Second Reading

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (16:19): I am pleased to rise to speak on the Confiscation Amendment (Unexplained Wealth) Bill 2024 before the house today and to join with my factional colleague – the O’Brien faction, the member for Malvern – in supporting his reasoned amendment on this legislation but noting that we are not opposed to this legislation from the very real perspective that of course we will always want to do what we can to stamp out crime and particularly organised crime as it occurs in this state. I must say that when I first read the excellent bill report of my factional colleague, I did initially have a little bit of a concern. I will come to that.

Basically, the current unexplained wealth confiscation program currently has two pathways. One is a person pathway, and that is where there is a reasonable suspicion that a person with an interest in property valued over $50,000 is engaged in serious criminal activity. That is the person pathway. And the other is based on a reasonable suspicion that property of any value was not lawfully acquired. That is the property pathway. This legislation goes a step further and effectively introduces a situation where once a case has established that there is a $200,000 gap between an accused’s actual wealth and their lawfully acquired wealth, then the responsibility is on an accused to justify that their wealth was lawfully acquired. When I first read this my initial concern was that there is no obligation on the Crown to prove any nexus between any unexplained wealth and criminal activity. That was the bit that I went, ‘Ooh, that is a bit of an issue.’ We always want to target criminals, obviously, but this sort of legislation potentially could catch someone who is completely receiving money on a legal basis. However, that is probably unlikely to be the case because you should always be able to prove where you got the money from. Nonetheless this is an issue that has been raised by the Victorian Bar and the Law Institute of Victoria, among others, and is the reason why the member for Malvern has moved the reasoned amendment that he has that there should be a bit further discussion on this issue and particularly some clarification to ensure that no-one who is not undertaking criminal activity can be caught up in this new third way approach.

I think that is appropriate, but as previous speakers have indicated, what this legislation is really about is making sure that police and the courts can target the Mr Bigs or Mrs Bigs or Ms Bigs or Mx Bigs, whichever you would prefer –

Steve Dimopoulos interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: It has been a long day, Minister. It has been a long day. There are clearly circumstances – and the member for Narre Warren South went to a fictional account, but there are probably many actual accounts that we could deliver here in this place or that certainly police could talk about where the Mr Bigs are doing nothing directly themselves but are the subject of ill-gotten gains if you like. So this legislation gives the police and the courts the opportunity to target them on the basis of simply the income that they are unable to account for. I think it is important, as I said, that we tackle crime on every level. We on this side, the Liberals and Nationals, will always seek to ensure that criminals are being stopped and that crime is being reduced.

It is a particular concern in my electorate. I have got a constituent mobile office day on Thursday. What are the two issues that a half a dozen people have already raised with me? Land tax and crime on the streets.

Michael O’Brien interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: Two types of theft, indeed. I note that –

Tim Richardson: He is just nailing zingers.

Danny O’BRIEN: Do not throw me off, member for Sandringham. Now I am really throwing zingers, member for Mordialloc – the glimmer twins over there down on the bayside. Sorry, Acting Speaker, I have been distracted by the member for Mordialloc. But crime is a serious issue. We have seen in the budget today – I am very pleased that Mr McIntosh, the member in the other place, has announced half a million dollars towards the rebuilding of the Fish Creek Football Netball Club. That is of course very welcome. It is something I has been speaking to the minister about.

A member interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: No, I did not get an invite, and I do wonder whether the member actually deliberately chose a lower house sitting day to go and announce this, but the point being that the Fish Creek Football Netball Club needs new clubrooms because a thief broke into their clubrooms, stole whatever he stole, a number of things – he or she – and then burnt those clubrooms to the ground. A club that has been around for 130-odd years lost most of that history, and not only that but a focal point for a small country town. That particular event happened as part of a wave of crime down the South Gippsland Highway that started at the Meeniyan IGA, which got rolled. It went to the Yanakie motocross club. I think it was the same event that ended up in Alberton in Yarram. We are seeing this increasingly in South Gippsland, which is historically a very low crime area and I think is now being seen as a very soft target for criminals coming out of the south-east of Melbourne in particular, some of them local. We are seeing that because of the very, very thin blue line that we have in South Gippsland in particular. We recently saw the long-serving sergeant at Leongatha retire from his post. We had an appointment of a new sergeant to that post in I think it was February this year. In my attempts to go and see the new sergeant I was thwarted by leave and a few other things, and now I am told that new sergeant has retired and moved on. That is just a symptom of the issues that we have with the lack of police in my electorate.

What does that mean? What it means is the actual crime rate has risen dramatically across Gippsland South. Since the election of the Labor government we have seen a 66.6 per cent increase in the crime rate in the South Gippsland shire, a two-thirds increase in the crime rate. That, as I said, has come from a low base, but it has led to serious concerns from my community about security in their towns, about theft, burglaries and robberies but also just generally antisocial behaviour – the hoon driving that is happening in places like Leongatha, Loch and Korumburra – and some of the activities. Again, some of it is being perpetrated by young people who feel in many areas they can do it almost with impunity. That is an issue, again, as I mentioned, that people are wanting to come and talk to me about this week, as they have been for a number of months now.

I should add that the other parts of the electorate have not been left alone. Wellington shire’s crime rates have increased 11.7 per cent since 2014, and even Latrobe city, which I think has the second highest municipal crime rate after Melbourne, has risen 9.7 per cent. We have got a serious issue with crime at both ends of the spectrum: the Mr Bigs and the organised crime that this legislation in particular is tackling but also at that local area level, where it is a significant concern.

As I said, I am very happy for the Fish Creek Football Netball Club. I have been working with the minister and with the club for a long time, since that event late last year, to get some state government funding to rebuild. That is fantastic, although $500,000 will not go very far in what will probably be a $4 million, $5 million, $6 million project, so I hope this is simply a down payment on what the government is proposing. The community would like not just the money to rebuild; they would like the resources to see our community is much safer, whether that is to stop people who are hoon driving on our local roads and streets or whether it is to stop the burglaries and the other criminal activity that is happening in small country towns, where historically people left the door open and where they did not lock their cars. People are having to change their attitude and they are having to change their practices because of the lack of safety that we now have in this state. That is a significant concern. It is a concern about the livability of those regions, and certainly it is something that the government needs to do better on.

This legislation, I think as the member for Malvern indicated, will have an amendment to insert a review into this after three years to ensure that we have in fact got it right, in the event that the government does not accept our reasoned amendment. We think that is sensible. We think this bill should pass but there should be more discussion on it before it does.

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