30 July 2013
Launch of the Australian Crime Commission’s Organised Crime Australia 2013 Report
WARREN GRAY: Thanks ladies and gentlemen. Good morning and welcome to the launch of the Australian Crime Commission’s Organised Crime Australia 2013 Report. Thank you for being here today. My name is Warren Gray and I’m the acting Executive Director Operations for the Australian Crime Commission.
Before we begin, I would like to give you an overview of today’s proceedings. I will soon invite the Commission’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr John Lawler, to speak. He’ll be followed by the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, the Honourable Jason Clare, who will formally launch the report. We’re also joined by AFP Acting Commissioner, Mike Phelan, and Chief Executive Officer for the Australian Customs and Border Protections, Mike Pezzullo, who will also make statements and will be available for questions at a later time.
There will be a 10 minute question and answer opportunity near the end for the panel. So I ask the media to save its questions for that time. I would now like to introduce Australian Crime Commission Chief Executive Officer, Mr John Lawler.
JOHN LAWLER: Well, good morning, everybody, and thanks for coming here this morning to join us in the launch of the Australian Crime Commission’s Organised Crime in Australia 2013 Report. I would like to acknowledge the Minister for Justice, the Honourable Jason Clare. My law enforcement partners and colleagues and others that have joined us for this press conference here this morning, including Senator Stephen Parry who was the vice president of the Senate and also a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement that plays such an important bipartisan role that in dealing with the challenges we face from serious and organised crime in Australia.
Can I just say at the outset that this particular report that the Minister will launch shortly is the most comprehensive, contemporary profile of serious and organised crime in Australia. But it’s an unclassified report. The Commission has a lot of classified documents which, for very good reasons, and for reasons that you’d well understand, we’re not able to share with the public. But we’ve tried very hard through this report, and the fact sheets that accompany it, to actually provide context and information for the community, both the public and indeed the private sector, to help them protect themselves from the threat of organised crime. Indeed, organised crime is incredibly pervasive in Australia, it’s incredibly pervasive globally. It touches everyday Australians more now than ever before.
But I’d like to talk for a minute or two about the very real impacts of organised crime that – has on everyday Australians. We’re a lucky country, we’ve got a robust economy, we’ve got relatively high standards of living, we’ve got high disposable incomes, we’ve got good governance, we operate under a rule of law. We’re a very fortunate and lucky country. But where the money is, make no mistake about it, you will find organised crime. We’ve found many Australians, many, many Australians, have fallen victim to organised criminality. They may not see it under the heading of organised criminality, whether it’s in investment fraud, and criminals targeting their superannuation savings, whether it’s through unauthorised entries on their credit card. Whether it’s that their identity has been stolen. And then, of course, we’ve seen the more public face of organised crime through brazen public shootings that put Australians at risk.
But the actually impacts don’t stop there. We’ve lost billions of dollars, billions of dollars, to foreign jurisdictions. That’s billions of dollars that should have remained in the Australian economy, supporting businesses, supporting employment, and supporting growth for our country. And organised crime has had that impact.
We see increased public expenditure to support health services of those that have fallen victim to drug addiction or drug abuse. We see small businesses struggling on an unlevel playing field. We see organised criminals mixing the legitimate with the illegitimate, and indeed operating in ways that mean that they don’t pay, or abide by, the normal regulatory responses that businesses are required to. We see once financially independent families, and individuals, becoming dependent on social welfare after they’ve lost their life savings to fraudsters.
We see distorted share markets, which organised criminals have manipulated, or ramped up. They’ve done that either with the share prices, or indeed asset values, for criminal gain. And then we see the phoenixing of companies, where Australians suffer, everyday Australians suffer, because they’re short changed on their benefits and entitlements when organised crime backed businesses go into liquidation. These are very real impacts for everyday Australians. And those impacts are being driven by organised criminality.
Law enforcement alone is not the only solution. The solution needs to come in part from business and the public. And that’s the purpose of releasing this report here today. We’ve been active in other areas, we’ve had recent presentations to the National Seniors’ Forum, and a range of other community groups as a way of trying to get the message out in a coordinated and powerful way so that people can work to fight against organised crime with us.
A lot’s changed in the world of organised crime since the ACC was created in 2003, and we’re now in our tenth year. Some say we’re still not even a teenager yet, but a lot has changed, and so has the response. The effect of organised crime is unprecedented, but the collaboration of law enforcement and other broader government agencies is equally so. And so a little bit of context before we now ask the Minister for Justice, the Honourable Jason Clare to come forward and formally launch the Australian Crime Commission’s Organised Crime in Australia 2013. Thank you Minister.
JASON CLARE: Thank you very much John, and thank you Acting Commissioner Mike Phelan, CEO of Customs and Border Protection Mike Pezzullo, as well as my parliamentary colleague, and friend, Senator Parry.
This is a sobering report. It tells us that organised crime is now more powerful, more pervasive, and more complex than ever before. There’s one statistic in the report that stood out to me as I read it, organised crime worldwide now makes more than $870 billion a year. Now, to get a grip on the size of that figure, that’s more than the GDP of Indonesia. Another way of putting it, if organised crime was a country, it would be in the G20, and these big organised crime syndicates that target Australia are also targeting other countries.
Last year, our law enforcement agencies met with the law enforcement agencies of the United States, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand, as a group of Five Eyes countries, and for the first time they shared their top 20 criminal targets list. What that work showed is that we are all targeting the same criminals. Most of the big time organised criminals that target Australia are based overseas. Most of the criminals that are targeting Australia, are also targeting the US, the UK, New Zealand, and Canada. And there’s a simple reason for that, we’re a wealthy country, we’ve got a strong economy, criminals can make big profits by targeting Australia. Whether that’s selling drugs, or whether it’s superannuation fraud, or many other different types of fraud.
The best example I could find of these was looking at the mark ups that come with selling cocaine into Australia. Have a look at these figures: the typical wholesale price for a kilo of cocaine in Colombia is about $2500 US. That’s the wholesale price for cocaine in Colombia, $2500 US. In Mexico it’s $12,500 US. In the United States, the average price is more than $30,000 US, in Australia it’s $220,000, Australian dollars. So that’s a mark-up of over 9000 per cent, and explains why organised criminals will go to great lengths to import drugs into Australia, because it’s all about money. There is enormous profits to be made.
Now, add to this the new challenge of technology. The internet is a source of enormous good, but it also provides enormous opportunity for criminals. The report that we’re releasing today makes that very clear. More specifically, it talks about the challenge of darknets, protected hidden networks that create a virtual supermarket for illegal drugs, for illegal goods, drugs, guns, child pornography, et cetera. These darknets now mean that instead of having to stand on a street corner and buy drugs from a drug dealer, you can do that over the net and have the drugs delivered straight to your door. It’s a new threat, it’s a real threat, it’s a threat that has the potential to expand exponentially. That’s just one example of the challenges created by technology.
The Crime Commission have an operation called Task Force Galilee, which is about preventing Australian citizens from having their superannuation, their life savings, taken off them. With technology now, and the sorts of activities that organised crime are conducting, people can lose their life savings without leaving their door. That’s the challenge that we now face, organised crime reaching into our homes and stealing money off us. The report that we’re releasing today canvasses all of these issues, it talks about some of the ways to address them.
I thought I’d focus just on three of them this morning. The first is what we can do collectively to give our law enforcement agencies more power to seize the assets and the wealth of criminals. Most of these criminals that we’re talking about would rather go to jail than have their assets taken off them, their cars, their houses, their wealth. So what we do here, in giving law enforcement agencies more power to seize the assets of criminals, can make a very big impact. We’ve got to break a deadlock here, because we’ve got the Federal Parliament, Labor and Liberal, working in bipartisan, by saying we need a National Unexplained Wealth laws. Police Commissioners, Police Associations, are saying yes we need to increase powers here. But we’ve got disagreement among the states about how to do that.
I’m working with the state Police Ministers and Attorneys-General, but also with the support of former AFP commissioner Mick Palmer and former New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney to find a way to find a way to break this deadlock to give law enforcement more powers to seize criminal assets.
Second is what more can we do to harness the power of criminal intelligence? This is critical because most of the good work police do in stopping crimes from happening or arresting criminals is based on criminal intelligence, and it’s equally true at the border. Eighty five per cent of the drugs and other contraband that are seized at the border is based on criminal intelligence, the information that we get before drugs get in a container or get in a parcel and arrive on our border, and the more criminal intelligence we collect and are able to bring together, fused, analysed, distilled and used, the most crime we can stop, the more criminals that we’ll catch. It’s a big reason why the fusion centre set up by the Crime Commission’s so important.
It’s the same reason that we’d make a decision to establish a National Border Targeting Centre. This is something which is just simple common sense. It exists in the US, the UK, New Zealand and Canada. Until now it hasn’t existed in Australia. Set up one targeting centre to target high-risk passengers and high-risk cargo, using intelligence collected through Customs, Federal Police, Crime Commission, ASIO, DFAT and other agencies and fuse all of that together, make sure that we’ve got the information we use to stop crime from happening, to stop drugs and other contraband being imported, and it’s one part of the big reforms to Customs and Border Protection that Mr Pezzullo and I announced three weeks ago.
The third is another – what you would say is a simple, practical, common sense action and that’s working together. If we work together, we achieve much more than if we work separately. I was in the US last week talking to the LAPD and the FBI, and they made the point to me that in the ’80s and the ’90s they used to work on their own and they were less successful doing that than they are now working hand in glove. It’s the same approach that we take here and that we need to continue to take. We do it on the border. Operation Polaris has arrested a number of serious criminals and seized a lot of drugs at the port in Sydney. That’s the AFP working with New South Wales Police as well as the New South Wales Crime Commission and the Australian Crime Commission and Customs and Border Protection.
It’s so successful we’ve made the decision to expand it to Melbourne and to Brisbane. In Melbourne it’s called Taskforce Trident. Here in Brisbane it’s called Taskforce Jericho and it started this month, and it involves the AFP, the Federal Police, working with Queensland Police as well as the support of the Crime Commission and AUSTRAC and Customs working together to target high-risk cargo coming in to Queensland. And the same approach in all of our law enforcement agencies to work together as the approach we’re adopting to crime on the streets, targeting gangs on our streets, whether they’re in the streets of Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne.
We’ve established a National Anti-Gang Taskforce. It’ll be fully operational by 1 January and it involves an anti-gang intelligence centre based in Canberra and strike teams that will be based in Brisbane, in Sydney and in Melbourne and, again, the concept’s the same: bring to bear all of the law enforcement agencies that work in this area and work in one team, and in this case we’ve got Federal Police, you’ve got Crime Commission, you’ve got Customs and state police, but in addition to that, Immigration, Centrelink and the Tax Office as well. One of the things that police often tell me is we need the help of Immigration and we need the help of the Tax Office and we need the help of Centrelink to get the information that we need to solve crimes or to stop crimes from happening. That’s the purpose of bringing these agencies together, getting all the agencies that are needed to work together.
Finally, we need to work with our overseas law enforcement partners, whether that’s in the US or anywhere else, and speaking at this conference this morning, I gave the example of what we can achieve when we do that. A couple of years ago, the Crime Commission board established the National Organised Crime Task Force, and it’s made up of federal and state police, federal and state law enforcement agencies, and it’s also supported by the intelligence community of Australia. And this year, only a few months ago, working as a team, they helped Belgian police to take down and dismantle an international criminal syndicate that was based there in Belgium, arrest 27 members of that syndicate, effectively dismantled the whole criminal syndicate; a syndicate that was targeting Australia as well as other countries around the world; a syndicate that was responsible for the biggest importation of ecstasy in the world; an importation which was targeted at Australia, that was shipped into Melbourne.
So that’s the power of working together. When our law enforcement agencies work with others around the world, you take the head off the snake. You can bring down an entire criminal syndicate that’s operating overseas and targeting Australians. There are lots of good examples like this, and this report tells us the sorts of things that we need to do if we’re going to be successful. Organised crime is like a cancer that is growing. This report tells us how serious this is, how pervasive and complex it is, and should be a reminder that, in addition to all the good things that we’re doing, there’s a lot more that we need to do, and part of that is the work that the Crime Commission does in preventing crime from happening in the first place. We need to be agile, we need to be nimble and we need to be ready to change the things that we’re doing now in order to target the big criminals that are targeting Australia now and the different types of crimes that they’ll commit in the future. This is an important report in that regard, and it’s my pleasure to officially launch it today.
Thanks very much.
WARREN GRAY: Thank you, Minister. I’d just like to call upon acting Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Mike Phelan, to come and say a few words. Thank you.
MICHAEL PHELAN: Thank you Warren, Minister, John Lawler, other distinguished guests. I’ll be very brief. On behalf of the Australian Federal Police, and as a key partner of the Australian Crime Commission, I commend this report, not only to those who are here but to everybody who’s listening. Once you read the report, on any objective assessment on reading the report, you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that organised crime is pervasive across every element of our society. The opening line of – the opening paragraphs of the report talk about the cost of organised crime [indistinct], and the idea that there are six degrees of separation between individuals and organised crime is not true. When it comes to organised crime, you’re lucky if those degrees of separation from individual citizens is any more than two or three.
If you forget for a moment that I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m a citizen, you think the same, you think what sort of nexus you might have to some sort of serious organised crime, and that’s everything from people that are affected by the illegal trafficking and importation of drugs through to serious revenue frauds against the Government, and at the end of the day that affects everyone just as well, through foregone revenue that’s not available for schools, not available for hospitals [indistinct]. For those of you who have friends and family who have been ripped off by serious organised criminals taking away the life savings, taking away your superannuation savings that you have worked hard over the years to accumulate, it doesn’t take long and it doesn’t take a big stretch to find your own nexus for every one of you out there to a serious organised crime, and that’s what makes it important.
The important thing for me is why I came to report to each and every one of you out there in Australia, ordinary citizens, is to have a read because what it does is it gives you a picture of organised crime in a very unclassified sense, and what that does is it helps us in law enforcement get the message across to all of you, and everybody in Australia has serious issues, and if you read it, the more informed you are to what we do as we help target hard(*) our whole country and this organised crime. Anything we can do in law enforcement, and indeed with public help, by reading the report you’ll see how you can target hard(*) yourselves. We do our best.
So the parting remark I will make is I understand it’s up on the website now of the ACC, so not just law enforcement officers, not just academics, not just politicians – I want ordinary citizens to go out there, download it off the website, have a look at it, see the impact that organised crime is having on you and is having on your friends and then work out what we can do to help target hard(*). Law enforcement needs your help. It is a societal problem. Any information that comes forward to law enforcement agencies, state, federal, regulatory bodies, helps us in the fight for organised crime and [indistinct] this report is extremely important [indistinct]. Thank you.
WARREN GRAY: Thanks very much Commissioner Phelan. I’d now like to ask the CEO of Australian Customs and Border Protection, Mike Pezzullo, to say a few words.
MIKE PEZZULLO: Thank you, Warren. I’ll be even briefer because it’s already been said. I’ll only add one thing. International criminal groups are looking at Australia. They are very interested in operating here. They’re very interested in crossing our borders. They’re very interested in conducting alliances and other collaborative ventures with national groups.
Don’t think of crime just as street crime, as shootings in urban streets. You’ve got to think about it as a global problem. It’s a network. It’s a network that sees Australia as a very profitable place. We’ve got high disposable income. We’ve got people who make a lot of money from their work, and that’s a great thing. We enjoy a lot of prosperity in this society, but also creates opportunities.
And it takes a network to fight a network. The more law enforcement is about jurisdictional boundaries, the lack of information sharing, putting up silos across state and territory lines, the more the criminals win. We have to network our capabilities. We have to fight the criminal networks with our own networks. [Indistinct] very strongly commend the report to all serious and concerned citizens, and I fully endorse the remarks of the Minister, the CEO and [indistinct].
Thank you very much.
WARREN GRAY: Thanks very much, Mr Pezzullo. I would now like to welcome and invite Commissioner Ian Stewart who is from Queensland Police Service to say a few words.
IAN STEWART: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It’s a privilege for me to be here this morning. As many of you know, all of the state commissioners are members of the board of the ACC. That’s not an accident. I think a clear message from the – and the message that I would like to reiterate here today is that we need to be joined up with all of law enforcement, not just nationally, but through our national counterparts into the international sphere, because that’s where the criminals are operating, particularly in organised crime.
I welcome this report, and I also welcome the fact that the ACC has chosen Brisbane to have their conference this year. And certainly, as a presenter at that conference, I was able to provide information about the issues facing Queensland, but again, in the context that the best way to try and defeat organised crime in this country, is through joined up operations of all law enforcement agencies.
Thank you very much.
WARREN GRAY: Thank you, Commissioner, for your words. Now, we’ll have about 10 minutes of questions for the panel who will remain seated. So, thank you very much.
QUESTION: Minister Clare, how do you hope that this report…[indistinct]
JASON CLARE: I think Mr Lawler made the point at the end of his contribution; this is not just a challenge for law enforcement. It’s also a challenge for the whole community. By getting this information out here and making the point that we need to work with business and the community, that will do a very important thing. It helps to tackle this problem.
Law enforcement can’t do it on its own. Law enforcement have been doing some very important things over the last few years with the seizure of drugs at the border has increased dramatically. That’s a good sign of success.
What this report says is the challenge is getting bigger. It’s getting harder. And it’s getting more complex. And we need to do more. We can’t do that on our own. A good example is the challenge of superannuation for overseas criminal syndicates targeting Australians because they’ve built up a nice nest egg for their retirement, and through using fake websites and fake identities can target Australians in their home and steal away their life savings.
That’s why the Crime Commission last year worked with Australia Post to get information out to all Australian residents about that risk. We would rather – just to end on that point – we’d rather stop that in the first place than have somebody lose all their money and then have to go through the process of trying to get their money back.
So this is a team effort. Not just State Police and Federal Police working together to tackle organised crime. It’s law enforcement working with the community.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
JOHN LAWLER: One of the dimensions is targeting the websites and indeed Task Force Galilee, which was the joint operation targeting online investment fraud. Some 20 agencies across state and territories as Commissioner Stewart has indicated, working against this problem. And one of those agencies is of course the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and we’ve had other agencies that are involved in working against closing some of these sites down.
But what they’ve found is that as you close one site down, another one springs up. These are sophisticated enterprises that have got professional facilitators in information and technology. They’re backed by high-powered lawyers and accountants. They use offshore tax havens and a range of other capacities to defeat what is a single strand solution. It might sound simple just to close the website down. But this is ineffective.
What needs to happen is there needs to be multiple responses. That’s not to say, when we have websites that we identify, that we don’t move against them through the appropriate authorities and with the appropriate legislative response. But we also need to do more, because otherwise the problem won’t be reduced and won’t be solved.
So the sort of things that we need to do is for people who are approached, unsolicited, through telephone calls or emails, as fancy as they might look, they need to go to Space Smart online. They need to know whether in actual fact that particular entity is known to law enforcement. And if they take that preventative approach then they can very easily stop themselves from becoming a victim.
The other area that we’ve found in this particular type of criminal activity is that the organised criminals have got access to Australians private information. So details about Australians are in the hands of organised criminals.
Now what needs to happen there is it’s all well and good for the Crime Commission and the State and Territory Police, our commonwealth partners and indeed our international partners are seizing those lists and working against those criminals. But wouldn’t it be better if in fact people were a little bit more careful about the private information that they actually make available. And we know that one of the ways this has occurred is through people providing very detailed information in lifestyle surveys and the like. You, you know, win a trip overseas, or your win an iPad if you provide all of your financial details and your personal details on a form. We’re encouraging people not to do that because, of course, it leads them to vulnerabilities.
So there are some very simple examples where people reading this report can understand some of the things that they might do to protect themselves. And that’s what the reports about.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] violence spilling into…[indistinct]?
JOHN LAWLER: I’m very pleased to be able to report to the public and report to you this morning that the cooperation amongst agencies both at the commonwealth and the state and territory and the national-international level has never been stronger. There is that level of cooperation occurring, indeed, the Crime Commission was working with the New South Wales Police last night and this morning in relation to those particular matters that we referenced.
So there is behind the scenes, and probably not visible to the public, very, very strong collaborative efforts. It’s even more systemic than that insofar it goes to some of the structures and the infrastructure we have to make sure that the right information is in the hands of the right people on the front line fighting these threats.
We do see this outward and visible display of violence. It’s part of the face of organised crime. We see in [indistinct] in Sydney, but it’s here on the Gold Coast and Commissioner Stewart can talk about that, I’m sure. But we’ve seen it in South Australia and elsewhere. We understand the reasons as to why that’s occurring, and indeed we have national task forces approved by the board, Task Force Attero being just one, are being run out of South Australia, a national task force involving all state and territories, and indeed the commonwealth agencies targeting outlaw motorcycle gangs.
They are organised crime, make no bones about it, and law enforcement, I can report to you, has joined up more than ever before. But it might be useful to have Commissioner Stewart who has direct first hand knowledge to add some further comments.
IAN STEWART: John, thanks for that. Thank you for that question. One of the challenges that we have, and I agree with everything John says and certainly validate the issue that we are joined up across Australia and, in fact, around the world now you’re trying to defeat these particular types of offenders and criminal activities. Often, though, it’s very difficult to get that information out because of the tactical nature of what we’re doing. It’s the results that you see ultimately when people appear before the court, and in that regard, and particularly on the Gold Coast, we’ve had amazing successes over the last couple of years, and whilst I know that on the surface of it there still appears to be offenses being committed, and they are, that doesn’t mean that we’re not working very, very hard [indistinct] with the other jurisdictions to defeat this.
It’s particularly problematic for us with the Gold Coast because of the New South Wales border at the southern end of the coast, so we work very, very closely with New South Wales but also with the other agencies like the ACC to defeat and try and dismantle or disrupt these criminal activities.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
IAN STEWART: No. I think the media do a wonderful job in making sure that the entire public understands the menace that these groups can be to the community. I don’t think we should ever understate the role that they play, these criminal activities play, in trying to cause harm to their fellow Queenslanders and fellow Australians and, believe me, they are. They have no respect whatsoever for laws and they have no respect for boundaries, you know, whether that’s a state boundary or, in fact, a national boundary, and that’s why it’s important that we have this joined up world, not just in law enforcement, as I said earlier, but reaching out into all of the other agencies, whether they be state or Commonwealth agencies, that can help us [indistinct].
QUESTION: [Indistinct] all agencies working together, all resources out there, why [indistinct]…?
IAN STEWART: Well, I think you need to understand the organised crime environment. What’s changed is that organised crime gone global on us. They’re enabled by technology like never before, just as we are in our normal daily lives. They have mobile communications, they have secure communications, they can reach out for more victims than ever before. Where it might’ve taken an organised criminal months to reach out to 10 victims, one organised criminal behind a computer screen can reach out to thousands or tens of thousands or victims.
So the paradigm’s actually changing, the markets are moving, very lucrative markets. We’ve heard about the commentary about Australia and the wealth we have, and organised crime are attracted to the wealth. And what we need to do is, with this globalised world, we need to leverage up all the capacities we have, and one of the capacities we have is the very community itself, and prevention in a community policing context is a term that’s been around for a very long time, but in an organised crime context, organised crime is a bit like clutching smoke. Sometimes you actually don’t know that it’s impacting.
You do when it’s really visible and when you get drive-by shootings, but some of the other pervasive organised crime, members of the community don’t actually know that they’re actually being impacted by organised crime and what they can do to help law enforcement, what business can do. How do we actually help business understand the risks so that they can do things that help their business but also harden Australia to organised criminality? And, if we do that, the sort of visible activity, as by shooting, which is a manifestation of organised crime around drug markets often, but often motivated by other things. So we have a reasonably good understanding of what’s motivating these shootings, but it requires very good collaboration, very good intelligence, between the state and territory agencies and the Commonwealth, all working together to break their business model.
QUESTION: Are there any specific regions of the world which [indistinct] organised crime [indistinct]?
IAN STEWART: The Australian Crime Commission has a classified report called the National Criminal Target Report, and what we see from an Australian perspective is that 67 per cent, so nearly 70 per cent, of organised crime targets in Australia have been agreed to by all the jurisdictions that make up and agencies that make up the ACC board. Sixty seven per cent of those either are domicile or have connections offshore, so we have a very, very strong international component which again requires different treatments, and indeed some of the organised crime, outlaw motorcycle gangs that you spoke about, have those [indistinct].
QUESTION: [Indistinct] Where does the ACC see the Gold Coast [indistinct]…?
JOHN LAWLER: In every – you know, as I’ve said, organised crime manifests itself right throughout Australia, and sometimes boundaries and borders are an irrelevancy to organised criminality, and often organised criminals will exploit the boundaries between states and indeed between nation-states, and that’s one of the avenues that they use. They position themselves often in failed or weak states where the governance and the rule of law is not like it is in Australia and that we’ve become accustomed to.
So I wouldn’t rate the Gold Coast as any more, you know, difficult, from an organised crime perspective as other parts of Australia. It is an important area for us to focus on, and we do. We work very closely with the Queensland Police and indeed other agencies here in Queensland. We’ve got some specific operational activity that I can’t talk about, specifically focused on the Gold Coast, and it’s about, in all of this, whether it’s the Gold Coast or Adelaide or indeed Perth or on the Eastern Seaboard, it’s about good intelligence, a comprehensive intelligent picture as to what’s going on, and we need to use all of the Commission’s capabilities and all of the capabilities of states and territories to make that picture as crystal clear as we can.
So I don’t think it’s an area to single out specifically, but it is an area of focus for the commission [indistinct].
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
JASON CLARE: Let me just expand on some of the things that John has pointed to and the questions about [indistinct]. What we’ve seen in Sydney over the last 12 months or so is effectively a war between rival outlaw motorcycle gangs fighting over turf and fighting over drugs. The purpose of that is to make money, and those outlaw motorcycle gangs have got chapters in Brisbane, in Melbourne, in Perth, in Adelaide, all across the country. Mr Lawler made the point that organised crime doesn’t have boundaries. We do.
We need to strip away the boundaries and work with all law enforcement agencies here in Australia and overseas, and that’s what this strike team is all about: leveraging the criminal intelligence on gangs right across the country from an intel centre that will be based in Canberra, made up of experts and analysts from the AFP, the Crime Commission but also the tax office. There’ll be a strike team based in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne that will have Queensland Police up here in Brisbane working with the AFP, but also working with tax investigators as well as Centrelink officers and immigration officers. As I said in my introductory remarks, it’s those federal agencies that can provide extra help. I think our state police do a terrific job. Queensland’s police is doing a wonderful job. The New South Wales Police are doing a fantastic job in difficult circumstances.
When I looked at this challenge, I think what can I do to help? What can federal law enforcement agencies and other federal agencies do to add value? And this is what we can do by leveraging our intel capability, but also bringing the other agencies like tax, immigration and Centrelink to provide extra support, extra information, to target the right criminals. Often police will tell you that there’s a criminal driving around in a flash car who doesn’t have a job and they want more information on that person. They want to be able to seize their assets and getting information from tax and Centrelink is half the battle.
So that’s what these taskforces, these strike teams will do. They’re designed to work with existing state organised crime taskforces, not to replace them. The lion’s share of the work is done by state police. They are the ones who do the real heavy lifting, day in day out, attacking organised crime on our streets. These strike teams are designed to support and work with those big taskforces.
QUESTION: It’s interesting that Immigration is involved [indistinct]. Can you explain the relevance?
JASON CLARE: Just that there will always be information from different federal agencies that can be brought to bear to help. If they’re targeting a criminal who may have migrated to Australia, the extra information from Immigration can be critical.
QUESTION: In relation to gun crime, are guns too easily accessible to these [indistinct], is that an issue?
JASON CLARE: Yes. The short answer to that question is yes. There’s a quarter of a million illegal firearms on the streets of Australia right now. That’s the work the Crime Commission did last year in conducting an intelligence assessment of the illegal firearms market, a quarter of million firearms. Most of these firearms are weapons that weren’t handed in after the Port Arthur massacre, or weapons that are stolen from legitimate owners. A report on the weekend in the Sydney media made the point that, I think, there’s been a 265 per cent increase in the number of stolen handguns in New South Wales in the last year.
So this is a real challenge for us, it’s why with the support of all of the agencies here, Customs, Federal Police, the Crime Commission, but also State Police, we’ve put together a plan to state police ministers last year to tackle the illegal firearms market. One of the things that we need to do is have an interface that connects all of the firearms registers across the country, because 14,000 weapons fall off these databases every year and into the grey market. That’ll help us to stop that happening. We’re also giving equipment to the Queensland Police, and all police forces across the country, so that when there is a shooting and they collect the firearm, or the bullet casings, they can conduct an analysis of that weapon or that bullet, and link it to firearms offences in other parts of the country, boost the tracing capability of the Crime Commission, embed customs officers in the firearms taskforces of police around the country.
But there’s other things that we can do as well, and one of the things that I’m talking right now to police ministers across the country, is the idea of replicating something that works in South Australia, and that’s called a firearm prohibition order. It gives police the power to randomly search serious criminals, repeat firearms offenders, for weapons at any time, anywhere. Stop and search them in their home, in their car, in someone else’s home, in someone else’s car, on the street, for firearms. People that we know have a history of violent crime using weapons. It’s something that has been used surgically in South Australia, and is having an impact on serious organised crime, on outlaw motorcycle gangs in particular, and we’ve begun the discussion now with police ministers. At our last meeting in Darwin we talked about this, about the idea of replicating that across the country.
QUESTION: Minister, the example you gave about the cocaine price around the world, the mark-ups seem quite significant in Australia. Is that solely because of our higher incomes, or is it there’s less supply here in Australia? It just seems quite drastic.
JASON CLARE: I might ask Mike to elaborate on this, but it is telling. And it explains why criminals will ship cocaine form South America, through Mexico, to America and then to Australia. And we’re seeing plenty of examples of where the Crime Commission, Customs and the Federal Police, have seized boatloads of cocaine that have been sailed, literally, across the Pacific Ocean, to get to Australia because of the money that can be made. Enormous mark-ups in the price of cocaine from the streets of Mexico City through to LA, and through to Australia. That’s because people are willing to pay the price, people are willing to pay the price to get cocaine, criminals know they can make an enormous profit, and that’s why they’re taking enormous risks to get it here.
But, I might Acting Commissioner Phelan to elaborate.
MICHAEL PHELAN: Cocaine is no different than any other commodity sold throughout the world. The price is determined by the economic forces of supply and demand. And in Australia, the demand for cocaine is high, and Australians are willing to pay a lot of their disposable income to get cocaine, and therefore the price is set as it is, and therefore it makes it a very lucrative market here. So the – obviously the purchase price in South America is a lot lower than what it is here, and a little bit of mark-up from getting it through, and making its way through to Australia. But the massive profits are to be made through the wholesale price of cocaine here in Australia, and all that money is going back offshore.
QUESTION: It’s a bit of a catch-22 though, because the better you are at stopping cocaine from coming in, the higher the price is, the more desperate the whole situation gets. What do you do?
JASON CLARE: Look, you don’t stop fighting crime because you’re worried about the price. But on a more serous point, one of the things that we’re doing here is basing federal police offices in the United States to work more closely with the DEA, working with the FBI, and the LAPD, in targeting the Mexican mafia. This is a fulltime job for the work – police on the ground, on the West Coast of the United States, targeting drug cartels that are manufacturing drugs, whether it’s methamphetamine, or importing cocaine and pedalling it on the streets of the United States, and then in turn trying to ship it to Australia. So we don’t just wait until it hits the border here in Australia, we’ve got federal agents working in the United States with their counterparts there.
JOHN LAWLER: Yeah I’d also like to add to your question, there’s a couple of other dimensions to this and that is we’ve got direct intelligence to know that the organised criminals involved, particularly in cocaine importation, are doing it tough. We know they have significant difficulties in getting the proceeds of their cocaine trafficking back out of Australia, and that’s because we shouldn’t rule out the value of our joined up efforts here. We’re hurting these syndicates, and they don’t like it. And, indeed, we’ve got direct intelligence to support that proposition.
That having been said, these are illicit markets. You know, if you’re – what we [indistinct] prove to say well how big is the market? We don’t know, because of the illicit nature of them. But we are getting pieces of intelligence, and windows on the market that tell us that we’re having an effect.
The other important point I’d like to make here, and part of the release of the report, is around prevention. And it’s out to the public. And you need to look at the cocaine problem through the user. Now the users got a responsibility here, because ultimately through their use of cocaine, they are supporting what’s happening in Colombia and Mexico, through their decisions. They can make decisions not to use illicit drugs. They can make decisions not to support the extra-judicial killings, and the murder that’s occurring in Mexico.
Now this is what the public can do. It mightn’t be a popularist view, but seriously, that’s what they can do. And I encourage illicit drug users, particularly illicit drug users of cocaine, to before they use cocaine to think of the effect they’re having on other people around the globe.
QUESTION: How much money is actually going to go into this public awareness? Is there going to be more money for the Crime Commission to do this, [indistinct]?
JASON CLARE: We do it on a campaign by campaign basis. So for example last year when we launched Galilee, John you might recall the amount of money that we dedicated to that campaign, we got in-kind support from Australia Post as well. But sometimes it’s the not the money from a flyer that you put in someone’s letterbox that makes a difference, it’s press conferences like this. The work that you do as the Australian media to get that message out to the Australian public, and to Australian businesses. The people that are listening today might make a decision in their life to act in a different way that will stop them becoming a victim of crime, and that’s very important.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
JASON CLARE: I think that’s right. Changing culture is the hardest thing. We never worry about something until it goes wrong. We never worry about the train system until the train doesn’t turn up, or the hospital system until we get to accident and emergency and we can’t get looked after. We never worry about crime until we’re the victim of crime. And the more information that we can give to the Australian public, the more chance we have of starting that water cooler conversation, or that barbeque conversation, where did you hear that thing in the news the other day? You could lose your super if you follow this chain on this email, be careful.
And that’s what today is all about, trying to make sure that the Australian public know what the risks are, and it’s not just these law enforcement agencies that are working to target organised crime, it’s the entire Australian [indistinct].
QUESTION: Can I just [indistinct] Commissioner, could you just tell us what you think [indistinct] Queensland?
IAN STEWART: I think the challenge that we’re facing right now is the concept that people – the general public still underestimate the impact that organised crime can have on their daily lives. And we see it day-in, day-out, with the people still becoming victims of international fraud, and scams over the internet. We still haven’t learnt to simply ask the right questions. And the public can help us greatly if they ask those questions, if they get educated about the ways that organised crime is infiltrating their household through the internet and other means.
WARREN GRAY: Thanks very much everybody we’ll have to leave it there for today. Thanks for attending, and [indistinct] Thank you. Have a good day.