Hammering out plans to nail crime kingpins

The Daily Telegraph, 04 June 2012

Two weeks ago four men were convicted of the biggest attempt to import ecstasy anywhere in the world – 15 million tablets hidden in cans of tomatoes.

Australian Federal Police intercepted more than 185,000 phone calls and text messages. They tracked the drugs from Italy to Australia, seized them and arrested the king pin, Pasquale Barbaro. He will now spend the next 30 years in a jail cell.

I had been watching this trial closely – waiting for it to end. The day after it was over I announced a major overhaul of security in the cargo industry. I wasn’t able to say a word until the trial had finished. If I announced the reforms while the trial was underway the advice of the judge was that it would have to be aborted. So I waited.

I have been Minister for Home Affairs for six months. One of the first things I was briefed on was Operation Polaris – a special taskforce targeting organised crime in the cargo industry in Sydney.

They have arrested a lot of crooks and seized a lot of drugs. Criminals are cunning. In the last 12 months we have found heroin in hair dye, and cocaine in engine oil, lawnmowers and even beer bottles.

Criminals also target and try to infiltrate the waterfront, the private cargo industry and law enforcement. That’s why I announced a series of measures to tackle organised crime.

This includes giving law enforcement the power to refuse or revoke security licences to work in the cargo industry if there is compelling criminal intelligence people are involved in organised crime.

99 per cent of people who work in the industry are good, honest, hardworking people. They don’t want to work with crooks – and this will help weed them out.

Most of the people Polaris has arrested don’t work on the wharf. Organised crime targets freight forwarders, customs brokers and warehouse operators – the people who move cargo from the dock to our door.

These companies all have access to the computer system that shows where containers are. If organised crime gets their paws into these companies we have a serious problem. That’s why I have also made the decision to restrict access to the system and make it a criminal offence to use it to tip off the crooks.

The tentacles of organised crime stretch beyond Sydney. Given the success of Operation Polaris I have decided to extend it to Melbourne and Brisbane. It will start in Melbourne in July and in Brisbane early next year.

Criminals also try to corrupt police – we learnt that here in NSW a long time ago. They also target Customs officers. That’s why I am introducing legislation to conduct targeted integrity testing. These are covert operations designed to test if someone is corrupt. It could involve offering a bribe, leaving money at a crime scene or putting false information on a database.

It is designed to put the fear of God into anyone who is corrupt. The next time they take a bribe off a criminal it could be an undercover cop.

This is just the first step. If we are serious about tackling organised crime there is a lot more to do.

Organised crime is a cancer. It eats away at our economy – it costs more than $15 billion a year. It also eats away at our community – the shootings in western Sydney are part of a war between organised criminals fighting over drugs.

We have to fight this at the border and on the street.

Police Ministers across the country will meet in three weeks. Top of the agenda is how we tackle the illegal firearms black market. No small challenge – the advice of the Australian Crime Commission is there are tens and tens of thousands of firearms out there in the hands of criminals.

I am developing the plan with the NSW Police Minister Mike Gallacher. The work we are doing shows that politicians from different parties can work together.

Here is the next thing we need to do together – national unexplained wealth laws.

There is one thing that serious criminals hate more than a jail cell – and that’s losing all their money. I have written to the States and Territories asking them for the power to create national unexplained wealth laws. This will make it easier to seize their assets and ensure there are no safe havens. It will also catch more crooks.

The lesson from Al Capone is you catch big time criminals by following the money. That’s what we need to do.

Hit them on the street, at the border and in their hip pocket.