The number of people charged by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and issues surrounding staffing have been raised as concerns in the Senate.
Liberal Senator Sue Boyce said the number of people charged by the ACC in 2004-05 was 294 compared with 176 in 2006-07 and 210 in 2007-08.
"The New South Wales Crime Commission was responsible for 445 arrests, compared with the ACC's 176. The New South Wales figure was achieved with a staff of just 110, compared to the 619 employed by the ACC," she said.
"The budgets were also compared - there was $14 million for the New South Wales commission and well over $100 million that year for the ACCC."
The ACC had informed the parliamentary committee that investigations of many offences were best carried out by Australia's police forces, with the ACC working more on national intelligence, Boyce said.
However, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Justice and Public Security Jason Wood expressed concerns that the ACC had experienced "dramatic funding cuts".
Wood said the issue of seconded state and territory police and Australian Federal Police members who had been working on investigations at the ACC was concerning, because personnel numbers had dropped from 150 under the Howard government to between 20 and 30 members currently.
"Those working for the ACC as full-time staff under the act do not have a power of arrest and they do not have the right to carry firearms. It is only the seconded members who have that right. So when you are sending those seconded members home you are actually losing the investigation capacity of the ACC," he said.
Senator Steve Hutchins, chairman of the parliamentary committee, also expressed concern that the ACC's CEO had no ability to remove staff members based on a loss of confidence in that staff member's integrity.
"The CEO of the ACC does not even have the power to suspend employees under investigation," he said.
"This is an untenable situation for an organisation that is taking the fight to organised crime in Australia, where the potential for security breaches is enormous and the stakes are high."
The committee recommended that this situation be reviewed and rectified by the Government.
Another recommendation was the need to expedite the judicial process for contempt proceedings relating to the ACC. Intelligence from the ACC has suggested that certain high-risk crime groups have directed their members to frustrate examinations by refusing to comply with and provide evidence to the commissions, said Hutchins.
Federal Member for Werriwa Chris Hayes added that individuals from serious and organised crime groups would rather risk a jail sentence than co-operate with the coercive powers of the commission.
"If a matter is delayed for 18 months while it is progressing contempt proceedings through the courts, an investigative trail would ordinarily go cold. For people at the front line, particularly in relation to drug importation, those investigations regrettably become redundant," he said.
- Sarah Sharples
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