Federal Politics

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State wants to keep control of crime cash

THE Commonwealth will today push to take control of efforts across Australia to seize the wealth of criminals amid the increasing power and reach of globalised organised criminal networks.

The move, at a Canberra meeting of the standing committee of law and justice, will almost certainly be opposed, however, by NSW, the state that hosts the most ''black wealth'' in the country and is the most determined in pursuing it.

In the past decade, around the world criminal wealth legislation has become the focus of law enforcement's attempts to deal with the huge growth of organised criminal networks.

''Organised crime is driven by dirty money - take away their money and it reduces the incentive to commit crimes," the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, said in a statement yesterday.

The use of such legislation in Australia has for the past decade been impeded by the patchwork nature of such laws in Australia's states and territories, with some criminals simply moving to another jurisdiction when targeted by law enforcement.

The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, who has responsibility for tackling organised crime, will also lobby for the support of the state and territories regarding the proposed legislation.


''It means the Mr Bigs have to prove that their wealth was obtained legally," Mr Clare said in the same statement. "It makes it easier to confiscate their assets. This is what makes it one of the most effective ways to bring down organised criminals.''

The push by the Commonwealth stems from the findings of the parliamentary joint committee on law enforcement, which last month stated there was an ''uneven application of law enforcement efforts''.

The committee examined three solutions to the problem and found that referring confiscation powers from the states and territories to the Commonwealth would be the most effective option.

That would allow the Commonwealth to seize assets even where only state offences such as theft had been committed.

It is that option, the referral of powers, that will be pushed by Ms Roxon and Mr Clare at today's meeting. It is likely, however, at least one state will oppose the move, which could scotch the plan. The NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, SC, last month told the committee that NSW already had an effective system.

The NSW Crime Commission is recognised as the leader in criminal wealth confiscation and has seized more than $160 million since 1997, far more than the other jurisdictions combined.