Speech by the Hon Jason Clare MP, Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice, Minister for Defence Materiel
Australian Institute of Criminology 2013 International Serious and Organised Crime Conference, Brisbane Convention Centre
Organised crime makes more than $870 billion per year. That’s bigger than the GDP of Indonesia. If organised crime was a country it would be in the G20.
Today, I am releasing the Australian Crime Commission’s latest report, Organised Crime in Australia 2013. It’s a sobering report. It concludes that organised crime is becoming more pervasive, more powerful and more complex, than ever before.
Last year, the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Federal Police met with law enforcement agencies from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand and compared their top 20 criminal target lists. The results were telling - we are all targeting the same people. The same organised criminals that are targeting Australia are also targeting other countries. And most of the criminals we are targeting are based overseas.
What does this all mean? My argument today is that if we are going to be successful, we have to work together - here and overseas. The evidence indicates that when we do this we can achieve great things.
Let me give you an example. In 2011, the ACC Board established the National Organised Crime Task Force (NOCTF). It is made up of Commonwealth and state law enforcement agencies - and supported by the Australian intelligence community. Its mandate is to disrupt and dismantle serious organised crime syndicates here and overseas, linked to high-profile murders and large drugs hauls, valued in the billions of dollars.
One of its first targets was a Belgium-based crime syndicate allegedly responsible for the world’s largest importation of ecstasy - 4.4 tonnes in 2008 - in Melbourne. The drugs were imported in tinned tomato cans. The same syndicate is linked to the importation of 2.5 tonnes of cocaine to Australia last year and this year.
In 2008, the Federal Police arrested 16 members of the syndicate - based in Australia. This year, the work of the NOCTF has helped Belgian police dismantle the entire syndicate - arresting 27 members of the syndicate. The head of the snake. An international criminal syndicate - brought down by international cooperation.
We have adopted the same approach here at home - at the border and on the street. At the port in Sydney, we have established Taskforce Polaris - made up officers from the Australian Federal Police, Australian Crime Commission, Customs and Border Protection, NSW Police and the NSW Crime Commission. So far, it has made 44 arrests, laid over 190 charges and seized over 12 tonnes of illicit substances and pre-cursor chemicals. It’s been so successful we have made the decision to expand it right across the Eastern Seaboard.
In Melbourne, it is called Taskforce Trident and it has now been established with Victorian Police. It has almost 30 members from agencies like the AFP, Victorian Police, Australian Crime Commission, Australian Taxation Office and Crimtrac. Since it was established in July last year, it has executed 71 search warrants and made 13 arrests, including the arrest of a suspect involved in the importation of over 300kg liquid methamphetamine.
Here in Brisbane, it is called Taskforce Jericho and commenced on 1 July this year. Jericho is made up of AFP officers, as well as staff from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Australian Crime Commission, the Queensland Police Service and AUSTRAC.
On the streets, we are adopting the same approach - federal and state agencies working together. In March, we announced the establishment of a National Anti Gang Taskforce. It is based on the FBI’s Violent Gang Safe Street Taskforce model that has resulted in over 55,000 arrests in the United States since 2001. The model is a simple one - local, state and federal investigators working together. We are adopting the same approach.
The National Anti-Gang Taskforce will be made up of 71 officers from the Australian Federal Police and State Police forces and officials from the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Customs and the Australian Crime Commission. It includes a Gang Intelligence Centre to provide national criminal intelligence on gang activity across Australia, and strike teams in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The Intelligence Centre is now up and running and the strike teams will begin operations in January next year. The theme across all of these Taskforces is the same - team work.
I was in the United States last week and met with the FBI and the LAPD. They both made the same point. The LAPD actually made the point to me that in the 1980s and 1990s, they did most things on their own. Local and federal agencies did not work well together. Now they do - and they are getting better results.
The same approach applies to law reform. No one person - or organisation - has all the answers. We need to work together to make sure our different law enforcement agencies have the tools and the powers they need to tackle organised crime.
Last year, we announced big reforms to tackle the illegal firearms market. It is the result of a lot of work with the Australian Crime Commission, the AFP, Customs, Crimtrac and State and Territory police. The reforms include:
- The rollout of the Australian Ballistics Identification Network to all State and Territory Police. This is a $9.1 million project to build a database of electronic ballistic information from all weapons used in crimes recovered by Police in every State and Territory. It gives police the ability to effectively fingerprint a firearm, and trace it to crimes that have been committed across the country. Only the NSW Police and the AFP have this technology at the moment. Now all state and territory police will have it.
- The development of a National Firearms Interface to connect State and Territory firearms databases. This is critical to ensuring that information is shared between law enforcement agencies around the country. There are currently over 30 different registries and databases across federal, state and territory agencies which aren’t linked - and thousands of firearms disappear off databases every year. This will help fix that.
- The expansion of the ACC’s Firearm Tracing Capability. State and Territories will now refer data on all stolen firearms for tracing and analysis to the ACC. By doing this - working together - it will give law enforcement agencies across the country more intelligence on the illegal firearm market.
- We have also embedded Customs officers in the NSW Police Firearms and Organised Crime Squad and we are hoping to do the same in other police forces.
I think you can start to see the theme here - helping each other, sharing information and working together.
We are also implementing important reforms to harden our border. At the port, we have rolled out a number of reforms to harden the cargo supply chain against infiltration by organised crime. This includes:
- New obligations on cargo terminal operators to report unlawful activity
- New licence conditions on custom depots, warehouse operators and customs brokers
- Changes to the Integrated Cargo System to limit private sector access to those with a legitimate interest
- Tightening access to Maritime and Aviation Security cards; and
- Increased targeted patrols of the waterfront.
These are reforms identified and proposed by the Polaris Taskforce. In addition to arresting people and seizing drugs, they have worked together to identify vulnerabilities in the cargo supply chain and propose ways to harden it.
We are doing the same thing at Sydney airport. Just before Christmas last year, Australia woke up to the news that four people, including a Customs officer, had been arrested for conspiracy to import drugs and other offences. So far, four officers have been arrested as part of this operation. It’s the result of a joint investigation by ACLEI, the AFP and Customs and Border Protection.
This team has done the same sort of vulnerability analysis here and has made a number of recommendations to stop this happening again. This includes things as simple as banning the use of personal mobile phones in Customs-controlled areas, tighter control over access to staff rosters and tighter restrictions on access to control rooms. This is all part of a much bigger reform of our primary border agency - the Customs and Border Protection Service.
This month, I announced major reforms to the Customs and Border Protection Service to aggressively tackle and weed out corruption, and to make sure Customs is ready and able to cope with the challenges it faces the next five years - big increases in cargo and big increases in the number of passengers coming through our airports.
The number of passengers flying in and out of Australia is expected to increase by about eight million in the next five years and air cargo is expected to more than triple. This creates big data challenges and more pressure to move people and goods quickly across our border. It means we have to modernise our business systems, our processes and our intelligence capability so that they are fit for purpose.
The challenge is not just more work. The work Customs does will also get more complicated. And that means we have to get the operating model right and make sure Customs officers get the right training and the right skills and abilities to do this important job.
We can also be sure of this - serious, organised criminals will continue to try to penetrate the border and the nature and type of commodities they seek to profit from will only expand, aided by the speed and complexity of new supply chains and travel routes.
Intelligence is crucial here. 85 per cent of the drugs we seize at the border is based on criminal intelligence. The more criminal intelligence we’ve got, the more drugs we seize and the more criminals we catch.
That’s why a big part of these reforms is the establishment of a $30 million National Border Targeting Centre to target high risk passengers and cargo. It is based on the model I have seen in the United States. Its job to fuse together intelligence from a number of agencies, including:
- Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
- Australian Federal Police
- Australian Security Intelligence Organisation
- Australian Crime Commission
- Department of Foreign Affairs’ Passports Office
- Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; and
- Office of Transport Security.
Again, the model is the same - all of us working together. This is a big reform program, a lot of work. But given everything in this report, it is obvious there is a lot more we need to do.
I will mention three today. Crime is driven by money. Money creates power in the criminal underworld. Many criminals are more afraid of losing their money than they are of going to jail. If you take away their money - you make a big impact.
That’s why national unexplained wealth laws are very important. They reverse the onus of proof so criminals have to prove their wealth was obtained legally. They have been called for by the Australian Crime Commission, the Police Federation of Australia and every Police Commissioner in this country.
But we are at a deadlock -the states don’t agree on what form these laws should take. That’s why last month I appointed former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer and former New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney to work with the Federal, State and Territory Governments and Police Commissioners to help break this deadlock. We need laws like this if we are serious about tackling serious organised crime - and targeting the heads of criminal syndicates, not just the criminals on the street.
The internet creates a lot of good. It also increases the reach of organised crime. The Crime Commission’s report describes the way that the internet enables global virtual networking and social interaction between criminals, and has enabled the establishment of ‘virtual marketplaces’ for illegal and illicit goods such as drugs, firearms, identification documents and child exploitation material. These ‘virtual marketplaces’ mean that users of illicit drugs no longer have to seek out their dealers on the street. Now they can order their drug of choice on the net and have it delivered to their door.
This is what law enforcement calls Darknets - protected hidden networks for trading in illicit products and information. The most infamous is Silk Road, a virtual supermarket for illicit goods. You buy things on Silk Road using Bitcoins. Bitcoins is a virtual currency with no central issuer or operator and not backed by a physical ‘thing’ or another currency. All of this is a potential game changer.
The Crime Commission’s Report says this new avenue of drug supply has the potential to grow exponentially. Countries all over the world are also faced with the problem of what law enforcement agencies call ‘going dark’. This is another major threat - the steady loss of ability of our law enforcement agencies to lawfully access suspects’ communications. This is because we are all shifting from telephones - which are easily wiretapped - to online communication, where interception is more complicated.
Law enforcement agencies are becoming increasingly unable to collect valuable evidence in cases ranging from child exploitation and pornography to organised crime and drug trafficking - evidence that a court has authorised to collect. This is a genuine threat, and a huge challenge to law enforcement agencies around the world.
The way we tackle these challenges, is the same way we tackle all the others - by working together.
Twelve months ago, I met Janet Napolitano, the United States Homeland Security Secretary, and I suggested that we establish a regular meeting of Homeland Security Secretaries and Ministers from the Five Eyes countries - the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Our Defence Secretaries and Ministers meet regularly. So do our Attorneys-General. But until now our Homeland Security Secretaries and Ministers haven’t. Now we do.
Last week, we met for the first time in California. And we discussed the issues I have talked about today, and others - things like terrorism, cybercrime and countering violent extremism. We shared ideas and we agreed to work together on these common challenges. Next year, we will meet in here in Australia.
I made the same point at the meeting that I am making today. We are all facing the same threats. We are all hunting the same criminals. Events like the bombings in Boston or the attack in Woolwich could have happened in any of our countries. This must compel us to learn from each other and work together.
It’s the same reason that conferences like this - that bring together people from all around the world - are so important. And why reports, like this are so important. And it is my pleasure to officially release it at this conference today.