Speeches

Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

CRIMES ACT AMENDMENT (FORENSIC PROCEDURES) BILL (NO. 1) 2006 Second Reading

October 18, 2006

Mr HAYES (Werriwa) (4.24 p.m.)—I rise to support the Crimes Act Amendment (Forensic
Procedures) Bill (No. 1) 2006. I believe it is very important to provide our police with the best
and most modern tools available, because that is what the community expects of us. I say that
for a number of reasons, not least for the fact that for the six or seven years prior to coming to
this place, I spent much of my time representing police officers from each of the states and
territories, including the AFP. That work was not just in relation to industrial relations; it was in
relation to ensuring that the issues of the police profession were acknowledged and in pursuing
the best and most appropriate tools for our working police officers to ensure that they were in
the best position possible to protect the community, as they are so charged to do.


As all members would be aware, the community expectation of our police has certainly
changed. We have seen that come out of a raft of inquiries, whether in respect of integrity or
whatever. Certainly the expectation that the community has of their police force to keep them
safe is at an all-time high. The community, quite frankly, is not unreasonable in that
expectation and it falls on government to actually make sure that their police forces are
equipped with the most modern tools of trade. I do not believe that is unreasonable. In my
first speech, which I delivered in this House some 18 months ago, I made the point that whilst
law and order are ostensibly state and territory based issues, there are certainly contemporary
grounds now for the Commonwealth to become more involved both in respect of coordination
and in respect of providing resources. The facts are that criminals know no bounds. They do
not know anything about geographical boundaries. As a matter of fact, they will move
conveniently from one jurisdiction to another. Therefore, it is appropriate that the
Commonwealth does have a role in coordinating and assisting state and territory jurisdictions
in terms of the administration of the respective criminal acts in making sure that the police
officers who are defending the communities across the Commonwealth are adequately
provided with the resources to do the job in a contemporary society.


The purpose of this bill before the Main Committee is to amend the Crimes Act to ensure that
interjurisdictional DNA profile matching, using the National Criminal Investigation DNA
Database, NCIDD, may be implemented for all corresponding jurisdictions within the
Commonwealth. As you have heard from various speakers before me, Mr Deputy Speaker,
forensic sampling has become a critical tool of modern policing. Many Australians watch crimes
shows now with some regularity and they would know only too well that resolving crimes these
days tends to have a fair bit to do with the collection and analysis of forensic data. While the
process in real life policing throughout the country may differ slightly from what you might see on CSI and other programs, nevertheless, from my experience and involvement with the
various police forces, I know the critical nature of access to forensic data in resolving crimes.
There are some doubts about the ability of the current legislation to allow sharing and transfer
of data between state and territory databases and the Commonwealth. That is regrettable. I do
not think any particular parties set out to instil these differences. But provided there is some
doubt in it—and that does ensure that there is less reliance on the use of the national
database—that is not good for policing and it is certainly not good for communities. Naturally,
this would serve to be a particularly large impediment across jurisdictions in DNA data
matching, particularly if we are talking about admissibility in terms of the way data is
collected, how it is analysed and therefore stored in the database, and whether it is admissible
in certain jurisdictions.
I am sure that all members are aware of CrimTrac. CrimTrac is a Commonwealth agency
responsible for a number of programs designed to provide national policing information
services, investigation tools and national criminal history record checks. CrimTrac is also
charged to manage the National Criminal Investigation DNA Database. Along with other
members of the Parliamentary Joint Statutory Committee on the Australian Crime Commission,
I had the opportunity to visit CrimTrac. As I prefaced in my remarks, I have had considerable
involvement with the respective policing agencies across this country and I have to say that
that visit did open my eyes in terms of the resources we have in CrimTrac.


CrimTrac, under its current CEO, Ben McDevitt, provides policing with a very professional
capability. It certainly has a significant and powerful computer capability, but in terms of being
able to deliver on results, I have to say that this organisation is probably second to none.
CrimTrac provides support to Australian law enforcement generally, regardless of jurisdictions.
Through the development, delivery and maintenance of modern, high-quality rapid response,
electronic policing information and investigative tools, it has achieved much through
cooperation and collaborative partnering with the various police forces that operate as
stakeholders throughout the country.


The principal system that is operated by CrimTrac is the National Criminal Investigation DNA
Database, which is subject to these matters before us. In addition to that there is National
Automated Fingerprint Identification System, the CrimTrac Police Reference System and the
National Criminal History Record Checking Services. These are extraordinarily powerful tools in
terms of contemporary policing.

While the National Criminal Investigation DNA Database got off to a very slow start—and it will
not help any of us to start pointing a finger at state or territory jurisdictions—I have to say it
has been proving its worth, and we are seeing that in terms of the records that are now being
collected and used. As at June 2005, there were more than 152,000 records on the database.
There were more than 41,000 crime scene records, 38,000 offender or serious offender
records, nearly 59,000 suspect records and more than 14,000 records offered by volunteers—
which is always very important when eliminating suspects. Believe it or not, people sometimes
are persuaded to come along and volunteer DNA for the database for that very purpose.
With each additional record, the database becomes a more important tool in policing. That is
why the changes before us today are so important. It is not so much that it is going to be
managed by the Commonwealth—and bear in mind that the Commonwealth did fund the
establishment of the DNA database to the tune of about $50 million—but to some extent this is
the Commonwealth fulfilling a responsibility in terms of law and order. It is not that it is a
responsibility imposed on the Commonwealth through the Constitution, of course, but, as I
said earlier, the nature of criminality these days means that it does not know geographical
boundaries. We do need to have the most modern tools available to our police if they are to be
able to do their work, which is to protect the communities they are charged to serve.

As I mentioned earlier, in dealing with the interjurisdictional nature of collecting this forensic
data, it is regrettable that it has got off to a slow start. I do not know if there are figures
available about how many cases have possibly been jeopardised because of that, in terms of
apprehending serious offenders, but I dare say that if the system is not working to the
satisfaction of all stakeholders—and that is each of the states and territories and the
Commonwealth—then the system is not working at all. This amendment before us today does
put that beyond doubt, certainly to the satisfaction of each of the states and territories, which
has to be a very good thing for criminal justice throughout this country. The bill before us
today clarifies the points that have been raised by some of the states and territories, and I
think it does now move to put it beyond doubt.
The object of the bill is to remove any impediment to the creation and use of the National
Criminal Investigation DNA Database. I think it should be understood how this database
actually works. This is not about the Commonwealth making these checks and identifying from
the analysis criminals or discounting criminal activity from various people. The Commonwealth
is managing a national database—a collection of state DNA databases, if you like. A state or
territory police jurisdiction will be capable of accessing the database to see whether there is a
match. If there is a match, they will be directed to which state or territory the match lines up
with. That is where it is important.
This is not about the Commonwealth divulging information on people; it is about providing a
mechanism by which information can be matched with the states. It is very important that we
have some standardisation in the collection and maintenance of this data to ensure a
reasonably clear passage in the matching process but, more importantly, as we travel further
down the track, it important in relation to the admissibility of evidence in courts of criminal
jurisdiction. As most people would be aware, there are going to be protections for material that
is collected on this database. That material is subject to the privacy provisions, but those
provisions will now apply across each of the databases that feed material into the national
collection system.
I have said here and in other forums that we, as the Commonwealth, cannot take our eyes off
law enforcement simply because it is predominantly a state or territory matter. We have an
obligation to provide a degree of coordination, as the Commonwealth has done in this case. I
believe this serves as a good example of what we can do effectively in respect of law
enforcement. I think we have a very good track record when it comes to what is able to be
achieved in respect of national fingerprinting. I think that works and serves policing throughout
Australia very well. What is being achieved through this amendment and by putting beyond
doubt the impediments in the existing legislation will prove to be very good for law
enforcement generally throughout Australia.

In the same way as we expect that, for occupations to be able to compete in a very
competitive world, they need to have the best available resources, I think it falls to us to
ensure that that also applies to law enforcement and policing. That should apply across
jurisdictions. I am happy that the minister has joined us for this latter part of the conversation.
I believe this bill serves the Commonwealth well. I think it has demonstrated that the
Commonwealth does have a significant role in law enforcement. As I said earlier, the
Commonwealth committed $50 million to initiate this national DNA database. Despite the fact
that the development of the database has been slow and has had a long gestation period in
terms of being utilised by each of the states and territories, it has nevertheless provided the
police services throughout the states and the Commonwealth with a second-to-none crime
fighting tool which, quite frankly, will prove to be of significant benefit to law enforcement
agencies in this country.
It is important that we have consistent rules in establishing the collection of the forensic
material. The way we collect material is important, and so is the way it is going to be admissible in the state or criminal jurisdictions but, more than that, this is a very solid
example of what can be achieved through federal and state cooperation.
With that, I commend this piece of legislation. This amendment puts beyond doubt what was
in the minds of those who had the foresight back in 1998, I think, to devise this as a project
and who then, in 2000, moved towards the development of the model legislation. It is
regrettable that the model legislation was not picked up in each of the state and territory
jurisdictions in the way that the state, territory and Commonwealth ministers agreed initially,
but I think this actually does now remove those impediments. This is an example of what we
can do through cooperation. This is a very positive example of the Commonwealth’s role,
which I think has to be seen as a growing role, in law enforcement across the country.

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