Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Address to the National Press Club of Australia - Crime Stoppers National Conference, Canberra


Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be back at the National Press Club. 

I was here in February to speak to you about the establishment of the Home Affairs Portfolio and the Government's strong record in managing our nation's security.

To the National Press Club's Directors, to the Chief Executive Officer, to the President, to  Maurice Reilly and the team – thank you very much for having me back.

I particularly want to start by acknowledging and thanking Crime Stoppers Australia for its invitation to deliver this address to this National Conference on 'The Community's Role in Disrupting Crime.'

My thanks to national Chair, Trevor O'Hara and all the Directors of Crime Stoppers Australia. And may I extend a very warm welcome to our global founder of Crime Stoppers, Mr Greg MacAleese, here from Canada – a very special and warm welcome to you Greg.

It has been more than 40 years since Greg began Crime Stoppers, over one million people have been arrested as a result of information provided through Crime Stoppers and this remarkable initiative has grown to more than 1,500 programs worldwide. 

In Australia, Crime Stoppers is an integral part and a trusted contributor to the efforts of our communities and our law enforcement agencies to disrupt crime and the Home Affairs portfolio encompasses our national intelligence and law enforcement agencies and I am incredibly proud of the work our front line officers undertake day and night to keep Australians safe. Through our actions and decisions we must do justice to the sacrifice that they make.

In politics, and particularly as a Minister in a portfolio like this, you have a defined time to deliver on your priorities and I have always believed that the worst people in politics are those who can't or won't make decisions lest they offend one group or another. Those who don't know what they believe in and those who are too meek or weak to defend their values.

As Immigration Minister I cancelled more visas of dangerous criminals than any Minister since Federation because I believe in a safer society. I have given 26 years of public service and protecting and keeping our community safe, women and children and vulnerable people safe, is a core value for me and I believe for our country. It doesn't always make you popular, but Australians know that I will fight to defend them and their families and to make our country a safer place.

In the early 1990's as a young detective I worked on a case of a young teenage girl who had been raped by a male offender who entered her home late one night. The victim's father was home asleep at the time, but didn't hear the offender enter the house. Some more than 25 years on I can still remember the full name and dates of birth of both the victim and the offender. The offender was convicted and imprisoned, but I wonder from time-to-time what life would have been like or has been like for that young girl as she has grown up, and whether her father had ever got over the guilt of not waking to protect his daughter on that night.

Ultimately we are all shaped by our life's experiences, but these experiences and the responsibility of being a parent makes my priorities in this portfolio crystal clear.

I recently announced almost $70 million for the establishment of the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation because my number one priority is to protect children.

Through cancelling visas of child sex offenders, through collaboration with international partners to close down syndicates involved in trafficking children or women; and through protecting children on line from predators who would seek to do them harm.

This Government is taking the same determined approach against the drug manufacturers, the importers and the distributors of ice and other life destroying illicit substances. 

My priority is to do all I can to stop that evil trade; to provide support to those people with an addiction who want to help themselves, but also with all the resources of this portfolio to try and prevent those needles entering the veins of any Australian, but particularly teenagers.

Regrettably, the crime fighting challenge for us all is getting harder, not easier and this is in part because the criminal today does not have to break our windows or force a door to steal from our home or from our business. They are already inside.

Technological development and the internet mean they can control your computer, steal your information and take your identity.

Many of you would have read just in the last few days – which coincide with Stay Smart Online Week – of concerns surrounding the vulnerabilities to hackers of devices that make your home a 'smart house.'

In 2017, there were 47,000 cyber-related incidents – an increase of 15 per cent on the previous year. 

Over half of these incidents were online scams or fraud, and 60 per cent of all cyber-attacks targeted small and medium sized businesses and there's the device that we all have – including of course most of our children – we carry it every day – the mobile phone – which can put the criminal not only in your home, but in your briefcase or handbag and indeed in your own hand.

These expanding technologies have and will continue to revolutionise our lives and that is a great thing – but they could also revolutionise, and they are, the opportunities for criminals.

With more than four billion people using the internet globally – including more than 20 million Australians – organised criminal networks can target thousands of Australians simultaneously from anywhere in the world.

Cybercrime and cyber-enabled crime is increasingly popular among sophisticated criminal syndicates because the costs are low, the profits high and the risk of being detected is judged as an acceptable risk.

That is why governments, law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies must constantly update the way they work to keep pace with criminals, while protecting societies hard-won liberties.

In this regard, the Coalition Government has put before the Parliament vital legislation known as the Assistance and Access Bill.  It asks technology companies to provide reasonable assistance in important investigations.

Many Australians won't have heard of encryption or at least may not appreciate the good and bad that comes from it.

Encryption protects you online when you are using internet banking or sending and receiving messages from a government department like Centrelink or the Tax Office. It is a significant and necessary, a very important tool online to protect from hacking, but it gives rise to a major problem because criminals are using encryption to send messages about planning a terrorist attack or images of children involved in pornography.

Currently our police and intelligence agencies who have a warrant may be able to covertly recover an email or a photo or other evidence of a crime from someone's computer, but they can't crack encryption which is why it is now being exploited by criminals.

The legislation is before a parliamentary committee which will consider the Bill and possibly recommend some changes, but the legislation is vital.

It will enable our police and our security agencies to work in the digital world and do so with all the existing requirements and oversight applying to their actions.

Of the data lawfully intercepted by the Australian Federal Police, 90 per cent uses some form of encryption.

Likewise it is impeding nine out of 10 priority national security matters being dealt with by ASIO.

Terrorists and criminals are using encrypted communications to avoid detection and disruption and it makes the task of conducting an investigation, to say nothing of disrupting terror attacks or criminal activity, more difficult than it has ever been.

Society has long seen value in enabling our law enforcement agencies to access telephone communications and related data with the appropriate warrants and justifiable cause.

Now, this is legitimate activity that helps to protect our community. So it defies common sense that this access should be denied simply because the mode of communication has changed. 

Let me explain it this way. If a criminal had a hand written plan detailing a paedophile network he had established, the police could obtain a warrant to enter the house and seize the hand written note as evidence. If the same criminal typed the same detail of the plan and sent it via a text message or email, the police could again obtain a warrant and recover the text as evidence.

However, if the exact same detail of the paedophile network was sent via an encrypted messaging service, like Wickr or WhatsApp, the police would not be able to recover the information.  It is of course an absurdity because the clear advice from law enforcement and security agencies is that we are now losing our edge to criminal enterprises.

We need to ensure that our law enforcement agencies can continue to exercise appropriate and properly supervised powers in support of community safety and security.

Once passed, the legislation will assist law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access lawfully specific communications, without compromising the security of a network.

It will modernise existing legislation, including by extending obligations to assist authorities to the next generation of communication service providers.

Importantly, the legislation does not permit so-called 'backdoors.' There will be no weakening of encryption.

In fact, the Bill specifically provides that companies cannot be required to create systemic weaknesses in their encrypted products, or be required to build a decryption capability and robust measures will ensure individual privacy is protected and cyber security safeguarded.

Now there are vocal opponents to this legislation, indeed some of the biggest critics of this legislation are multi-billion dollar Silicon Valley companies. The same companies that need to be hounded to pay tax in Australia and other jurisdictions, and the same companies who have misused personal data to commercial advantage. And it should be noted, these yes, are the same companies who protest about having to help police with the encryption problem, whilst operating their businesses in less democratic countries and accepting at the same time a compromise on privacy to allow their presence in those growth markets.

For its part, the Government undertook extensive consultation with industry about the proposed changes. Indeed, we made amendments to the draft legislation to take into account many of the key industry concerns – and I want to thank very sincerely Angus Taylor who has led that work.

We will continue the dialogue; it is important that tech firms understand and embrace their responsibilities to our community that has helped enrich them and their companies and shareholders.

Ultimately this Bill is designed to protect Australians, and on the advice of the AFP Commissioner, Director-General of ASIO and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, it is an essential piece of legislation and it can only succeed if it's supported in the Senate by the Labor Party. We want bipartisan support for key national security bills, but this is one where Mark Dreyfus is playing games and Mr Shorten needs to exert his authority and support the Bill. The decision for Mr Shorten is whether he supports the Silicon Valley multi-billion dollar companies or whether he's on the side of protecting Australians and we have countless live investigations, right this very day, being hampered by the limitation in the current law and it is time to change this law.

Ladies and gentlemen I was pleased the Five Country Ministerial meeting, which Australia chaired in August, underscored the importance of the digital sector taking responsibility for content promulgated and communicated through their platforms and applications.

Crime today is better resourced, it's more professional in its organisation and it's more sophisticated in its operation. Moreover, it is more transnational than ever, even though its impact is as local as ever.

Australian agencies advise that 70 per cent of Australia's serious and organised crime threats are now based offshore, or have very strong offshore links.

Transnational, serious and organised crime – or 'TSOC' to use the abbreviation – is affecting every Australian.

The release of a new report today shows that serious and organised crime is costing the Australian economy dearly.

The report estimates the costs of serious and organised crime in our country in 2016-17, as being between $23.8 billion to $47.4 billion.

While we know that many Australians are the victims of organised crime, the new report shows the extent to which it is affecting all Australians directly or indirectly.

At the high end, the cost of serious and organised crime to the Australian economy each year is $11.4 billion higher than previous estimates based on 2013-14 data.

That $47.4 billion equates to about $1,900 for every person in Australia, every year and I want to stress that this figure reflects better data and more detailed analysis by the Institute.

The $47.4 billion headline figure is broken down into two components: over $30 billion annually accounting for the cost of serious and organised criminal activity, including as part of conventional crimes. That is the cost of crimes including organised fraud, illicit drug activity, distribution of illicit commodities, cybercrime and crimes against the person and secondly, $15.9 billion annually accounting for the cost of prevention and response initiatives.

That is, the expense incurred by law enforcement, the criminal justice system, other government agencies, the private sector and the general community in providing support to prevent organised criminal activity.

Calculating the cost of black market activity is inherently difficult as we all know. It requires the latest research, sensitive data and access to classified intelligence holdings and the study does not take into account the human toll of serious and organised crime – the lives cut short and the families broken apart by crime.

So the findings are in all likelihood an underestimation of the true costs and this is the second time these estimates have been developed and I sincerely want to commend the work of the Australian Institute of Criminology for their undertaking, their important work and I hope that it continues to develop.

Let me turn now to another report released this week – the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's latest National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program.

It continues to unearth worrying trends of drug consumption across Australia, as well as dire insights into the far reaching impact of organised crime at the local level.

Under the Program, analysis has been conducted on more than 45 urban and regional sites in all Australian States and Territories, representing more than half the Australian population.

Methylamphetamine – Ice – remains the most consumed illicit drug by a significant margin, while cocaine, MDMA and heroin also being popular.

Like you, I am concerned by the rising consumption of fentanyl, a substance up to 100 times stronger than morphine, which has reached record levels in regional areas.

The growth of fentanyl threatens not only lives of the abusers, but as we have seen in the United States, also threatens the welfare of law enforcement officers who may come into contact with it in the course of their duties.

This is a real risk: last year the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force seized and detected more than 17 tonnes and almost 12 tonnes of illicit drugs and precursors, respectively.

Few crimes compare to the trade in illicit drugs as a source of profit for many TSOC groups and harm that it causes to our communities.

Criminals target Australia's lucrative illicit drug market because it provides a high return on their investment for suppliers and traffickers.

Indeed, Australians we know pay some of the highest prices in the world for illicit drugs and they continue to consume illicit drugs at ever concerning levels.

What the Wastewater Report also shows is that law enforcement cannot provide a complete answer to the challenge of illicit drug use in this country.

We must continue to educate, treat and support those who would otherwise fall into the grip of illicit drugs and drug abuse is part a social issue. That said, it cannot be fixed by making it more socially acceptable to use illicit drugs, for there is no safe way to do so.

Clearly many mums and dads and others in the community agree – and their tip offs help our agencies catch drug traffickers, just like a Queensland man caught moving illicit drugs from Adelaide to Brisbane last year. Illicit drugs are but one line of business for transnational, serious and organised criminals and organised criminals are often behind the illicit firearms used by feuding outlaw motorcycle gangs and others to intimidate neighbourhoods and engage in gangland warfare.

They are ripping off Australian businesses and families through fraud and identity theft. They are involved in scams to exploit foreign workers including as victims of human trafficking for sexual servitude and modern slavery and they are often behind the exploitation and the abuse of innocent and vulnerable children – and once criminal profits are made, they are laundered, through finance, wagering and other means, often with the witting and even unwitting support of professional facilitators.

AUSTRAC, which is one of the most impressive organisations in the commonwealth, through its recent imposition of civil penalties on Tabcorp and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia to the value of $45 million and $700 million, respectively, reflects the Government's commitment to ensuring compliance with Australia's anti-money laundering laws.

It is encouraging that since these penalties have been imposed, there has been a marked increase in suspicious matter reporting.

So ladies and gentlemen, combatting serious and organised crime is no easy task as we know, but this Government has never been one to shy away from difficult challenges – as we demonstrated through the application of Operation Sovereign Borders. We enhanced and targeted coordination of agencies to ensure our domestic security and our prosperity and will continue to do it.

To protect and secure Australia in the 21st century, we have to operate increasingly beyond and ahead of our borders, as well as within. We need to ensure that our agencies are operating ever more collaboratively – combining capabilities at local, national, and international levels.

For this reason, I foreshadowed in February, the Government appointed Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Karl Kent, as Australia's first Commonwealth Transnational, Serious and Organised Crime Coordinator and he took up that position in May.

The Commonwealth TSOC Coordinator's role is to develop and strengthen the national effort, including with international partners, against crime.

With operational matters the responsibility of relevant agencies, the Coordinator is developing a National Strategy to fight TSOC in partnership with the States and Territories. The new strategy will replace the existing National Organised Crime Response Plan, which expires at the end of the year, and provide a blue print for the national effort against serious organised crime.

Complementing this work, the Government committed more than $59 million to establish a National Criminal Intelligence System in this year's Budget. This funding will help deliver a cutting-edge, national system for sharing criminal data between federal, state and territory law enforcement agencies.

It will establish a clearer and more complete picture of criminal activity to support cross-jurisdictional activities, helping frontline police officers to combat crime. Even more directly, however, we have made Australians safer by cancelling the visas of more than 3,800 dangerous criminals – including murderers, rapists and robbers – between December 2014 and August of this year.

We have cancelled the visas of 194 organised criminals, including 177 outlaw motorcycle gang members, who's peddling of drugs and violence makes them among the most dangerous criminals in this country.

The removal of the OMCG members alone has made our streets safer and by some estimates saved taxpayers some $116 million or about $600,000 per offender.

Given all we know of the threat from these organised criminals, it is difficult to understand why at least one jurisdiction continues to oppose anti-consorting laws.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been just as difficult to disrupt sexual predators of children and as I mentioned, I have made the prevention of child exploitation one of the highest priorities of the Home Affairs portfolio.

Australia is predominantly a source country for travelling sex offenders and it is a national disgrace that Australians travel overseas with an intent of committing child sex offences against children.

The Government has strengthened legislation and boosted cooperation with regional partners to prevent these offenders from travelling abroad.

Increasingly, however, the internet, especially the 'Dark Net' and 'Deep Web' are where child abuse has become a growing commodity.

Through pay-per-view arrangements, a buyer can watch—in real-time—a child being sexually assaulted or abused by an adult or another child. Even more appallingly, some can pay to 'direct' the film.

Australian authorities are seeing some horrific trends: an increase in the severity of violence used against children, an increase in victims of younger ages, an upsurge in the volume and dissemination of violent child exploitation material and the emergence of self-produced child sexual exploitation material, including among children as young as four-years-old.

Last financial year, the Australian Federal Police arrested and charged 58 offenders with a total of 285 offences relating to child sexual exploitation.

This year alone, I and my Department have cancelled the visas of 73 individuals convicted of one or more sexually-based offences involving a child and nine for child pornography.

AUSTRAC's targeting of child exploitation through the Government's Fintel Initiative, has more than trebled the number of suspicious transaction reports relating to the purchase of child exploitation material online.

If we are to make strong gains against crime, we need to do more to tackle the profit motive that lies behind much of it. We've passed legislation to this effect and the legislation enhances the ability of Commonwealth, state and territory law enforcement agencies to trace, identify and seize assets that cannot be connected to a lawful source.

The legislation will enable participating jurisdictions preferential treatment in the distribution of seized assets. New South Wales has already come on board and I look forward to other states following suit. Indeed, I look forward to it because the Coalition is ploughing the proceeds of crime back into the community to make Australians safer.

Under the Coalition's Safer Communities Fund, we have programmed $70 million for local initiatives to improve community safety. 

This is augmented by the $36 million on schools security and the earlier $50 million safer streets programs. Under these initiatives, the Government has funded local area CCTV to protect community assets and services in Cairns, Mount Isa, Ballarat, Mandurah and Grafton, but right across the country and we are continuing to support Crime Stoppers' and the valuable work that you do through the proceeds of crime. We do so because in the fight against crime, we need the active support of the community.

People from around the country willingly provide to Crime Stoppers information that prevents, stops and helps solve crime because they are assured their anonymity is respected.

Crime Stoppers receives a call every 100 seconds and the information they obtain from Australians results in almost 22 arrests every day.

Results like these are why the Australian Government has been an enthusiastic partner of Crime Stoppers Australia, including through a financial contribution of almost $3 million over four years under the Grants to Australian Organisations Program in 2015.

It's a partnership that I am proud will certainly continue through a $1 million contribution to the 2018-19 Dob in a Dealer campaign – run by Crime Stoppers Australia – drawn from assets confiscated by the Commonwealth as proceeds of crime.

When last run for 12-months from February 2016, that campaign saw a 95 per cent increase in drug-related information reports, including a 143 per cent increase in reports related to amphetamines.

The Dob in a Dealer campaign is a great example, one of many, of our community and law enforcement working together to combat crime in our local communities and I commend Crime Stoppers for that work.

Ladies and gentlemen in closing I want to say I really am very honoured to be here with representatives of Crime Stoppers.  I believe like most Australians, we share a vision and values aimed at preventing crime and the human cost associated with it.

So thank you to Crime Stoppers; to all of the volunteers within the network for your efforts and those of other groups in our community who help deter, defeat and recover from crime.

Like our front line officers you are making a welcome, positive, but ultimately absolutely essential difference to the lives of Australians every day.

Thank you very much.