Confiscation Amendment (Unexplained Wealth) Bill 2024

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Thank you, Acting Speaker. If you can indulge me on this, it will probably be slow and painful for me. It is usually a pleasure to rise on a bill, but I am struggling a bit today. I rise in favour of the Confiscation Amendment (Unexplained Wealth) Bill ‍2024. From the outset I would like to thank the Attorney-General from the other place and the Minister for Police. Both of their teams have put an immense effort into this piece of legislation and more broadly into ensuring the safety of the Victorian community.

For a little bit of context, since coming to government we on this side of the house have invested billions into Victoria Police – $4.5 billion in fact – which makes a significant difference on the ground across our community. It has resulted in 3600 new sworn police officers on the ground on patrol in Victoria, including in the Glen Waverley district. I have the privilege of actually having the Victoria Police Academy in my district, right on top of the hill there in Glen Waverley. I am very happy to have them there. It is a landmark that is hard to miss driving around my community, and I am proud that our up-and-coming VicPol recruits are being trained on training grounds in the mighty Glen Waverley district. I am very pleased to inform the house that the Victoria Police training academy is at capacity, with regular double-squad graduations. It is a case in point of our Allan Labor government investing in the boots on the ground.

That is not the only way we are supporting police and the important work that they do to fight crime in the community, because when the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police asks the Minister for Police or the Premier for new tools they need, our government is here to listen, reflect and act. It is that which this bill is all about – strengthening the tools in the toolkit for Victoria Police and law enforcement officials.

For some context, we already have a detailed piece of legislation in place, the Confiscation Act 1997, which gives Victoria Police and the Office of Public Prosecutions the power to seize the unexplained wealth of criminals in this state. It is an important tool, but we need to do more to ensure that nobody in this state can commit crime and use those proceeds to bolster their wealth. That is why we are making the reforms today as a consequence of two pieces of previous work. The first is our Community Safety Statement 2018–19, in which the Victorian Labor government committed to a comprehensive review of Victoria’s asset confiscation and unexplained wealth laws. It is a review that has been thoroughly undertaken and backed by government, and it resulted in two pieces of legislation. The first is the Major Crime and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Act 2022, which passed this place in the last Parliament. It is an act that made a range of improvements to the justice and community safety laws of our state, including improved powers for law enforcement agencies to identify and seize digital assets. Today’s piece of legislation goes a step further, with new powers to disrupt serious organised crime in our state and stop these entities from enjoying their wealth earned off the back of illegal activities.

In Victoria’s existing Confiscation Act 1997 there are currently two pathways for the state to confiscate illegally obtained wealth, and with this bill before the house we have listened to the experts and our law enforcement agencies and are adding a third mechanism to strip illegally gained wealth from the hands of criminals. Under these amendments the Director of Public Prosecutions will be able to apply for a new order, an unexplained wealth order. What does that actually mean? Well, if there are reasonable grounds that someone’s personal wealth exceeds their lawfully acquired wealth by at least $200,000, then that person will have to prove how their wealth was lawfully acquired. If they cannot, then the courts will have the power to make them pay that wealth to the state. Importantly, the bill before the house also expands the definition of ‘wealth’ so we can better legislate to capture the senior crime figures who often distance themselves from wealth-generating offending. That expanded definition will now also include wealth that has been consumed or expended as well as services, advantages and benefits provided to a person. I think it is a very welcome change, because there is a clear expectation in our community that crime and especially organised crime has no place in the Victorian community.

It is not just what we say, it is what we mean as a government. A case in point is our $4.5 billion investment to put more boots on the ground across our great state, all from the terrific police academy that sits atop Glen Waverley in my community. As I mentioned before, the academy is full to the brim and pumping out regular double-squad graduations of Victoria’s newest police officers, officers who are spending more time on the beat and less time behind desks, keeping our communities safe. If the house will indulge me, I would like to thank each and every one of our serving members of Victoria Police for the work they do day in and day out to keep our community safe. Our government is proud to have your back, and we will do so for as long as we have the pleasure of sitting on these benches.

On a local level, I am very grateful to have a strong working relationship with our terrific Victoria Police members, whether that be our Whitehorse area commander, our Monash area commander or the senior sergeants at Forest Hill station or Glen Waverley police station. My thanks go to each and every one for your leadership and also for your team and the ongoing commitment to protecting our community.

Beyond that, there are so many people behind the scenes that make our criminal justice system tick smoothly, and my thanks go to all those Victorians too, whether they be in the Office of Public Prosecutions or Department of Justice and Community Safety, those who staff our courts or indeed our federal counterparts.

Policing and the disruption of serious organised crime is a shared task and a shared effort the Allan Labor government is committed to supporting. This is very serious work, and it requires a serious and ever-evolving response. We know that criminals and especially serious organised crime groups are constantly changing their tactics and trying to evade authorities and make a profit off the back of illicit activities and ultimately off the backs of hardworking Victorians, but as they change, so do we. Our government always stands ready to listen to our law enforcement agencies like Victoria Police, and when the Chief Commissioner of Police tells us he needs something to change or Victoria Police needs a new tool for the toolkit, we have a terrific Minister for Police and Attorney-General who are here to listen and act. The bill before the house is an example of just that – listening to law enforcement, understanding how we can better target our crime prevention efforts and drafting legislation to make it a reality. I am proud to commend this bill to the house, and I wish it a speedy passage.

John Mullahy MP
Author: John Mullahy MP

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