TAINTED PROPERTY CAN SAVE LIVES – Monday April 8 2013

– Most of us are probably unaware of the term “tainted property”, but it is a beautiful phrase from an unlikely source.
It emerged from the beige back rooms of the law in which there are men and women who dedicate their lives to drawing up legislation.
This is the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel. You might think little of interest emerges from these usually bloomless fields of public administration.
But it’s output defines how Victorians live and work with each other on every level as it assembles the wording of Acts of Parliament so that they are legally enforceable and accurately reflect the intentions of our elected representatives.
Take the Victorian Confiscation Act 1997. It’s a work of art.
An idea if the Kennett government that year, this law freezes and seizes the property of crooks and sells it off to benefit the rest of us. In it’s first year, property valued at $2.3 million was grabbed in this way by the state. It does considerably better today.
The Act has been polished up here and there over the years and in one of those changes the notion of “tainted property” was introduced.
What this makes clear to criminals is that hiding behind the assets of others no longer works.
For instance, if you grow hundreds of cannabis plants in a house you rent, but own a property elsewhere that has not been involved in criminal activity, bad luck: the “clean” property is deemed to be tainted property and it’s ours.
In the past few months a series of spectacular busts have proved our state and federal police forces are largely smarter than drug runners. They also proved that your average drug gang member can’t resist extravagant displays of wealth. Living low-key doesn’t occur to these arrogant and indolent lowlifes. Last month, after a year-long investigation involving Victoria Police, officers found heroin and crystal methamphetamine, otherwise known as ice, valued at $28 million.
Australian Federal Police Commander David Sharpe made me smile when he described how one of the gangsters was in tears. He wasn’t upset to be handcuffed, but they towed away the Lamborghini.
Commander Sharpe’s haul that day also included property, cash, $600,000 in casino chips – presumably in the laundry – jewellery valued at $10,000, along with 99 designer handbags and wallets: all up $9 million.
On January 29th, as part of Operation Taxa, police raided houses across the state and along with marijuana, ice and steroids, picked up a brand new Maserati, a flashy Harley-Davidson motorbike and a Melton factory.
Across the country the story is the same: drugs and $330,000 cash in Adelaide on January 9th; ecstasy, cocaine, ice along with properties and cash valued at $1.5 million in Brisbane on February 20th.
But what do we do with the money raised from the sale of such assets? The Act states that the money is for restitution or compensation for victims of crime, and in the early days at least some money was directed to the Drug Rehabilitation Fund.
We should tweak this legislation once more. Most of the crimes involve the manufacture, distribution and sale of drugs on an industrial scale.
So let’s set about comprehensively funding the addiction rehabilitation centres that cater for the victims of this business using the money raised from taking the crooks’ cash, selling their houses, boats and luxury cars.
Two years ago George Thompson, the clinical director of the Recovery Foundation – a not-for-profit rehabilitation centre – sought $500,000 from the then Baillieu Government to reopen the Warburton Hospital, the well-appointed but abandoned property beyond Lilydale, so that he could treat drug-and-alcohol-dependent Victorians.
That Lamborghini and the Maserati alone would do the trick, but Warburton remains unaccountably closed and hundreds of struggling people go untreated.
Harmful drugs are big business. On February 27th police announced they had seized a record 585kg of methamphetamines – more half a tonne – despatched to Australia from China.
It was valued at $438 million.
Among the patients Thompson is working with at the Recovery Foundation in Ormond are at least four ice addicts, and they’re not the nightclub party people you’d expect.
“The demographic for ice is exactly the same as the demographic we used to see for alcohol and heroin,” he explained.
“People used to think back then that it was only street addicts and down and out bums, but it wasn’t then and it’s not now. But ice addicts get into trouble faster.
“They’re hitting some devastating rock bottoms after 12 months. It just rips you apart. It’s all over Melbourne. It everywhere.”
Not everyone can afford rehabilitation, but Thompson believes it is essential. He says that those facilities dealing simply in detoxing patients leave them without the tools to stay on the road to recovery.
“It’s a revolving door. Too many people think that treating addiction is just too hard for everybody,” said Thompson.
“In the US and UK recovery is very mainstream, but we seem to be stuck in time warp in Australia.”
We’ve been smart enough to legislate to strip drug barons of their assets. Now let’s set about spending that money on real care for addicted Australians, not just detox Band-Aids. Salvation for the next ice-addicted victim may be just a Harley-Davidson away – Alan Howe

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About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Crimewave2014@gmail.com
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