Launch of Australian Crime Commission Illicit Drug Data Report

WARREN GRAY: Good morning and welcome to the launch of the Australian Crime Commission’s Illicit Drug Data Report 2011-2012. Thank you all for coming here today, and particularly thank you to Customs and Border Protection and Australia Post for hosting us here in their facility today. My name is Warren Gray and I am the national manager of intervention of the Australian Crime Commission.

Before we begin I would like to give you an overview of today’s proceedings. I will soon invite the ACC’s chief executive officer, Mr John Lawler, to speak. He will be followed by the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, the Honourable Jason Clare, who will formally launch the report. The CEO of Customs and Border Protection, Mike Pezzullo, will then say a few words and he will then be followed by Commissioner Tony Negus of the Australian Federal Police.

Following this, there will be a 10-minute question and answer session with the media and Mr Lawler, Minister Clare, Mr Pezzullo and Commissioner Negus will answer ques… be available for questions. After the questions, morning tea will then be served and a small group tour of the facility will take place.

So thank you all for coming, again. I would like to now introduce the Australian Crime Commission chief executive, Mr John Lawler.

JOHN LAWLER: Well, thank you and good morning. The Honourable Jason Clare, MP, Minister for Home Affairs and Justice. Minister, great to have you here this morning in launching the ACC’s Illicit Drug Data Report. Commissioner Tony Negus – Commissioner Negus, for those of you who don’t know, is not only Commissioner of the AFP, he’s chair of the Australian Crime Commission board. So Tony, particularly pleasing and – to have you here this morning. And the facility we’re in – Mike Pezzullo, the CEO of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service is here as well, and Mike is also a member of the Australian Crime Commission board, a 15-strong member board and a very powerful capacity for Australia’s national law enforcement.

Can I start off, ladies and gentlemen, by firstly expressing my respect and acknowledging the tradition custodians of the land where we meet today. This year, the ACC commemorates its 10th anniversary, and so does the Illicit Drug Data Report, which is in its 10th edition. The report’s an important tool for law enforcement. It’s built with the assistance of our partners, our partners across law enforcement, across health and from the policy agencies, and it reflects their successes and challenges. It’s held in very high regard by law enforcement and all those that draw on it as the leading pitcher of the illicit drugs market in Australia.

Make no mistake, illicit drugs are a disease in this society, inflicting untold harm on communities, on families, on individuals. The data in this report is a critical tool for law enforcement, the Government, and the community to better analyse, identify and respond to this threat. The drug market in Australia has evolved considerably over the last 10 years. The Illicit Drug Data Report 2011-12 that we are launching here today highlights that evolution and the diverse environment that we are dealing with.

Just as legitimate markets have diversified their operations and taken full advantage of globalisation, so too have the criminals that trade in illicit drugs. There is increasing diversity in the embarkation points for illicit drugs, the range of transit countries, the concealment methodologies that you see here before you are evolving and becoming more sophisticated than ever, and we’re seeing even greater diversity in the drugs themselves. We’re here today at the International Mail Centre as the report shows parcel post accounts for the largest number of illicit drug border detections.

Despite the changing nature of the illicit drug trade, law enforcement is achieving very significant outcomes in ensuring that these importations are seized before they reach our community. While cannabis remains the dominant illicit drug in Australia, the prominence of other drug types including amphetamines, stimulants and cocaine continues to increase and we are seeing an upward trend in performance and image enhancing drugs and illicit pharmaceuticals. But I argue that no market is as dynamic as the drugs analogues and novel substances market, which is changing the illicit drug landscape as we know it.

A 2011 study from the European Union found that one new drug is detected every week, so this is a global phenomenon, and understanding the global context is key.

I would now like to play you a short animation to illustrate the nature of this changing landscape.

[Plays animation]

JOHN LAWLER: So, ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, the technologies that connect us are central to our daily lives, but just as we reap the benefits so too does organised crime, and they exploit the opportunities to further their enterprises. A key feature to combating the illicit drug trade in such an environment is our continued focus on working collaboratively, working in partnership and not only within the law enforcement sector but within the policy area, within the health departments and the science sectors to develop a holistic and informed response. The Illicit Drug Data Report provides all stakeholders with a key intelligence tool that underpins evidence-based strategies that will actually harden the Australian environment against this destructive trade. I encourage all of you to read the report and the suite of supplementary facts which highlight the key points by drug type and provide a much richer intelligence picture of the market.

So with those opening remarks, I’d like to now call on the Minister for Home Affairs, the Honourable Jason Clare, to say a few words and formally launch the Illicit Drug Data Report for 2010 – 2011-2012. Minister.

JASON CLARE: Well, thanks very much, John, and Tony Negus and Mike Pezzullo. Thank you for the invitation to be here today.

I said when we released this report last year that I grew up seeing the scourge of drugs up close and what it does to society. I grew up in Cabramatta and as a young bloke, catching the train to university, I remember almost every day on the way home being asked if I wanted to buy heroin. Friends I went to school with became heroin addicts, people I knew through school ended up going to jail.

Cabramatta is a very different place today than it was over 10, 20 years ago but there are other parts of Sydney, other parts of Australia that are still suffering and you only need to look at the shootings that are happening in Western Sydney to see the scourge of drugs and the impact that it has on our society.

Ultimately, what all of those shootings are about, are about drugs, about turf, and about money. Ultimately this is all about money. We can’t be a naive. There will always be criminals trying to peddle drugs there’s a lot of money in it, but we can do something about it and this report has good news in it. This report tells us that we’re seizing more illegal drugs than ever before, more than 23 tonnes of illegal drugs worth more than $5 billion on the street.

We see today that criminals are finding lots of different ways to try to import drugs or to try to import drugs into the country. Cocaine in toys, heroin in artificial grass, methamphetamine in curry paste. Criminals will always try and find different ways to get drugs into the country. What this report tells us is that our law enforcement agencies are up to that challenge and seizing these drugs when they’re attempted to be imported into the country.

The biggest seizure in this report is a seizure of 11 tonnes of hypophosphorous acid which is used to make methamphetamine. If it was successfully imported into the country and used to create methamphetamine, that methamphetamine would have been worth more than $3 billion on the streets of Australia. It was seized as part of Operation WhiteSea which was a job done by Taskforce Polaris after they got a tip-off from somebody.

Taskforce Polaris is a joint operation of the New South Wales police, the Federal Police, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Crime Commission, and the New South Wales Crime Commission. And it’s a great example of what the key to success is – teamwork and criminal intelligence. The key to stopping drugs on the border or on the street and catching criminals is teamwork, our law enforcement agencies working together, and the use of criminal intelligence. We need to expand the use of both and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Taskforce Polaris, which is based in Sydney, is now being expanded right across the Eastern Seaboard. We are setting up Taskforce Trident in Victoria on the dock in Melbourne, we’re also establishing Taskforce Jericho in Brisbane. Trident has already been established in Victoria and Jericho begins in Brisbane on 1 July. We are also expanding the work that our law enforcement agencies do in gathering and using and fusing together criminal intelligence. Eighty five per cent of the drugs that we seize are because of criminal intelligence that our law enforcement agencies collect before the drugs ever arrive in Australia and ask any law enforcement agent – whether it’s the Crime Commission, the police, or Customs – and they will all tell you the more criminal intelligence we have the more drugs that we seize.

Currently we’ve got about 400 officers in Customs that are dedicated to the job of collecting criminal intelligence and fusing it together. There are about 300 AFP staff that are involved in the collection and coordination of criminal intelligence. The next step is the establishment of a national border targeting centre. This is based on the US model that I inspected last year in the United States. I looked at it and it made a lot of sense. The idea’s pretty simple. It provides us with the opportunity to co-locate agencies like Customs, the Federal Police, the Crime Commission, ASIO, Foreign Affairs Passport Office, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry, the old quarantine part of that agency, and the Office of Transport Security. The new National Border Targeting Centre will allow us to do is to get those agencies together, to fuse together all of the intelligence that they collect to enable us to target the right parcels and the right packages and seize more drugs.

Can I use this opportunity to congratulate the state and federal law enforcement agencies that are responsible for the results that we see in this report and congratulate John and your team for the work that’s been done in putting this report together and it’s my pleasure to be here today to help officially launch the Crime Commission’s latest Illicit Drug Data Report.

Thanks very much.

MIKE PEZZULO: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great honour to be here. Minister, thank you for launching the report and with my colleagues from the Crime Commission John Lawler and the Federal Police Commissioner John Negus. Real great honour to be here associated with this launch today.

Today is a real testimony to the fact that we work collaboratively at both the federal and state level. We work very closely with the Federal Police, with the Crime Commission. That’s exemplified in the production of this report. This report contains a lot of data from the Customs and Border Protections Service, it goes seizure and other factors.

But we also worked day to day, hour to hour, week to week on operations, collecting intelligence, fusing that intelligence as the Minister was saying, preparing for operation, supporting the Federal Police and other law enforcement agencies in taking down some of these criminal syndicates and/or interdicting the shipments that you see in some shipments that you see in some instances revealed on the table. Can I make the three points to really just add to what Mr Lawler and Minister Clare just said. Collaboration is very important. The Minister has made that point. I have just made that point. John Lawler’s made that point. No doubt the Federal Commissioner’s about to make the same point.

In days gone past, not too recently I’m glad to say, there perhaps was some competition and some tension in some of these relationships. Can I just say to this audience, that’s gone. We work very collaboratively, collegiately, we share intelligence, we don’t hide things from one other, and that is key to operating against the criminal syndicates. That’s the national asset that we have, our ability to collaborate. Intelligence, the Minister’s just made some points about further improving our intelligence capability at the border through the Border Targeting Centre, critically important. Ninety per cent of our seizures, all the big ones, come from a variant of intelligence work. Either tip-offs, fusion of intelligence, patterns derived through data analysis, collaboration with international partners, and the like. And the Crime Commission is a particularly important national asset in that regard.

Can I also though pay homage to and draw to attention a third factor. So there’s collaboration amongst the agencies, intelligence, but there’s also the skill of our officers. Some of the officers that you see in uniform here protecting and keeping oversight on the actual live drugs that are there on the table. The skill of the officers should not be underestimated. Their trade craft, they’re sense of what’s normal, what is not normal, the things that give them clues as to whether there’s an illicit drug consignment before them, either in a letter, a parcel, should not be underestimated and I take the opportunity not just to welcome my staff here at the Clyde International Gateway but through this media conference to all of our hard working staff all across Australia. Job well done. Keep up the very, very good work.

And can I finally end on this point – John to you and your staff, congratulations on yet another superb effort in putting together this report. It’s become a real landmark report in the law enforcement and criminology world here in Australia I congratulate the team that’s put it together. Well done. Thank you.

TONY NEGUS: Thanks Warren. Good morning. Minister, colleagues, distinguished guests, the Illicit Drug Data Report brings together information from a variety of sources as we have heard this morning – that’s law enforcement, health and academia. Over the last decade we’ve seen illicit drug market evolve and diversify, presenting new challenges to law enforcement, to policy makers and to the community.

From the law enforcement perspective we continue to adapt to these challenges, looking at a variety of different issues. They include corruption, and you’ve a lot of that, and me talking about that in the last few months; closing system vulnerabilities, and the Minister’s mentioned a few changes in that regard, and different policy fixes to that; and also adopting joint approaches – both nationally but importantly internationally – to attack organised crime.

As you have heard over 23 tonnes of illicit drugs was seized nationally in the 2011-12 year. This represents a 154 percent increase from the 9.3 tonnes that were seized in 2010-11. Now the number of national illicit drug seizures also increased from 69,000 in the 2010-11 year, to over 76,000 in 2011-12. There are also 93,000 illicit drug-related arrests. The highest reported in last decade. Drug seizures and importations fluctuate from year to year, and that’s normal. And in fact as the Minister mentioned, one 11 tonne seizure of precursor chemicals needs to be taken into account in that 23 tonne total.

What is important to note however, is that there’s been a steady increase in the number of illicit drug seizures made by law enforcement in recent years. Now some specifics from the report include the number of performance and image enhancing drugs detected at the Australian border increased, and it’s the highest reported in the last decade. National steroids seizures and arrests increased to the highest on record. The weight of national hallucinogen seizures increased, and is the highest on record. The number and weight of amphetamine seizures increased, with the number being the highest reported in the last decade. A record of 809 clandestine laboratories were detected by law enforcement during 2011 and 12. And whilst only a small increase on last year’s figure, alarmingly the majority of these clandestine laboratories were located in residential areas, obviously causing concern around environmental and safety issues for the community. The number and weight of national heroin seizures increased, and the number and weight of national cocaine seizures increased, with the weight the highest reported in the last decade.

It’s clear to us that illicit drug market remains the principal source of profit for organised crime, and accordingly illicit drugs and the profits they generate continue to be a key focus for law enforcement in Australia. As I have said before, our high Australian dollar, our relative wealth as a country and our appetite for illicit drugs in this country mean we remain the target of international drug traffickers and criminal syndicates around the world.

The illicit drug data report launched here today provides important information to all of us in addressing these trends, and I commend it to you. As John Lawyer said I think it’s worth a read, there’s some very interesting data in there, and some things that help us to form strategies and tactics to attack the illicit drug market over the coming 12 months. Thank you very much.

WARREN GRAY: I would like to invite Minister Clare, Mr Lawler, Mr Pezzullo and Commissioner Negus to – up the front for a question and answer session.

QUESTION: For Mr Negus, we have seen a record number of seizures, yet it indicates – according to cases drug purity has an entire- well sorry has double the increase, and yet prices have remained the same. Does that indicate that perhaps despite the seizures there is still a record amount of drugs on the street?

TONY NEGUS: Well I think as I’ve said, we remain a target in this country for international drug traffickers. There is I think more attempt to get high quality narcotics into this country because the market demands that that’s the case. What I can say is law enforcement are working very hard, and we have seen the seizure rates go up over this period of time accordingly, and whilst we remain a target, I think we’re doing a very good job in addressing the stem of that- to stem the flow of that in to the community.

JOHN LAWLER: Just uh, the other – I’m sorry – the other important point in relation to purity is that these are very complex markets. The 2010 Drug Household Survey actually had the use of amphetamines in the last 12 months going down. So there are a range of forces at play here, and as Commissioner Negus said, this can be one indicator but we just need to treat those figures in isolation with caution. Sir, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] does that mean you’re getting a lot? How much more is there that you’re (inaudible)?

JOHN LAWLER: I might start then we’ll hand over to Commissioner Negus. Again, the question is these are illicit markets. So ultimately nobody knows exactly all the dynamics, and indeed the size of the market. But what we can say is 23 tonnes – as the Minister said – five billion dollars has been taken away from organised crime. That’s their profit that’s been removed by law enforcement in this country. And the second very important point to make is that those- that tonnage of drugs – that 23 tonnes – is- are drugs that are not going to make their way on to the streets of Australia, and cause the harm and damage that they’re doing to Australian families. Tony.

TONY NEGUS: No look I’d support that, and really it is very difficult to establish what the size of the market is. We have intelligence that we are being targeted in this country, as I said the relative height of the Australian dollar, the relative wealth of this country compared to others at the moment means we are a target and we have to be aware of that. But I think the higher, the rate of seizures that we’ve have actually achieved over the last 12 months shows that law enforcement is rising to that challenge, and meeting that challenge head on. Now, will we ever get to the point where have no drugs coming into this country? I suggest not. But we have to do our very best to make sure that that’s our objective.

QUESTION: So is it the case that you’re getting more people, or just that (inaudible).

TONY NEGUS: Yeah well look, the seizure rates are going up – the number of seizures – but also the number of arrests that were made in this report over that period of time has also gone up. So I think both are right. There is more people out there who are using, or trying to use drugs and sell drugs. But we are arresting more of them as a part of that process.

QUESTION: Does Australia have the technology to match the technology of the drug pushers are using to get things into the country?

MIKE PEZZULLO: Um, as you can see from the display over to the side there, their methodologies are pretty savvy but our officers are very, very skilled. We do work with counterpart agencies on the best technologies in the world, be they trace technology, our detector dog programme is one of the best in the world if not the best – I would say that of course but I think there’s some objective evidence for that – and our X-ray technology – we’re constantly looking at counterpart agencies, but I’m pretty confident that we’re – if not at the cutting edge – certainly there in the top shelf of technologies. But can I just emphasize the point I made in my remarks: it’s not one single technology that’s going to give you the pay-off, it’s the skill of the officer, the skill of the operator, their links with other collaborating law enforcement partners, their ability to manipulate intelligence, their ability to take a tip-off and lead to a seizure. It’s really a mosaic of pulling those things together, rather than any one particular technique that’s critical here.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

MIKE PEZZULLO: In terms of seizures – and obviously this will be borne out in approximately 12 months’ time when you see the 12-13 report. But in terms of seizures it’s generally a similar story. There’s going to be some variances, and obviously the financial year is not quite yet concluded, but it’ll be a similar sort of story next year I suspect.

QUESTION: Could you give us an anecdotal example of one of the strangest ways you’ve seen drugs attempted to be smuggled into the country?

MIKE PEZZULLO: Well, the display to the side speaks for itself. And I’d invite members of the media to have a look at it afterwards. But there’s a curry paste container there – It’s genuine curry paste. Obviously they’ve taken out the internal packaging. They put a layer of curry paste on to try to defeat either the dogs, or whatever else they think that we’re using, and they’ve packed it full of drugs. There’s a safe where the contents were hollow and the drugs were secreted into hollowed-out side sections of the safe.

Disturbingly there’s a suitcase of kids’ toys, where obviously they’ve stuffed the toys – there were no drugs in the toys per se, but they thought maybe if we put toys in here, that’ll defeat all but the most sceptical officers. Well our officers were sceptical, and they found the gear inside the bag. I could keep going, and I invite you to look at display afterwards. Just don’t touch.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

MIKE PEZZULLO: Look, there’s no law enforcement agency in the world – in the world- whether it’s Australia or offshore, that can say that we’re absolutely corruption free. That would just be impossible for anyone to say. The temptation is there, the margins, the profits, the inducements are there. The key thing is what you do in reaction to either indications that you’ve got corrupt activity – do you just simply turn a blind eye, or do you put in place aggressive counter measures?

Now the vast majority of our officers, not only want to do the right thing, they’re doing the right thing and increasingly, because they’re being supported by their leadership, including from the government down with some legislative changes but the management as well, they are actually themselves stepping up their own surveillance of these activities. They’re stepping up their own integrity programmes. They’re reporting in suspicious behaviour.

In last three months we’ve introduced – after the Parliament gave us the powers – drug and alcohol testing. We’re up to about 500 drug tests that have been randomly done across the country in the last few months. What that’s showing to me that the vast majority of our officers are diligent, hard-working and honest officers. But no law enforcement, national security or indeed regulatory agency in the world could possibly say that they’ve stamped out corruption completely. It’s just impossible. It’s against the human condition.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

MIKE PEZZULLO: There are a number that are still being assessed. Some would come back positive on the basis of officers being on medication, for instance, codeine. So we’re just working through a few issues at the moment.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

MIKE PEZZULLO: No. There are some issues which have been looked at. I don’t want to go into the particular details but no one has been specifically stood down solely – I stress solely – as a result of a drug test or an alcohol test.

JASON CLARE: Can I just expand on that answer if that’s okay? The vast majority of our Customs officers are good, honest, hard-working people. And as I speak to Customs officers, they tell me this, they say, we bleed blue. That gives you an idea of how important this job is and the responsibility that the men and women of Customs vest in the work that they do.

I remember back in December when we announced that a Customs officer had been arrested, that one Customs officer rang my office and said: I’ve been in the job for 20 years and every day I go to the same coffee shop and buy a cup of coffee with my uniform on, and that day I put a T-shirt on over my uniform because I was that disgusted with what had happened. And that gives you an idea of the ethos inside the organisation and the pride with which Customs officers do their job.

I said then, there is no place for corruption inside our law enforcement agencies, and where it exists we’ve got to weed it out. And you’re seeing evidence of that right now. The other point that I want to make is, I said that Customs and Border Protection needs major structural and cultural reform. I set up a Customs Reform Board headed up by Justice James Wood, the man who led the New South Wales Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service. And he will provide me, the board, the Customs Reform Board will provide me with their report with recommendations on reform of Customs and Border Protection in the middle of this year.

QUESTION: Mr Clare, given the increasing accusations levelled at professional and amateur sport, does the amount of performance-enhancing steroids and peptides being brought in concern you?

JASON CLARE: It does, and when the report was released earlier this year we made the point that there’d been something like a 200 per cent increase in the importation of some performance and image-enhancing drugs. Interestingly, in last few months we’ve seen a drop in importations, which shows the impact of the release of that report only a few months ago. These are drugs which are dangerous. The athletes that have been banned in Queensland for the use of performance-enhancing drugs were using a drug which has the potential to kill people. And we’ve seen an example of that last year in the London marathon.

QUESTION: Just going back to the drugs that you don’t seize – you’ve got record seizures for all these categories here, how would you describe the amount that you are seizing compared to the amount that is making it through? Is this the top of the iceberg… (indistinct)?

JOHN LAWLER: It’s a very difficult question to answer that question. The reason it’s so difficult is that we don’t, and nobody does, whether it’s in Australia or elsewhere around the world, what the size of illicit markets are specifically. In relation to narcotic substances, or illicit drugs or any other illicit market, it’s very, very difficult to quantify.

But what I can say is this: Commissioner Negus read out a list of all the major drugs and there was a theme there that the drug seizures or the drug arrests either by weight or by number are nearly all the highest on record. So it would be unusual if that manifested itself across those multiple drug types.

So I think what you’re seeing here is you’re seeing the impact of law enforcement. The word collaboration has been on the lips of a number of speakers here this morning. We’ve got now better national systems coordinating law enforcement than ever before. We’ve got an organised crime strategy, nationally agreed. We’ve got a national targeting system and we’ve got collaboration and intelligence sharing between State and Territories and the Commonwealth agency that’s the best I’ve ever seen it. And that activity, at a strategic level, is, I think, what’s making the difference.