darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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February 22, 2010

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (8.54 pm)
— I rise to speak in relation to the interim report of the review of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act. In doing so, I would like to acknowledge the work by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, and the excellent work by the chair of the committee, who has just spoken, my parliamentary colleagues and the support staff. The interim report has come about because the committee agreed to a two-stage reporting process, with the final report to be tabled later this year. During its hearings, the committee received evidence which indicated that there may be gaps in the Commonwealth’s integrity systems and the committee also considered that there were several issues which, perhaps, required more immediate attention. I will refer to those issues shortly, but first I will give some background.

ACLEI was formed to provide oversight of the Commonwealth law enforcement agencies—the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission. It is worth noting, as the previous speaker has, that ACLEI was not created because of any findings of misconduct or corruption in these agencies. That does not mean, of course, that corruption does not exist and this leads me to one of the key recommendations of the interim report, which relates to the need to broaden ACLEI’s area of responsibility to include the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. I would like to refer to the comments made during the inquiry by the Integrity Commissioner, Mr Philip Moss, when he outlined what he believes are the inherent corruption risks for Customs, particularly in its law enforcement roles.

I stress again that just indicating that certain activities may have an inherent corruption risk is not to say that corruption is in fact occurring, is rife or is actually a problem. It is simply indicating that the activities being undertaken by such an agency, in this case the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, may make it an attractive target for corrupt activities. This report is certainly not implying that Customs has a major problem with corruption, although some allegations have been made. The committee heard some evidence from a range of witnesses about the high corruption risk within the Customs service due to the nature of the work that is performed by that agency, and there have been some quite serious allegations made. The report does not comment on the veracity of those allegations.

I refer to Mr Moss’s comments, which are recorded in the report, in reference to Customs. These, perhaps, are the justification for why the committee has made its recommendation.

Mr Moss has indicated that Customs:

… is a decentralised agency with officers having a high degree of discretion and autonomy in those decentralised locations.

He also goes on to say that:

Customs and Border Protection would be attractive to organised crime—and, in saying ‘organised crime’, I also say to you ‘transnational organised crime’—who have an interest in breaching the border. So Customs is protecting the border and it is in the interests of crime, both national and transnational, to breach it. The other phenomenon that is occurring in this area is that Customs is pushing protection of the border offshore into countries where corruption is sometimes an accepted business practice. So, for those reasons and possibly others as well, I think that Customs and Border Protection would be well suited to inclusion in ACLEI’s jurisdiction.

That is certainly a strong statement by the Integrity Commissioner and it is reflected in the recommendations made by the committee to have the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service included under ACLEI’s jurisdiction on a whole-of-agency basis. The committee also supports the extension of ACLEI’s jurisdiction by means of regulation as a perhaps more timely measure than going down the legislative route.

It would be anticipated that legislation would ultimately be required to prescribe Customs as a law enforcement agency within the LEIC Act. I stress that, within the context of the report and the previous member’s comments, it would be anticipated that there would be a need for additional resources for ACLEI to properly take on such a new role if the government proceeds down the route which has been recommended. It is recommended that ACLEI will need to be fully and appropriately staffed and funded for the expanded role in detecting, preventing and investigating corruption in any agency, particularly one with the size and great complexity of the Customs Service.

In relation to the issue of whole-of-agency involvement I referred to earlier, the committee has received evidence that it is important for all staff within any agency brought within ACLEI’s areas of responsibility to be included within such a definition—that is, the area of responsibility should not be limited to just the law enforcement staff of a particular agency. It was the committee’s view that it would be a double standard if other staff were somehow excluded. People can be involved in a whole range of different responsibilities that may well be soft targets for some form of corrupt activity.

In the time that I have left, I would like to refer to ACLEI’s role in education and prevention of corruption. The committee believes it is essential that ACLEI continues, and in fact expands, its role in corruption detection and prevention activities and that that role should be specifically included within the functions of the act. It is a recommendation in the interim report that I strongly endorse. By its nature, corruption can be very difficult to detect, and there are very complex issues, particularly in dealing with individuals who have a knowledge of the system.

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