time been sentenced to a period of 12 months or more in prison. If a visa is cancelled in these circumstances, the person may apply to the minister for revocation of the visa cancellation decision. The minister has personal powers enabling them to cancel or refuse a visa without notice where it’s considered in the national interest to do so. Noncitizens who do not hold a valid visa will be liable for detention and removal from Australia, pending resolution of any ongoing matters.

All removals are carried out in a way that ensures the safety and security of those individuals being removed, the staff and the public. Removals from Australia are undertaken as soon as reasonably practical, through both voluntary and involuntary pathways. Between December 2014 and 28 February 2022, as I said, 335 outlaw motorcycle gang members, associates or organised crime figures had their visas cancelled or refused under the character and general cancellation powers. From 11 December 2014 to 28 February 2022, 233 outlaw motorcycle gang members, associates or organised crime figures were removed from Australia by the coalition.

I want to talk a little bit about the cost of crime. The Australian Institute of Criminology, in their report Estimating the cost of serious and organised crime in Australia 202021, found a number of key matters that are essential to understanding why it’s important to take a strong approach to crime. Firstly, the report considered the direct and consequential cost of serious and organised crime in Australia as well as the cost to government entities, businesses and individuals associated with perverting and responding to serious and organised crime. Depending on the extent to which serious and organised crime is involved in various types of crime, the estimated costs from range from $24.8 billion to $60.1 billion. These are really extraordinary figures when you think about it. Prevention and response costs were estimated to be up to $16.4 billion in 2020-21 alone. These included costs incurred by law enforcement, the criminal justice system, other government agencies, the private sector and individuals in the community in preventing and responding to crime. Continuing to measure these costs will help us understand the impact organised crime has on the community, and it will be an important tool in Australia’s response to serious and organised crime in the future.

Costing a black market can be difficult and necessarily requires sensitive data and information. This latest analysis has been derived from research and classified intelligence holdings. Serious and organised crime operates in a black market with the goal of avoiding law enforcement detection. As such, calculating its cost is inherently difficult and dependent on available data and suitable costing methodologies.

The Australian Institute of Criminology recognises that crime data will never be completely reflective of the true extent of crime and will always be subject to limitations in data availability and analysis. The aim of the project was to provide an analytical framework which presents a systematic and structured picture of different costs of serious and organised crime. I think I’ve demonstrated that the cost of crime to the community is very, very serious and that the coalition takes the prevention of crime and the safety of our community very seriously as well.

There is one final matter I’d like to deal with, and that is the nature of support that the coalition has provided, when in government, for victims of crime, and I think that’s a particularly important thing. Anyone who’s a victim of crime has suffered unfairly and unnecessarily, and it’s the job of good government to try and support victims, who, through no fault of their own, have been a victim of crime. The coalition is committed to supporting victims-survivors and making sure that those who commit sexual assault face justice. That’s why in government we funded a $1.3 billion women’s safety package in the 2022-23 budget as part of a total investment to support the delivery of the next National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children from 2022 to 2032, with a historic $2½ billion over the first five years.

As part of that package, the coalition announced an investment of $4.1 million to develop and deliver a dedicated training program for law enforcement across Australia to ensure we can effectively identify and support victims-survivors of all forms of family, domestic and sexual violence. The Department of Home Affairs will deliver a scoping study to inform the design and implementation of alternative reporting mechanisms so that victims-survivors who may be apprehensive about approaching the police can report an assault in some other way.

This is an important bill. It increases the value of the penalty unit from $222 to $275, but it’s also an important opportunity and reminder to take stock of the importance of preventing crime and of supporting the victims of crime in the sterling way that the coalition did it in government.

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