NEWSREADER: The Federal Government has upped the ante in a war on drug runners and organised crime, proposing new measures to crack down on corruption at the waterfront.
Police will be given new powers to ban workers from the docks if they're suspected of being involved in criminal activity. The Home Affairs Minister acknowledges it's a controversial measure, but says it's vital to cut out the cancer of organised crime.
Narda Gilmore reports.
REPORTER: In two years on Sydney's docks alone police have seized more than 12 tonnes of ilicit substances; 16 people have been arrested.
JASON CLARE: Organised crime's a cancer. It hurts the economy, it costs the economy more than $15 billion a year.
REPORTER: Strike Force Polaris(*) in Sydney was the first step in a major crackdown on waterfront corruption. Today, the Government announced unprecedented new measures to be rolled out at docks around the country.
JASON CLARE: We've got serious organised criminals targeting and trying to exploit the waterfront, and this is a major crackdown on organised crime on the waterfront.
REPORTER: The overhaul will target the waterfront and beyond with private companies also facing much greater scrutiny. The most significant change will see police powers beefed up, giving them the right to ban workers from the docks if they're suspected of being involved in criminal activity.
JASON CLARE: This is a serious reform, and I expect it'll be controversial, but it's necessary.
REPORTER: Currently, police have to wait for a conviction before a worker can be removed from the docks.
TONY NEGUS: We all know that courts in Australia need evidence beyond reasonable doubt to be able to convict someone appropriately. And that can take some time.
JASON CLARE: In my book, it's not good enough to hang around and wait to get that information. If someone is importing heroin into the country, you've got to get them off the dock.
REPORTER: Freight companies, customs brokers, and others, will also face tougher penalties if they're found to be aiding a criminal organisation. Access to cargo information will be tightened.
There are 11 reforms in total. Some will require law changes, with the Minister planning to introduce legislation to Parliament later this year.
He says the industry and unions will be consulted.
Nada Gilmor, ABC news, Canberra.
NEWSREADER: So will the introduction of new security cards effectively address organised crime on the docks. Paddy Crumlin, the national secretary of the Maritime Union Australia doesn't think so.
PADDY CRUMLIN: The whole issue of organised crime is more endemic, it is in areas where the MSIC card doesn't apply. Thirty per cent of the ships on the Australian coast trading between Sydney and Melbourne don't have MSIC cards and have foreign seafarers from the Ukraine, from Russia, from the Phillipines, from all of these countries that haven't any background.
Now the Polaris report and the Minister is silent on that.
That's the area that organised crime is thriving. It's thriving in the container parts, in quarantine, in customs, in all off those areas. Waterfront workers are under more scrutiny than Ivan Milat - 24 hours a day, seven days a week under CCTV, and we are the most scrutinised workforce, and we are screened against terrorism and a whole lot of other things.
I don't think we are the weak link. The weak link is elsewhere and the Federal Government needs to apply themselves to that weak link.
NEWSREADER: So you believe your members are being targeted unfairly.
PADDY CRUMLIN: Well it looks like it. Unless it's a media beat up. You know, I went through the 11 points - only three of them applied to MSIC cards. And MSIC cards aren't exclusively applying to the Maritime Union of Australia.
There is no empirical evidence that suggests there is any greater threat in the waterfront due to waterside workers coming and going from their jobs - honest, hard-working, legally abiding, properly selected that there needs to be any additional attention that isn't open to us in the normal processes of law.
And that is you are innocent unless proven guilty.
NEWSREADER: So you're going to oppose these measures.
PADDY CRUMLIN: If it means that people can lose their jobs, families can be put out of their mortgages on evidence that isn't transparent, isn't properly recorded, and isn't subject
to the full process of justice the way we understand justice in this country, of course we'll be opposing it.
My members don't want crooks in their area of work or influence.
They are like every other Australian.
But we are not going to be targeted by some political or legal witch hunt that is going to take away their proper rights of law. They are average, ordinary working men and women, and they deserve the rights that every other worker - and every other citizen in this country expects and deserves.
NEWSREADER: Paddy Crumlin, thank you.
PADDY CRUMLIN: Thank you.