Tougher law enforcement and security in the pipeline

Ernie Davitt, National Affairs Editor, ASM by Ernie Davitt, National Affairs Editor, ASM
21/04/2010
Contact the Author

The Federal law enforcement and national security landscapes are set to change dramatically with more funding, extra staff and organisational change in the Australian Federal Police, and tougher action against organised crime.

Also on the agenda are upgraded airport security and centralised personal security vetting within the public service, as well as stronger measures to counter child sexual exploitation and cyber-crime.

The Federal Government launched what it termed a ‘comprehensive framework for a more integrated and collaborative federal response to combat organised crime’ late last year, but a report issued just weeks afterwards indicated there was still a long way to go.

An Audit of Federal Police Capabilities by former senior Canberra public servant Roger Beale, although it praised the work of the AFP, was highly critical of the inflexibility imposed on the force because 75 per cent of its funding was allocated in ‘tied’ grants for specific anti-crime projects.

Mr Beale said the need to respond to peacekeeping and newly emerged threats such as terrorism and internet crime had placed added pressure on the AFP’s ability to maintain the number of investigators devoted to the deterrence, detection, disruption, investigation and prosecution of other crime, including serious and organised crime.

The audit made 110 findings and 40 recommendations across a wide range of topics including the capabilities, operating arrangements and governance of the AFP, policing budgets and programs, aviation security, international deployments and law enforcement interoperability across Australia.

The Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, is overseeing a number of areas of reform, including:

  • a new funding structure providing flexibility to meet existing and emerging priorities: counter-terrorism; serious and organised crime, including e-security; border protection; overseas deployments and peacekeeping; criminal law enforcement in business regulation and support to the enforcement of an eventual Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme;
  • the appointment of a third Deputy Commissioner with responsibility for overseeing operational areas and liaison with other agencies; and
  • improved arrangements for policing at Australia’s 11 major airports, which will see the old shared policing model with State and Territory governments replaced with a wholly AFP staffing approach.

“Technology, globalisation, terrorism and a changing security environment have increased the complexity of policing and we need to ensure the AFP can provide an even faster, targeted and effective response,” Mr O’Connor said.

Replacing numerous allocations of temporary tied funds with a consolidated budget will provide greater certainty, enable the AFP to adjust rapidly to changes in strategic policing objectives, and create operational efficiencies.

The new airport policing model will be implemented over five years to allow enough time to train current staff who are not yet sworn police officers.

The Government has also agreed to implement all remaining recommendations made by the audit, except for the recommendation relating to arrangements for protection of official and diplomatic premises.

The AFP was established 30 years ago with an annual budget of $63 million. It now has a budget of more than $1.15 billion.

AFP Commissioner Tony Negus says the structural changes will not take resources away from areas like counter-terrorism and will allow for greater flexibility in allocating resources to operations.

Commissioner Negus says it is hoped the new arrangements will see more joint operations like a recent operation with local authorities in Cambodia which netted 15 tonnes of Safrole oil, used to manufacture the illegal drug MDMA.

The new arrangements allowed for a more holistic approach to combating organised crime and reflected a changing environment where all types of organised crime were more networked than in the past.

“This is a reallocation of resources from within our portfolios to focus on organised crime as a holistic process, rather than define it by drugs or fraud or money laundering or something of a similar nature.”

The move has been welcomed by the Australian Federal Police Association.

Other organised crime response measures include:

  • the AFP taking over responsibility for an international alliance of law enforcement agencies dedicated to combating child sexual abuse;
  • Australia’s first comprehensive cyber security strategy being implemented to improve the detection, analysis, mitigation and response to sophisticated cyber threats, with a focus on government, critical infrastructure and other systems of national interest; and
  • the Department of Defence becoming the sole agency responsible for Federal departmental security clearances as part of a strategy to remove problems associated with unnecessary and poorly designed regulation and inconsistencies stemming from the existing decentralised approach.

The Australian Crime Commission is to concentrate on its intelligence-gathering role and will conduct a biennial organised-crime threat assessment to identify key organised crime threats so Federal law-enforcement agencies can combine their resources and undertake multi-agency operations.

An organised crime response plan is being developed to align the resources of various agencies and other action is being taken to:

  • improve intelligence, information sharing and interoperability among agencies to best identify and combat organised-crime networks and their activities;
  • target the criminal economy to remove the profitability of criminal activity;
  • enhance investigation, prosecution and offender management processes to meet the challenges posed by flexible, innovative and resilient criminal networks;
  • establish stronger preventative partnerships with industry and the community, by alerting the community to key threats and engaging the business sector in preventive responses; and
  • enhance international, domestic and national partnerships in line with the cross-border nature of organised crime.

“The Government is committed to protecting Australia from the social and economic impacts of organised crime, estimated to cost the community more than $15 billion a year,” Attorney-General Robert McClelland said.

Federal Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said that increasing information and intelligence sharing between agencies would create a better picture of organised crime in Australia.

“It is important we ensure that agencies’ efforts and resources are targeted at the most significant threats,” he said.

Australia has negotiated agreements with the Attorneys-General of the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand to develop a multi-lateral framework for organised crime which will build on Australia’s strategic framework.

In the area of combating child sexual abuse, the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) will be led by the AFP until 2012. The VGT has significantly changed the way in which countries work together to protect children, and has led to the dismantling of global paedophile networks, the coordination of covert internet investigations, the sharing and developing of intelligence and the targeting of travelling sex offenders.

Investigations by VGT partners have led to more than a thousand arrests and dozens of children have been safeguarded internationally since 2003.

In one period of 357 hours’ continuous undercover activity, 31 children were safeguarded and hundreds of arrests followed. In this way, the VGT demonstrated that by combining individual expertise, resources and capabilities, the impact was greater.

The VGT also focuses on educating and empowering children and young people around the world to stay safe online.

The VGT alliance has enabled the most successful online safety education materials from one country to be shared with others. This has promoted the use of the VGT ‘Report Abuse’ button, an initiative which enables children at risk online to seek immediate advice, help and support.

AFP Acting National Manager of High Tech Crime Operations Commander Neil Gaughan has taken over as the second Chair of the VGT since its inception.

“We will use the VGT successes so far as a foundation to expand its membership and to develop further some of the groundbreaking work which is already underway,” Commander Gaughan said.

“For example, we will be pursuing the international development of Microsoft’s ‘Child Exploitation Tracking System’ (CETS), already a key intelligence database for those working in this field.

“We will also continue to promote the process of international tasking and co-ordination to ensure our efforts achieve maximum impact across borders.”

The new Cyber Security Strategy formalises the roles, responsibilities and policies of Australian intelligence, cyber and policing agencies to protect Australian internet users.

The strategy identifies the priorities for the Australian Government to:

  • improve the detection, analysis, mitigation and response to sophisticated cyber threats, with a focus on government, critical infrastructure and other systems of national interest;
  • educate and empower all Australians with the information, confidence and practical tools to protect themselves online;
  • partner with business to promote security and resilience in infrastructure, networks, products and services;
  • model best practice in the protection of government ICT systems, including the systems of those transacting with government online;
  • promote a secure, resilient and trusted global electronic operating environment that supports Australia’s national interests;
  • maintain an effective legal framework and enforcement capabilities to target and prosecute cyber crime; and
  • promote the development of a skilled cyber-security workforce with access to research and development to develop innovative solutions.

The strategy includes the creation of the new Australian Government Computer Emergency Response Team, CERT Australia, which started operation in January.

CERT Australia will work with the Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC), established in the Department of Defence as part of the Defence White Paper.

The AFP will also have officers embedded in the new operations centre within the Defence Signals Directorate.

Article Added: 21/04/2010

« Back