Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2017): A Wide Area of Coverage

Tuesday 13 June 2017 @ 12.51 p.m. | Crime | Legal Research

The Commonwealth Parliament introduced the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and other Measures) Bill 2017 ('The Bill') on 30 March 2017, and it has been described by MP Michael Keenan as an ‘omnibus bill’ which addresses a diverse range of issues, covering fraud, aboriginal rights in custody, dishonest conduct, enlarging the powers of the AFP, and providing for witness and informant protection. The Bill appears to have the prevailing goal of promoting public confidence in the criminal justice system.

Areas of Coverage

The Bill is proposed to cover:

  • collaboration of the AFP with international government and non-government organisations;
  • providing for Aboriginal legal assistance;
  • controlled operations which deal with organised crime;
  • creation of separate offence regimes for ‘insiders’ and outsiders’ for the disclosure of information relating to controlled operations;
  • strengthen protections for witnesses and informants;
  • and fraud and dishonest actions.

MP Michael Keenan noted in the second reading speech:

‘It is critical that law enforcement agencies have the tools and capabilities available to them to effectively combat the significant threat of organised crime in Australia and of serious and systemic corruption.’

Analysis of the Bill

According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the Bill is an attempt to improve and clarify Commonwealth criminal justice frameworks, and as MP Keenan has noted, it is an opportunity to improve Australia’s justice system by addressing present and pertinent issues. The provisions which address the functions of the Australian Federal Police to enable cooperation with global organisations to deal with organised crime, and the changes to the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) to create separate offence regimes for insiders and outsiders for the disclosure of information may be categorised as an attempt to deal with the rise of global criminal activity such as paedophile rings and terrorist organisations. The Minister’s second reading speech highlights the ‘changing criminal threat environment’, and the proposed changes would allow the AFP to meet threats and progress national interests. 

The provisions that address Aboriginal legal assistance come after the judgement in R v CK [2013] ACTSC 251 (R v CK), which is quoted in the Explanatory memorandum as frustrating the Parliamentary intention of promoting safeguards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals who are taken into custody. This proposed amendment takes into account the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC), which recommended that police departments should work with Aboriginal Visitors Schemes and should incorporate the input of interested Aboriginal organisations in police custodial procedures.  Furthermore, the amendments also appear to be in response to the ratified Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and International Convention for Civil and Political Rights. 

The provisions addressing areas of fraud, corrupt and dishonest conduct through amending the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) appear to be in response to losses to state funds due to corruption, especially after the Australian Institute of Criminology found that from 2012 to 2015, there was 1.2 billion in reported fraud but only 50 million was recovered of that amount. In the 2016 financial year, Australians reported losing almost $521 million to credit card fraud. As Australian Payments Clearing Association (APCA) chief executive Leila Fourie stated:

'Increasing fraud reflects the growth in e-commerce and a global trend in online fraud and cybercrime in general.’

These amendments appear to be measures to address this growing issue of fraud.  Furthermore, such amendments appear to be an effort to mitigate organised corruption in Australia as they mirror the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (CTH) (ASIO Act)  s 35P  on unauthorised disclosure.

Improvement of public confidence in the criminal justice system

Michael Keenan argued:

‘The government understands the importance of maintaining public awareness of, and confidence in, the activities of our law enforcement agencies.’

On mirroring the ‘unauthorised disclosures’ provision under the ASIO Act 1979, Michael Keenan also argued that the amendments were an effort to balance freedom of expression and national security obligations. His remarks in the second reading speech come after the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) found in 2014 that 66 percent of respondents saw sentences as much too, or a little too lenient. The Bill, which may be an attempt to collectively address all these issues with the main goal of promoting public confidence, was referred to a Senate Committee on 11 May 2017.

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Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (CTH), available on LawOne.

Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2017 and secondary materials, available on TimeBase LawOne.

Thuy Ong, 'Australians lost $521m to card fraud in 2016 financial year.' ABC Online.

BOCSAR, Public Confidence in the Criminal Justice System 2012.

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