Tim, thank you very much. I acknowledge all of the representatives from the Australian law enforcement and intelligence communities here today. Thank you for your leadership and thank you for keeping Australians as safe as they can be in the modern environment.
In particular today I would like to acknowledge Michael Phelan the CEO of the ACIC. There's important work coming out of the ACIC today and I'll touch on that briefly.
It is a pleasure to be here with you. Thank you for the invitation and for the opportunity to speak about the Government's work to secure Australia's borders and to keep Australians safe.
Australians are fortunate because we inhabit a lucky country. As a nation built from migration – populated with people from different ethnicities from all around the globe – we are in the main a tolerant, respectful and inclusive country.
We are also an economically prosperous country. One in which as the Prime Minister says; if 'you have a go', 'you will get a go'.
Australia prospers from international trade and travel. From the movement of people coming to our country, being involved in trade, in goods, services, businesses, money and ideas have flowed across our borders and if we are open for business, we all benefit.
In fact last financial year, travellers to our country made more than 43 million crossings across the Australian border. It averages more than 117,000 people every day and these numbers are expected to grow to 53 million by 2020-21.
In 2017-18, we also welcomed more than 9.1 million international visitors, who injected some $42 billion into the Australian economy.
So by being open for business, Australians have continued to contribute to a global supply of investment, of ideas and of skilled labour.
During the same year more than 59,000 Australian businesses exported their goods and services to the world and each year, our farmers feed 60 million people around the globe. So being connected to the world and open for business benefits our nation, but this same connectivity as we well know is not purely a force for good.
It is also being exploited by individuals and groups who wish to evade our border controls, undermine our sovereignty, destabilise our democracy and to harm Australians.
Not only do we face growing and intersecting challenges – from both at home and abroad –the threats are becoming much more sophisticated.
The operational context in which Australia's domestic security and law enforcement agencies work is constantly changing as our world becomes increasingly connected through the use of new technologies.
Accordingly, Australia's border security is fundamental to safeguarding our unique and our fortunate way of life.
The challenges Australia faces require innovative responses and strong leadership. With the Government's establishment of the Home Affairs Portfolio in December last year, we have been on the front foot.
Until this point, we were dealing with the 21st century with a somewhat antiquated manner. Commonwealth capabilities did not have a consolidated focus on domestic security and law enforcement. They were dispersed across a number of departments and agencies.
The ability to respond to rapid changes in the threat environment was constrained and as we know too well, malicious groups and individuals are highly adept at finding and exploiting your weaknesses.
Yes, Australia's law and enforcement and security agencies have a strong and commendable record. They are, as we all know, among the best in the world at what they do, but in the Government's view, the status quo was no longer enough. If the threats that we face are evolving, so must we.
This morning I will delve into some of the threats we face and how the Government is responding to them.
The ocean around us – the maritime border zone consisting of territorial and economic waters – is as we know the crown jewel in our border protection system – but we can't take it for granted. The threat posed by people smugglers is ongoing. We saw this very clearly with the recent arrival of a boat of asylum seekers to the north coast of Queensland.
This was the first illegal maritime venture to reach Australia in more than four years and the Government responded immediately. All 17 individuals who arrived on that venture have now been returned back to Vietnam with a very strong message that others who seek to do the same will follow the same return path.
Moreover, to reinforce the security of our borders, maritime surveillance and response capabilities have been bolstered with expanded aerial surveillance and on-water patrols. This recent illegal maritime arrival is testimony to two things: one, the enduring nature of the threat and two, the ongoing vigilance and commitment to our border protection policies remains absolutely essential.
While this people smuggling venture failed, the reality is that people smugglers are still likely to use the arrival of this group to our country to persuade others to attempt to take the illegal journey.
There are 14,000 people in Indonesia right now who are waiting to get on to vessels to come to Australia. We must never forget the lessons of the past: that between 2008 and 2013, Australia's borders were undermined, our sovereignty was surrendered with more than 50,000 people travelling illegally to our country on more than 800 individual boat voyages.
Just as we must not forget the lessons of the past, so too must we not forget the lessons of the modern day: that the migration crisis in Europe continues to play out to this very day.
The Government will not tolerate a return to past circumstances under which more than 1,200 drowned at sea, as we are seeing on the Mediterranean people are drowning every day.
I spoke earlier about the sheer volumes of travellers across Australia's border. To put this in a broader perspective; in 2017 more than 4.1 billion people globally travelled by air. The increase in the international flow of people and goods is an enormous challenge for those tasked with ensuring the security of travellers and those goods.
The Australian Government's first priority is, and will always be, to keep Australians safe and secure – both at home and abroad.
History has shown that the aviation sector remains a particularly attractive target for terrorists. They are motivated by the potential for the high civilian casualties, the significant economic damage and widespread fear and disruption an attack can cause, and the publicity which accompanies a successful attack. We saw this risk almost come to fruition just over a year ago in our own country.
Last July, a group of men – inspired by Islamic extremism – were involved in a plot to smuggle an Improvised Explosive Device onto an Etihad A380 flight out of Sydney, carrying 400 passengers and crew and bound for Abu Dhabi.
Thanks in part to intelligence provided by partners including Israel, Australian authorities – as part of a joint operation – were able to uncover the plot, and identify and arrest those involved.
What could have been a tragic and devastating incident was thankfully avoided.
In the wake of this incident, the Government is investing $294 million in a range of new initiatives to protect Australians and strengthen the security of our aviation sector.
In addition, the Government has introduced legislation designed to give police broader powers to conduct identity checks at airports. They can order a person under our proposed legislation to 'move on' from airport premises where they pose a criminal or security threat.
These are powers that the Australian Federal Police have advised they need to better secure our airports. The Government has heeded that advice and hope the Parliament will follow course.
Aviation security is also a priority issue for our international partners. As part of Five Country Ministerial meetings late last month, I met with my counterparts from Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States to discuss how we can better collaborate to meet our common security challenges.
From these talks we established a new group – the 'Aviation Security 5'. This group will support enhanced information sharing about emerging threats in the aviation sector and bolster global standards for aviation security. Through initiatives such as these, we will ensure Australia remains a safe place to travel and is a world-leader in aviation security.
Sadly, we are also a world-leader in a far less desirable category. Australia's appetite for illicit drugs is insatiable.
We are all too aware of the harmful effects of illicit substances on our streets. Beyond the enormous financial and health costs; the impact of drugs on our communities and families is incalculable.
While some threats, like terrorism, can at times feel far away from every day life for most Australians, very few of us have been spared the impact of drugs. Most know a friend, a family member or a colleague who has struggled with addiction or been the victim of drug related crime.
This morning, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission will be releasing the Illicit Drug Data Report 2016–17. This report provides the national picture of the illicit drug market and includes detection, seizure, arrest and price data.
It's vitally important that we understand these details when shaping strategies to combat illicit drugs – and again I want thank ACIC's CEO Michael Phelan, as well as the team at the Australian Institute of Criminology, for their efforts in producing it.
The Report demonstrates that illicit drugs remain one of the most significant threats to Australians. While cannabis is the predominant illicit drug market, the methyl-amphetamine market is large and intractable – and the cocaine market is increasing rapidly. In fact, from the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program it shows that average cocaine consumption in both capital cities and regional sites has almost doubled since the program began in in August 2016.
Drugs continue to arrive on our shores via international mail, air and sea cargo and air passengers and crew. Our law enforcement officers remain as always vigilant – with a record 27.4 tonnes of drugs seized in the 2016-17 reporting period.
In Australia there is one illicit drug seizure every five minutes; one kilo of drugs seized every 19 minutes and one arrest every three and a half minutes, but despite record seizures, an estimated 8.3 tonnes of methylamphetamine is consumed in Australia each year; as well as over three tonnes of cocaine; 1.2 tonnes of MDMA; and over 700 kilograms of heroin.
Australia is a particularly high profit illicit drug market, compared to many other countries. High profit margins mean that Australia's illicit drug and precursor market is a major source of profit for organised crime groups. Unsurprisingly, these criminals are highly motivated to preserve this market.
The Commonwealth Transnational Serious and Organised Crime Centre within the Department of Home Affairs leads the national effort to combat the rapidly evolving threat posed by transnational serious and organised crime.
The Centre is working with the states and territories, as well as a range of other domestic and international partners, to harness the expertise of multiple agencies and protect the community from the illicit importation of dangerous drugs.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs, as we well know, continue to be a persistent menace in their endeavour to import illicit drugs. Between December 2014 and August 2018, I have cancelled or refused the visas of 194 organised crime offenders – which has included 177 Outlaw motorcycle gang members.
This has removed dangerous and potentially violent criminals from our streets, making our communities safer. On some estimates we save 1,000 Australians from falling victim to the 194 and their nefarious activities.
It has also saved $116 million in tax payers dollars, or over $630,000 per offender. It allows surveillance resources to be reapplied to other priorities and while seizures of illicit drugs and prosecutions will always remain an integral aspects of countering drug supply, we must also increasingly look to disruption of supply chains ahead of the border.
Taskforce Blaze, a joint agency taskforce between the Australian Federal Police and the Chinese National Narcotics Control Commission, is an example of just how important international collaboration is. Focused on investigating organised criminal syndicates importing ice to Australia, to date, Taskforce Blaze has intercepted more than 15 tonnes of illicit drugs headed for Australian streets.
Just as organised criminal groups seek to identify weaknesses in law enforcement, we must continually look to evolving methods through which we can disrupt criminal enterprise. This includes targeting the proceeds of crime and dislocating criminal organisations from legitimate businesses.
In June 2018, new laws were introduced to Parliament to support a national cooperative scheme on unexplained wealth, which – once passed – will strengthen law enforcement's ability to disrupt criminal activity and target money and assets from the drug trade.
We are determined to continue to reduce the supply of drugs – but the Government also recognises that the centre of gravity in the fight against illicit drugs is the reduction in demand.
Ultimately, this is not a law enforcement lead. We must continue to develop strategies to educate Australians; treat and support victims; and reduce the harm of this epidemic.
Ladies and gentlemen the Government is putting as much energy into protecting Australians from cybercrime as it is physical crime. Eight in 10 Australians access the internet every day, and 94 per cent of adult Australians use the internet to bank, buy and sell goods and for service transactions.
Transnational, serious and organised crime networks are engaged in an array of cybercrimes – as we well know – such as money laundering, illegal cryptocurrency movement, identity fraud and the purchasing of illicit drugs.
With up to 70 per cent of Australia's serious and organised crime threats based offshore or with strong offshore links, cyber technology is critical to their activities. While encryption enhances our cyber security, it is also having a serious impact on criminal and national security investigations and prosecutions.
Criminals are exploiting encryption technologies to communicate, to commit offences and to operate 'in the dark' from law enforcement and to strengthen the ability of our authorities to adapt to encryption, the Government has developed the Assistance and Access Bill.
This legislation, once passed, will assist law enforcement and national security agencies to overcome challenges in the digital era. The measures expressly prevent the weakening of encryption or the introduction of so-called 'backdoors'. These measures, along with many others, demonstrate our commitment to ensuring Australians remain in a country where business can thrive, free from online interference and malicious attacks.
Preventing child exploitation is one of my highest priorities and certainly one of the Government's key priorities. The circulation of child abuse material on the 'Dark Net' and the 'Deep Web' more broadly is a pressing and wicked problem. Online child abuse has become a growing commodity. It is horrifying to know that through pay-per-view arrangements, a buyer can watch, in real-time, a child being sexually abused by an adult or another child. Every seven minutes, a webpage shows a child being sexually abused. This is truly a borderless crime with an organised nature and it is a challenge that is only compounding, not fading.
In my capacity as Minister for Home Affairs, I have cancelled 58 visas of individuals who were convicted of one or more sexually-based offences involving a child. Every disturbing and horrifying occurrence destroys the life of a child, their parents, their family and ultimately the fabric of our community and this is why the Government has opened the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation – a $68.6 million initiative – and the Centre supports a national and coordinated effort to combat the global epidemic of child abuse.
The Centre targets online predators and transnational child sex offenders. It will seek to identify exploited children – in Australia and overseas – and to remove them from that harm.
The Centre brings together experts from the Home Affairs Portfolio, from all of our agencies, other federal departments, state and territory agencies, industry, and non-government organisations.
I am confident that the dedicated staff who work within this Centre, not only have they undertaken the most difficult area of law enforcement endeavour, but they will play a crucial role in helping to reduce the occurrences of child exploitation in our community.
Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world where threats are evolving at a rapid pace. Public confidence in the Government is contingent on it being able to protect its citizens. It remains and always will be the first duty of any government.
Since returning to power in 2013, we have been a Government which has been cognisant of the threats at a national and international level – not blind to the facts. We have implemented prudent and often tough policies – rather than letting the threats we face undermine our way of life – and we have ensured the tools we have available to all of us as law enforcement people involved in the area of law enforcement, are used with surgical precision to enhance Australia's security – rather than employing them in heavy-handed manner which would of course compromise the liberal, democratic principles upon which our society is based and thrives.
The bringing together of our domestic security and law enforcement capabilities under Home Affairs is testimony to a Government which can continue to be relied upon to do what is necessary to protect Australians and in the years ahead, our nation will continue to face new and pressing challenges – as we always have in the past – threats which will require us, more than ever before, to draw on our collective security, intelligence and law enforcement capabilities; but if we can do that, we will ensure that the prosperous, secure and united nation we are fortunate enough to live in today remains so for generations to come.
Thank you very much.