Subjects: Australia's first Commonwealth Transnational Serious and Organised Crime Coordinator; foreign policy; national security; law enforcement; Home Affairs portfolio.
I am very pleased to be here with Angus Taylor as well as Andrew Colvin and also Karl Kent.
Can I just say that the Government – as we have seen over recent years – has invested a significant amount of money, effort and resource into tackling the scourge of transnational serious and organised crime.
We announced a significant investment only a couple of weeks ago which will be reflected in the Budget next week in relation to the very difficult issue of child exploitation. A $70 million investment to stand up the centre which will see the Australian Federal Police lead an effort, an effort across the portfolio, across government including with players from the private sector as well, in trying to defeat the scourge of child exploitation not just here domestically but internationally as well.
And obviously there a significant effort for us on the illicit substance front, firearms is a significant focus for us as well and many other areas of serious and organised crime.
So I'm very pleased today to be here with the Commissioner and I'm very pleased to announce the appointment of Deputy Commissioner Karl Kent as the new Commonwealth TSOC Coordinator within the Department of Home Affairs.
I want to say that the Deputy Commissioner brings with him very significant experience, both within the Federal Police and within the Victoria Police, but also his work within the broader public service as well. His time working very closely with PM&C as well as other agencies.
He was awarded the medal of the Order of Australia, the OAM, for his contribution to the investigation into the Bali bombings in 2002. He is an expert within the area of forensic investigation and disaster victim identification.
He will be a significant asset to the Commonwealth and work very closely obviously with the Commissioner and with other agency heads that he will draw on within this position he can give us the best possible effort in defeating the scourge of serious and organised crime.
I'll ask Angus to say a few words, the Commissioner and then Karl and then I'm happy to take questions after that.
Thanks Peter. And as Peter said it is great to be here today with him, with the Commissioner and with Deputy Commissioner Karl Kent to talk about this very important reform, this very important new position.
The truth is that we're facing transnational serious and organised crime now at a level of sophistication we have not seen before. It's borderless, it's better organised, it's better at deploying technology than ever before.
And as 20 years advising organisations on how to organise, how to develop good strategies, I've got to say that the sophistication we're now seeing in organised crime in this country and across the world is strong enough to be writing Harvard Business Review case studies. It is extraordinary what we are seeing. They are borderless, they're working across ethnic groups.
We see in the methamphetamine trade for instance a shift from local production and distribution to a much more globalised trade working across ethnic communities. They are better organised. We've seen the use of markets and platforms on the dark web for instance at a sophistication we haven't seen before and they are extraordinary in deploying technology, not just for their coterie, but also for communicating with each other and we saw that with what we've achieved with disrupting Phantom Secure which is an extraordinarily encrypted network for organised crime in recent weeks.
So that means we have to be more sophisticated, we have to be better organised, we have to be more focused and coordinated and that's exactly what we're doing with this position.
Of course the formation of Home Affairs has given us the opportunity to bring all this together in a way that we mightn't have been able to in the past and it is wonderful that we have such a well-credentialed Deputy Commissioner in this role. I'm really looking forward to working with him, the Commissioner and others to achieve what I know can be achieved in disrupting, as I say, this extremely well organised and sophisticated organised crime. Not only in traditional areas like narcotics, but also in areas like cybercrime, which of course is increasing in its intensity and frequency here in Australia.
I'll turn now to the Commissioner.
Thank you Ministers. Good morning everybody.
This is a very welcome day and a good day for the battle against organised crime in this country. Law enforcement in Australia is well placed to tackle the impact of transnational serious organised crime and has been for a long time, but as you've already heard from both the Ministers, the level of sophistication of organised crime, the impacts that they are able to have in our country domestically when they are actually doing that from far outside our jurisdiction in overseas countries is increasing and I think what that says to us is that we need to increase our sophistication as well.
We've seen reports recently of organised crime bringing a business model to the way they do business and that's true. We've seen reports of organised crime crossing traditional boundaries, crossing tradition barriers. Not just jurisdictional barriers and boundaries, but also some of those more cultural barriers working together in ways that they've never worked together before. So the time is right for us now to take a more sophisticated approach to our efforts to combat transnational serious organised crime.
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission conservatively estimate that organised crime is costing this country $36 billion a year. As I say, I think that's a conservative estimate as we start to understand the full impact that organised crime is having in this country. It reaches down to the lowest levels, it reaches right into our homes, into the streets that state and territory police are dealing with each and every day. We see that particularly with the drug market, the illicit commodities that are being trafficked around this country, but we also see it in a range of other crimes as well. Trafficking in humans, trafficking in firearms, movement of money is affecting everyday Australians so we need to get smarter at this.
Minister Taylor has already spoken about cyber, the incredible increases that we've seen in cybercrime and as well as that the blurring of the lines that we see between cybercrime and much broader cyber activity that we see at a national level.
So this is an important day because it gives us an opportunity to bring to light organised crime, transnational crime, into a nation security space that we haven't seen before.
I'm extremely happy to bring Karl Kent as a Deputy Commissioner back into the AFP. It's fantastic that he'll be filling this role for a number of reasons. One, because we'll all be able to bring a level of policy and strategy coordination that we haven't had before, but secondly, we have here a very experienced police officer who can bring a police officer's approach to bring in a whole of government approach to how we tackle organised crime. So this is a good day and I welcome the announcement.
Thank you Ministers.
Thank you Minister. Firstly it's a great privilege and an honour to return to the AFP as a Deputy Commissioner and to participate in this very exciting strategy which of course will lead to the development of a new strategy for serious and organised crime and the combating of that by relevant agencies.
For me, I have witnessed over many years the impacts that serious and organised crime has on communities in Australia. Whether it be the scourge of drugs – not only in our cities, but in our regional communities – and the harm that that causes to young people, to their families and to the community in general. Whether it be child sex exploitation and the enormous victim impact that that has on young children for the rest of their lives and their respective families. These are the most serious harms caused in our communities and the ability for agencies to combat these harms over recent years in particular has become more and more difficult given the sophistication of the threat that you've heard the Minister and the Chief Commissioner talk to this morning.
So those harms are what we are seeking to minimise in our communities and to do that it will require the efforts of not one agency, but many. Many across the Commonwealth and many across state and territory jurisdictions. And this opportunity is the opportunity to bring those capabilities together, to focus our resources and our effort, to lift legislative and policy regimes, such that we may more effectively combat this challenge in our community today. And also working very closely with our international partners, where we know the threat also exists, where we can leverage their efforts and our own domestically to create better outcomes and safer communities in Australia.
Deputy, thank you. Happy to take any questions.
Mr Kent, how do you see your role working in practice? Will you sort of have a team that sits within the AFP that you'll be able to draw on assistance from other agencies across the Commonwealth. How will it actually work?
So I'll have a team that works in Home Affairs and that team will have a base in the AFP as well. We'll work across state and territory jurisdictions, working with subject matter experts and my counterparts in each jurisdiction to understand the threat more deeply that we're facing and therefore what gaps do we have in critical capability to combat that threat – both at policy and legislative levels – but also in people resources; the right people, the right time, equipment, technology, infrastructure. What do we need to do to resolve this challenge in our communities? And the way to do that is together.
The other part I'd point out is it's not just a policing challenge. This challenge extends to those that would assist in preventing and minimising harm, which includes education and health as key partners in developing any cohesive long-term sustainable strategy for combating this form of crime.
Mr Kent, the Commissioner mentioned in his opening comments that this would bring a level of policy and strategic coordination that we've not seen before and also that you bring an officers approach to the task. So, do you consider that there's been any level of operation in silos from the different agencies that you now coordinate, and how exactly will you bring a uniformed officers approach to this new role?
First I'd say that there has been significant work across agencies in the past. We're not suggesting that there is no connectivity between agencies to combat serious and organised crime, but what the arrangements with the Department of Home Affairs, and in particular the establishment of this office does, it creates a formalised structure for issues and processes to be resolved.
Often it's the case that it's dependent on personalities to the extent that cohesive outcomes are achieved, but this construct enables that to be done in a more formalised manner and that will serve to strengthen those coordination arrangements – and I think that's very, very important. In fact, the law enforcement community has been calling out for that for some time.
In going to your second point about the role of a police officer in that space; police are very familiar with coordinating and working across community, across other agencies to focus on community safety. So for me, this is fairly familiar territory and I feel confident in our ability to undertake that work in a cohesive way.
This might be a question for the Minister; I have a question about the reason the Coalition pursued an extradition treaty with China was because…from my understanding part of that was around cooperation with China over the Guangdong drug trade, and particularly the issues around those criminal gangs. Will the Coalition again pursue, or attempt to get that extradition treaty up this year, and if so, when?
Well I might let the Commissioner talk a little bit about some of the work that we're doing with China at the moment. So there's a lot obviously that we do with transnational partners, particularly in the movement of illicit substances. We're obviously looking at some of the recent imports that we've had, the origin of those imports, ghost ships, all sorts of difficulties at the moment where there is some interception, but clearly a significant amount of product comes through to our shores.
So we'll continue to work with partners in relation to treaties and the rest of it. I don't have anything to add to that at the moment. But I mean the Commissioner might talk just a bit more about the relationship because it is a significant one, both at an AFP level, but also with the work that the ACIC is doing, as well as the ABF and some of those intelligence networks that we rely on.
Thanks Minister. Just possibly to add – I mean I will leave the issue of ratification of treaties to a government-to-government level – but from a police-to-police perspective we are able to work within the frameworks that we have now and ratification or non-ratification of treaties doesn't necessarily affect police-to-police cooperation. We have, what I'm very proud to say, is probably the only of its type taskforce arrangement with Chinese authorities down in the south in Guangdong, in Guangzhou Province and it's proven to be – and continues to prove to be – a highly successful strategy.
This is consistent with what we're talking about today, that we need to take the challenge of battling organised crime, transnational crime, offshore, and work with our partners offshore to protect Australia. In the last 12 to 18 months – the figures aren't quite clear to me at the moment, I can't recall them – but it's over 10 tonnes of illicit narcotics that we have intercepted with our Chinese counterparts, destined either for Australia or markets to our near north, which again all effects that broader security envelope that we have around Australia.
So police have been very effective for decades now at working on police-to-police cooperation as sometimes the very best form of cooperation we have and we leave ratification of treaties and broader international and bilateral obligations to government.
Minister, can we ask you some questions now in relation to these proposed changes to the Home Affairs portfolio that are outlined in the ministerial submission in relation to the Intelligence Services Act? Now…
No more questions on this topic, Sam? It's a very important one.
I was going to ask the Commissioner and also the assistant commissioner – congratulations…
Deputy he is, don't undersell him.
My apologies. Can you give us a better idea about where the greatest threat is coming from? The average person at home is thinking; we've heard about organised crime for many years, they're probably thinking as far back as the mob. What is different now? What are you seeing that is different now? And where are our greatest threats coming from?
So I'd say a couple of things in response to that. Firstly, traditional law enforcement has always dealt with commodities. So we've attacked crime from a commodities base. We've looked at countering narcotics, we've looked at countering the trafficking of firearms, we've looked at countering trafficking of people on occasions, we've looked at cybercrime as a crime type. What we're finding now is that organised crime as we said before, its level of sophistication is far greater than that; it is a business in many ways. They're driven by a profit motive and the crime that they want to undertake to drive that profit mode is irrelevant to them. They can easily move from cybercrime one day to trafficking in illegal substances the next day.
What we're also seeing to go with that is that they're working very well within the gaps that exist within our jurisdictional boundaries for instance, or our legislative frameworks across countries. So by and large now, 70 per cent of the organised crime threats in this country emanate from, or have a significant linkage to, an overseas jurisdiction.
Crime bosses, if you like – for want of a better word – setting themselves up overseas, directing their operations at arms length, putting a lot of people between themselves and the person that we might find on the street trafficking drugs, trading in firearms, getting involved in cybercrime; that gap provides them insulation and what we find is more and more they're putting themselves out of arms length.
Police will never arrest our way out of some of these challenges. We need to bring in a much more sophisticated approach and that's where the greatest threat is coming from, that broader global organised crime trend that we're seeing.
Okay. So speaking of cybercrime, if we can actually return to the ministerial submission [inaudible] the Intelligence Services Act. Now, this submission that you're no doubt familiar with, it followed correspondence between Michael Pezzullo and the Defence Department. It suggested that to tackle cybercrime and cyber hackers, that they needed new power to access intelligence onshore.
Now, while the Government has ruled out that it would involve some sort of wholesale perusal of peoples' e-mails, would you like to see the ASD's role expanded in that way to tackle cybercrime?
Well Sam, a couple of points. The first point is that I think the Secretaries and the Head of ASD issued a statement that dealt with this matter from the weekend, so I just refer you back to the statement that they've made…
Yeah, with respect, the statement said that they always pursue new options.
Let me make the second point. The second point is that in relation to the threat that we face in cyber. We are concerned about threats to our banking system, by both state and non-state actors, both onshore and offshore. Not just our banking system, but our electricity grids. We're worried about obviously foreign influence into elections and the whole cyberspace as Angus knows better than many of us –certainly me – he has the expertise in this area; there is the need for us to meet that threat.
Now, we need to look at the capacities within the Australian Federal Police, within the agencies within the Home Affairs portfolio, otherwise, including obviously a look at the capacity of ASD. ASD does a lot of great work in terms of some of the disruption capacity that they have. There's a lot of capacity obviously that they don't talk about and that they execute at a world-class standard and we recognise that.
But as for some claim that there's going to be some spying taking place on Australian citizens, it's complete nonsense. If there was to be any look at ways in which we could try and address the cyber threat more effectively, it would be accompanied by the usual protections, including warrant powers either with the AG or with the relevant justice, whatever the case might be.
So I think the inaccuracies have been pointed out in the weekend's press article, but we need to be realistic about…
…but the way it was reported suggested a material change to the remit of the ASD.
Well again, I think that was dealt with in the statement. I don't have anything to add in relation to that. All I would say is that we need to be cognisant of the threat that we face in the cyber space and also in the space that we're talking about here today with sophisticated criminal syndicates, both onshore and offshore, people who are involving themselves in billion dollar businesses. These are people who are using false identities, they're producing documents both domestically and internationally to facilitate their trade of goods across borders. In the child exploitation space we know that there are sophisticated networks onshore and off that are streaming live product of children being exploited online.
Now, if we had a capacity to disrupt that and to destroy those networks, would we want to consider it? Of course we would. But does that…
…can I just clarify then so I'm clear; are you saying that the ASD would target onshore emails as it pertained to child exploitation material?
So let me finish the point. So if we had a capacity to disrupt, for example, the live streaming of children being sexually exploited, would we explore ways that we could do that within the law? Of course we would. So we will have a look at all of those options, but in terms of the letter or the statement that was put out on the weekend, I think that dealt with the article.
Can I just ask a question in relation to this, in relation to the Commissioner. Would you like to see the ASD have the capacity to disrupt matters onshore? That would obviously be a complete change in the submission statement. Previously it's been only offshore. And just quickly as well, in relation to metadata – it's obviously a separate issue – but have you still not informed the journalist whose metadata that you improperly breached in your first outing on metadata laws?
So in answer to your first question, we have a good relationship with ASD now and that relationship extends to their ability to support us in our domestic and international obligations lawfully here in Australia.
Now, that really is only on a basis where, if they can provide us advice about capability and that's what it would be. As for whether they need a broader role, I'll leave that for policy discussion. I'll leave that for government to consider.
Second question; no we haven't advised the journalist that we breached their metadata. We can't do that under the legislation the way it's constructed at the moment, unfortunately. We'll comply with the legislation.
Just on the ASD issue. So, would that mean that there would be further…you talked about – sorry, this is one for the Minister – you talked about that there would be further protections if there were to be changes, for example, to pursue those onshore threats. Would that involve further legislation?
The Government's already, in relation to terrorism for example, but serious and organised crime otherwise, introduced a number of legislative changes. I think there is a case to be made – and this will be something that the Deputy Commissioner can have a look at as part of his role – for the powers and the resources that are available to his crime fighters in the space of transnational serious and organised crime now.
So there has been an elevation in terms of the toolkit, if you like, that investigators have at their disposal if they're investigating a terrorist related incident. The argument is whether or not there should be enhanced arrangements for people fighting these criminals, particularly in the child exploitation space, and the $70 million investment that we made there, or that we announced only a couple of weeks ago, is evidence of the Government's determination to make a real difference in that space.
So, part of the Deputy Commissioner's task will be to look at the policy side and whether or not there is an argument for an enhancement of the investigative skills and powers that they rely on, but the Deputy will have a look at that and if there's any announcement or any direction that we're taking in that regard we'll provide that advice.
The reporting suggested that you would be able to…you or Marise Payne, the Defence Minister, would be able to tick off on…the article suggested they were cyber spooks, but you probably have a different word for them, potentially accessing material online without recourse to the Attorney-General. Is that accurate or inaccurate?
Well again, it was it was dealt with in the statement by the Secretaries and there were a number of inaccuracies in the reporting and I, just quite aside from that, state my position; I think it's very important to have protections, particularly where warrants are concerned.
So you'll see in the split of responsibility under new Home Affairs arrangement between the Minister for Home Affairs and the Attorney-General, where some of those powers have been vested in the Attorney-General. Now, I think that is a good model and I pushed for that because I think a separation of that function and it being vested in the first law officer is good policy.
If we were to make any changes in relation to the sorts of areas that we were talking about before, I would want to see judicial oversight or the first law officer with the power to sign off on those warrants. That would be my position that I would pursue and I think having those appropriate safeguards in place gives the public the proper amount of reassurance around the process and the way in which a warrant's been issued; the gathering of the evidence and the rest.
But the way in which it's been set up in relation to ASIO, this is, there has been that…the operational side if you like within the remit of the Home Affairs Minister, but that power has been hived off now, when it wasn't in the previous model and I think it's a stronger model.
Mr Colvin, does the AFP plan to make a submission or provide any other input to the banking Royal Commission around criminality within the sector or the interplay with organised criminal gangs and banks?
No. I think there's quite a bit on the record already and AUSTRAC certainly have been very active in that space. We have no plans to make a submission. Clearly we'll watch the outcomes of the Royal Commission. If there's any referrals of criminal allegations to the AFP, then we'll deal with them then.
Minister, Michael Keenan just had a press conference, probably half an hour ago, where he talked about increasing access to people's data, not just personal data, but also government data. He concedes that there are more fail points now, more third party fail points. With your new super portfolio and talking now that organised crime, have you been consulted about this access to data? Is it something that you're concerned about?
Well I haven't seen Minister Kennan's comments, so I'm not going to comment in relation to something that I haven't seen the detail of, but I'll make a general point. There obviously is a significant effort with Minister Keenan's portfolio to try and expose where there has been fraud against the Commonwealth taxpayer and we take it very seriously.
So again, with the appropriate safeguards in place, with the appropriate oversights, if we can reduce the amount of fraud being committed – whether it's within the welfare system or elsewhere, if that's the context in which the comments were made – then we already work very closely together, but we're very much open to providing more support.
I mean within this space of the transnational organised crime space, there is an element to some of these organisations where there are massive attacks on the welfare system in our country. So people who are involving themselves in criminal activity at the same time are drawing social welfare payments and that's completely unacceptable. Our welfare system is to provide support for those who are most in need and the effort to try and defeat that criminal behaviour we will support in any way that we can.
Commissioner Colvin, just on terrorism. With the collapse of the Islamic State in the Middle East, what's the sort of the current environment here in Australia in terms of radicalisation and things like that? Has there been a sort of a lessening of that now that the caliphate has gone?
No, I would certainly say there's not a lessening. The threat environment continues to change and we shouldn't overstate the impact that we've had on ISIS so far.
Obviously there's been great gains made in a land warfare sense, but I think the threat still exists around the world in terms of ISIS influence. So no, there's been no lessening of the threat. There's been a changing of the threat environment and we continue to talk about, of course, the challenge posed by returning foreign fighters, not just into Australia, but the threat that foreign fighters might pose in our near region to the north or other parts of the globe as well.
We're very focused on working with our partners in law enforcement around the world to tackle that challenge. We're obviously in deep discussions with the Government about how that might play out as well.
I think we need to be very careful about how we characterise the very impressive gains that we've made against ISIS in Syria and northern Iraq, but we shouldn't overstate that the threat certainly still exists.
Minister, are you concerned that two former ADF personnel have fought with militant groups in Ukraine?
Well again, I'm not going to comment on individual cases, but if people have committed offences against the Australian law then they may well face prosecution. I'm not going to comment on the individual cases without knowing all of the facts. I've seen the reporting of it, but again, the law is specific in relation to prescribed areas in relation to activity otherwise and if people have been in breach of the Australian law then they may well face prosecution.
Just on the Russian cyberattack recently, I'm not sure who would be best to answer that question, possibly Angus. On that, obviously we went ahead and were part of that global attribution. I mean pretty much all cyber experts say that's sort of not quite enough in terms of I mean we're going to see more and more of these state-backed attacks. What more would Australia be possibly part of or are we part of in terms of further sort of trying to get on top of this issue, I guess, especially, specifically about that attack?
Let me say; given where we've come from, attribution is a big step forward because there was a view out there in the IT community and to some in the intelligence community that attribution is impossible for cyberattacks. Well, it is possible.
We know often where they're coming from and we knew that attack on Cisco routers was coming from a state sponsored actor, sponsored by the Russian Government. So that's a very, very important first step. We've done it now several times with WannaCry with the North Koreans, NotPetya with the Russians and now this attack on Cisco routers.
Is there a case for escalation under certain circumstances? Of course. In diplomacy that's how the world works. Of course there is. But the important point I'd make here is that attribution is the first and important step that the world hasn't done before and to do that jointly with the UK and US, in strong terms, condemning those actions is, as I say, a very, very important step to combat state-sponsored cyberattacks.
Minister Dutton, in the security environment there's always an argument for greater access and more power. What do you say to cynics and sceptics who say you've become too powerful in your current role?
I just think people should look at the facts. I mean the facts are that we have, in the new Home Affairs portfolio, not a folding in of each of the different agencies, but a retention of their autonomy. The capacity for the Commissioner and his independence is preserved in this model as it was in terms of its previous incarnations. So I'd sort of cut through the hype and have a look at the facts.
The fact is that the Australian Border Force Commissioner has the same independence, as does the Head of AUSTRAC or the ACIC for example.
The idea of the Home Affairs portfolio is that we don't get to a situation where America found itself post 9/11 and that is that there wasn't a proper exchange of information, which was evidenced in the security failings. We wanted to pre-empt to make sure that there was a continuation and an enhancement of the way in which all of that information was exchanged and that's the idea of the Home Affairs portfolio, is it provides that coordination.
I think in the announcement of the appointment of Deputy Commissioner Kent today, we really, I think, demonstrate quite practically how we want this portfolio to work. We want there to be good coordination in terms of the respective state efforts across the eight jurisdictions. We want there to be a coordination of the different Commonwealth agencies. We don't want there to be a duplication, but we want there to be a greater concentration in some areas where we're seeing a concerted effort by some of these organised crime groups and in the end, I think that makes Australia a safer place. That's all I'm concerned about, more so than the critics.
Look, much of the criticism toward me is driven by offshore processing and that space. Those critics have that in the back of their mind when they conjure up these sort of false attacks. Frankly, it means nothing to me because I think the work that we're doing in the Home Affairs portfolio, providing support to the frontline officers, I think it does make a difference in people's lives and our deportation of a record number of criminals – in particular sexual offenders who have committed crimes against women and children – I think that is making a tangible difference in suburbs and in homes across the country. If we can continue to do that work, then I think we vindicate the quite appropriate decision that the Prime Minister made to stand up this portfolio.
If we can thwart an attack, knowing that we've already thwarted something like 14 attacks in this country and knowing the threat that we're still under because we've had a greater exchange of information, then I think that has well and truly demonstrated the worth of this portfolio and that's what we'll continue to do every day.
Thanks very much.