The Law

Wealth by stealth gets harder

New powers target criminal kingpins

Police will be given powers to seize material and share information with other agencies under new laws introduced into the House of Representatives which target organised crime.

Introducing the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Unexplained Wealth and Other Measures Bill) 2014 to the House of Representatives, Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the bill aims to strengthen laws which are used to combat those living off the proceeds of crime.

“Serious and organised crime poses a significant threat to Australian communities,” he said.

“Unexplained wealth laws turn the tables on criminals who live off the benefits of their illegal activities at the expense of hardworking Australians.

“They also provide an avenue to target the criminal kingpins who enjoy the proceeds of crime, without committing actual crimes themselves.”

The bill will amend existing search and seizure powers in the Proceeds of Crime Act to allow authorised officers to seize material relevant to unexplained wealth.

Other measures will boost the ability of investigators to share information with state and international authorities.

The bill also seeks to streamline the process for obtaining unexplained wealth orders. Under the proposed changes a court will not have discretion to refuse to make an order for suspected wealth of $100,000 or more.

“Taking the profit out of crime undermines the entire business model of criminal groups and prevents illicit funds being reinvested to support further criminal activity,” Mr Keenan said.

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Overseas adoptions: Red tape removal helps children

Parents adopting children from overseas may soon be able to ensure their child is granted Australian citizenship as soon as the adoption is finalised.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has introduced the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption Bill) 2014 into the House of Representatives, after pledging to make the process easier for those looking to adopt.

Under the current rules, depending on arrangements in place between the two countries, children need a passport from their home country and an Australian adoption visa in order to come to Australia.

This will be changed so children are granted citizenship once adoption arrangements are completed, ensuring they can travel on an Australian passport.

Mr Abbott said the government wants to make it easier for parents to adopt children from other countries.

“For too long, adoption had been in the too-hard basket. For too long, it has been too hard to adopt and for too long, this has been a policy no-go zone,” he said.

“It is red tape that impacts on children who legitimately need a safe and loving home and Australians who dream of providing that home.”

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Veterans' Affairs: Stress treatment boost for soldiers

Current and former Defence personnel, including those with peacetime service, may soon get easier access to mental health treatment under a new bill passed by federal parliament.

The Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Mental Health and Other Measures) Bill 2014 was introduced to the House by Assistant Minister for Defence Stuart Robert.

“The bill reflects this government’s commitment to recognising the unique nature of military service,” he said. “Tackling mental health challenges for veterans and their families is one of the four pillars of our plan for veterans and their families.”

Services are being expanded to allow soldiers who have been diagnosed with alcohol or substance abuse conditions to receive treatment, regardless of whether the condition is service related. Rules will also be changed so that those who completed three years of peacetime service after 7 April 1994 will now be eligible for treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“This means that treatment for the mental health conditions of PTSD, anxiety and depressive disorders and alcohol and substance use disorders will be available without the need for the condition to be accepted as related to the member’s service,” Mr Robert said.

Current and serving peacetime members such as those working on border protection, in a disaster zone or involved in a training accident will also be able to attend counselling.

“It is recognised that military peacetime service has its own risks for exposure to traumatic events and impact on mental health,” Mr Robert said.

Services for families through the Veterans Families Counselling Service are also set to be expanded.

Partners and dependent children up to the age of 26 and parents of members killed in service-related incidents will be able to access counselling.

Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann, who also spoke in support of the bill, said it was impossible to exaggerate what Australia owes to its service personnel and their families.

“In thanking them for their sacrifices and showing our gratitude for the work they do in securing our nation and preserving the democracy here, we have to ensure that we provide the highest standard of care for them when they return,” she said.

Former minister for defence science and personnel Warren Snowden told the House that those who have done service potentially need to be looked after for the rest of their lives.

“What we have to acknowledge is that once we accept someone into the Defence Force we see them as part of the family that we need to look after, ultimately until they are dead,” he said.

“That means ongoing care not only of them but also, in particular circumstances, their families.”

Other measures regarding the operation of the Veterans Review Board, which reviews decisions relating to pensions, compensation and other entitlements, are also included in the legislation.

At present around $166 million is spent each year on mental health services.

Mr Robert said there has been extensive consultation with ex-services organisations on the matters included in the bill.

“I am pleased that there is broad support for these reforms,” he said.

“There will be further ongoing discussion with the ex-service organisations on the implementation of these changes.”

There has been an increasing focus in recent years on whether there is adequate care for soldiers returning from deployment in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan who may have PTSD or other mental health problems.

The issue was put on the agenda by those such as retired Major General John Cantwell, the former national commander of Australian Defence Forces in Afghanistan.

Major General Cantwell wrote a book about his battle with PTSD and depression and warned a parliamentary inquiry in 2012 that Defence will face further challenges to care for soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

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Employment: Push for public service diversity

More people with a disability and from non-English speaking backgrounds would have to be employed by the Australian Public Service (APS) under a new proposal by the Australian Greens.

Greens Deputy Adam Bandt has introduced the Public Service Amendment (Employment for all of us) Bill 2014 into the House of Representatives.

The bill requires the APS to double the number of employees from each group within five years and leaves it up to the Public Service Commissioner to decide how that will be achieved.

Mr Bandt said there is significant unemployment and under-employment from both groups that needs to be addressed.

“We know that almost 20 per cent of Australians identify as having a disability but the number of people with a disability employed by the APS dropped to 2.9 per cent of the entire workforce in 2012,” he said.

“Similarly, one in four people in Australia identify as being from a non-English speaking background but account for only 5.1 per cent of the Australian workforce.”

Mr Bandt told the House that Australia runs the risk of creating an underclass of people who will be locked out of the workforce.

“It will not solve the problem, but it will be a significant step towards moving people who want employment into that gainful employment,” he said.

The bill is yet to be debated further.

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Agriculture: Reforms target farm chemicals

Changes aimed at simplifying the system which regulates thousands of chemicals and medicines used in primary industries have passed federal parliament.

The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014 was introduced to the House by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

“This bill aims to reduce the unnecessary regulatory burden on this industry resulting in reduced costs that will eventually flow on to benefit primary producers,” he said.

Around 11,700 separate agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines are registered with the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

A key part of the bill is an amendment to change the re-registration and renewal requirements of chemicals.

“In the same way a person obtains a car driver’s licence that then is subject to periodic renewal, under the new legislation ‘agvet’ chemical registrations continue in force subject to periodic renewal,” Mr Joyce said.

“These amendments will allow longer timeframes for renewal. The regulations will set the period which could be up to seven years. Less frequent renewals will mean less red tape and less cost to business.

“These reforms aim to reduce red tape for farmers and other businesses and encourage the development of new chemistry with a range of benefits for farmers and other users, the environment and the community.”

Opposition agricultural spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the bill was extremely important.

“It will affect Australia’s multibillion-dollar plant sites and crop protection industry; it will have implications for our natural environment; and, most importantly, it is about the protection of human health,” he said.

“These are all very important points but for the opposition the last point — that is, human health — is paramount.”
Australia’s agriculture sector is worth around $48 billion.

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