Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — I rise to speak on the Criminal Organisations Control and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2014. It is not often that I agree with the member for Lyndhurst but I say at the outset that I agree with his concluding comments about the need for us to care about ensuring that all Victorians are safe in any environment, whether it be in their homes, on their streets or on public transport. That is the obligation of any government, no matter its persuasion. We came into office in 2010 with a very strong law and order policy that has seen us deliver 1700 police on our streets and 940 protective services officers to patrol every train station. When we are talking about safety, and the member for Lyndhurst mentioned a range of issues, these are the ways we are delivering on safety. When people go home of a night they know there will be protective services officers at their train stations to escort them to their cars and they know they can travel on the public transport system because there are protective services officers in place.
This bill goes to the heart of crime. We can put police officers on our streets and we can ensure that they are armed with the necessary powers, but at the end of the day we have to hold the drug lords to account. The way we do this is by taking away the wealth they have amassed from their illegal trade. If you take away their money, you take away their opportunity and you take away their trade. That is the key element in the bill before us today. It is about going to the very heart of what these drug dealers are doing.
We have heard many examples of what drugs do to our community. As a member of the Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee, which is currently inquiring into the supply and use of methamphetamines in our community, it has been shocking to hear what drugs are doing to our community. Many members of Parliament will have read on countless occasions of the families, the young children and, most importantly, the innocent people who have been affected. At the end of the day most of these people are being affected by these drug dealers. It is the dealers who are responsible for the problems we have in our community and it is the dealers who need to be held to account. The best way to do that is to take away their cash, because we have heard that in many instances even when the drugs are confiscated that does not do it. But when you take away their cash, you take away their trade.
This bill looks at improving and clarifying the operation of existing civil forfeiture and hardship provisions to implement a serious drug offender regime. It also looks at asset confiscation as an effective tool for combating serious crime. It threatens the profitability of serious crime and reduces the capital available to invest in future criminal activity, which is very important. As part of this process for the many people who have been arrested, charged and convicted and hopefully sent away for their activities, because we are dealing with significant situations, it is about taking away the cash. Quite often this money is held in relatives’ accounts or in friends’ accounts, it can be shipped offshore or held in the assets of their homes. It is about taking that money and ensuring that the proceeds of their trade are taken from drug offenders.
The serious drug offender regime applies to offenders convicted of large, commercial drug trafficking or cultivation offences or related conspiracy and aiding and abetting offences. When sentencing a person for a serious offence, the court must declare that a person is a serious drug offender. When a person is declared to be a serious drug offender, all their property is liable to be forfeited. The property will be forfeit regardless of whether it was legitimately acquired or derived from or tainted by serious drug offences. This will ensure that someone who has spent their life involved in criminal activity does not claim that their house was paid for through legal proceeds when they have spent the last 10 years of their life supplying to most of the community. It is about wrapping it all up and taking away the cash.
There have been a number of reports in the media signalling this very important change to the legislation. One was in the Herald Sun of 24 June under the headline ‘Every last cent — new laws to strip convicted drug lords of almost everything they own’. The Attorney‑General, who has brought this bill before the house, is reported as having said:
Any financial gain drug traffickers may have stood to make will be effectively wiped out …
These laws will send a strong message to would‑be drug traffickers that crime will not pay in Victoria. Not only will they go to jail for a long time, but they will lose almost everything they own.
This is a very important part. It is not only about ensuring that those who profit from crime and serious drug offences pay for that but also about signalling to the community that this behaviour is unacceptable. If other community members are thinking that they might enter into illegal activities such as this, then they need to know that the full force of the law will be brought to bear. We have the resources. We have the policing in our state thanks to the government investing in more police on our streets. This means that once we go about policing and find these perpetrators, we know that we can prosecute them to the full extent of the law and strip them of their cash. Ultimately we will send a message to the community that crime does not pay. That is the key thing we need to ensure that our community understands.
As I said, from my experience in this place, from my previous experience working with youth at risk and from talking to many young people, it is clear that drugs are a tragic problem in our community for many different reasons. Many people who you would not expect to get involved in drugs are involved in drugs. As I said earlier, at the moment the issue of ice is a classic example of where a drug that might be tried once or twice in a party situation ends up getting a young person hooked and unfortunately sends that person into a downward spiral that affects them, affects their families, affects their friends and pretty much ruins their lives and the lives of so many people around them.
We need to do whatever we can to remove this harmful and tragic problem in our community. We will probably never be able to get rid of all the drugs that are in our community. There will always be a new drug that will come out, take to the streets and attract people to try it. But at the end of the day we need to do the very best we can to ensure that community members feel safe and protected, and that our young people in particular feel safe and protected. The best way to do that is with all the harm minimisation studies we can adopt and all the counselling and support measures we can provide — I acknowledge that we need to do all those things for the young people who are affected by drugs — but ultimately what we need to do is remove the supply of drugs and eliminate the people who are pushing drugs to our young people. The best way to do that is to take away the cash. That is the core of what this bill does, and it goes to the heart of what we are talking about today.
This is very important, and I commend the Attorney‑General on the hard work he has done to ensure that we toughen up our laws. I look forward to seeing further laws introduced to ensure that we even look at things like unexplained wealth and other things in the future because that is very important. If we can do all we can in this house to take away the cash and take trade away from the drug lords, we can let them know that it is unacceptable in our community and that it will not be tolerated under any circumstances. I commend the bill to the house.