Editor’s note: Audio/video grabs of AFP Commissioner available via Hightail.
I begin tonight by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
Colleagues, the Honourable Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, QC, distinguished guests and to the broader law enforcement audience here tonight: Many of you have travelled several hours to get to Australia and your journey is no doubt a reminder of our unique location in the Asia Pacific Region.
The close alliance that brings us here today was borne out of the military affiliations formed during World War II.
This Five Nation alliance was crucial during the start of the Cold War – a time in history when serious threats motivated key allies to cooperate in a much more deliberate manner.
It was not until the 1950s that Australia joined this strategic partnership, which matured and evolved post 9/11.
In 2006, the Law Enforcement Strategic Alliance Group was developed under the Five Eyes partnership, and in 2013, it transitioned to the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Group, known as the FELEG.
In the six decades that have passed since Australia formally joined the alliance, intelligence and operational sharing has helped keep our countries safe.
This is our shared history.
We know that the past often helps mould our future.
But we don’t need a crystal ball to see that recent world events make FELEG as relevant today as it was at the time of its inception.
However, I would argue FELEG has never been more important.
And that is because:
The pandemic has contributed to the de-stabilisation of the world order.
Global instability is helping to fuel and embolden organised crime.
Criminals have weaponised technology and have become ruthlessly efficient at finding victims.
State actors and citizens from some nations are using our countries at the expense of our sovereignty and economies.
The world has never been smaller. Criminals are no longer bound by, or deterred by, state borders.
It means we must ensure FELEG remains a law enforcement shape shifter – one that is agile and unpredictable to organised crime.
And we need to do it now, because the path we take today could determine the trajectory of our success.
But there is another reason for urgency. Most of us here are parents or grandparents.
We are all custodians working to ensure a safer and more secure life for future generations.
It is often asked what keeps me up at night, however, I want to talk about what gets me up in the morning.
My children, my family, my community and my country are my true north - they direct and pull me forward.
While that is my personal philosophy, on a practical level, I am a data-driven Commissioner.
Every Commissioner wants to see crime statistics fall because ultimately, statistics are about people falling victim to crime.
Unfortunately, federal crime in Australia is increasing. Contributing to this increase is the long shadow of organised crime and state aggression.
For the AFP, geopolitics and regional instability continues to influence our strategic priorities.
Our operational focus remains countering terrorism, espionage and foreign interference; child exploitation; cyber; fraud, and transnational serious organised crime – what we call TSOC.
A significant number of TSOC syndicates targeting Australia have moved offshore to escape or deceive law enforcement.
In some cases, this deception is enabled by the inaction of certain governments.
As FELEG members, we have an opportunity to unleash maximum impact on the criminal environment as well as targeting those who are benefiting from criminal acts.
We can deliver tangible outcomes if we leverage our collective legislation, capability and intelligence.
And while we all have our own political systems to navigate, policing often transcends politics.
We see this almost every day through police diplomacy.
The AFP is posted in 33 countries and our long-standing relationships are helping to keep Australians safe in ways we could never fully reveal.
Police-to-police relationships cannot be undervalued and will become more important as parts of the world remain unsettled.
And while our citizens understand to some extent the geopolitics affecting our regions, the threat of TSOC remains abstract to many members of the public.
We must explain to them how they are impacted by organised crime, and how law enforcement agencies – including FELEG - are keeping them safe.
I have challenged the AFP to better explain what we do - yet our citizens, like yours, are busy.
When we go into their living rooms during the nightly news, on their social media feeds or in the news pages, we know we need to answer these questions for Joe or Jane Public: “Why should I care about what you are doing, and how does this affect me or my family?”
And, “Why do you bother with the war on illicit drugs”?
For the past two years, the AFP has begun explaining why they should care.
We have told them organised criminals monetise child exploitation, sexual servitude, human trafficking and use technology to steal the nest eggs of Australians.
Organised criminals and cyber criminals thousands of kilometres away, are having a direct impact on the lives of ordinary Australians.
Cyber criminals are disrupting our businesses, key infrastructure and steal money from hard-working Australians.
And then there is the violence and the corruption.
A great share of this turmoil can be linked to the trafficking of illicit drugs.
TSOC is importing illicit drugs into Australia on an industrial scale.
These drugs end up in our cities and suburbs.
It makes our roads less safe.
A motorist affected by drugs is the equivalent of a loaded weapon behind the wheel of a car.
They are indiscriminately killing and maiming law-abiding citizens.
This is not just happening on highways – this is happening in our sleepy suburbs, where our kids walk to school or ride their bikes on weekends.
And the jobs of nurses, paramedics, teachers and police are becoming more dangerous because of drug-affected individuals, who ultimately can access illicit drugs because of organised crime.
In Australia, there’s one degree of separation between someone who knows a nurse, a paramedic, a teacher or a police officer.
They are our mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, daughters and sons.
They were the heroes of the pandemic. We have a responsibility to shield them, and all Australians, from this danger – and the best way to do this is to target organised crime.
Just as importantly, as a society we cannot accept the reality where parents buy meth over milk, or where families are the potential collateral damage of gangs who shoot at each other for drug territory in our suburbs.
All of this is fraying our social cohesion.
This is why the AFP is dedicated to targeting those who profit from illicit drugs – so we can reduce the harm and significant impact on our community.
Another priority is explaining to the public how TSOC is a national security threat.
The Obama Administration stated that transnational organised crime posed “a significant and growing threat to national and international security, with dire implications for public safety, public health, democratic institutions and economic stability across the globe”.
And in December last year, President Joe Biden signed two executive orders to help combat transnational organised crime and illicit drug trafficking.
In Australia, TSOC undermines our economy, social security system and tests the integrity of public institutions and officials. Our experience is no different to yours.
The traditional definition of what is a national security threat is being re-written because of the very nature and impact of organised crime.
Illicit drug production and trafficking can impact on regional security, food security and the stability of governments.
Illicit drug production and trafficking can be used to fund other crimes such as terrorism and human trafficking.
TSOC’s crime model is made easier by countries that have unregulated chemical and financial markets.
We cannot ignore that some countries are producing precursors at an eye-watering scale.
We also cannot ignore that some countries, I’d argue, are turning a blind eye to the proceeds of crime washing through their economies.
For example, we know that money-laundering organisations from one region alone are clearly visible in all Five Eyes countries.
They maintain global financial flows by exploiting illicit and legitimate industries across our countries.
Their interconnectedness with money laundering networks enables them to launder billions of dollars in proceeds of crime each year.
Together, we need to disrupt and hopefully defeat TSOC, because if we don’t organised criminals will become wealthier and more powerful.
And to more than match the evolution of organised crime, law enforcement will require more resources and laws.
All of which requires public trust.
Trust is like holding on to sand – it can disappear very quickly.
If the public understands the mission of law enforcement, and trusts law enforcement to deliver outcomes, then they are more likely to support investments.
Australians are proud and jealously guard their way of life.
But for the AFP and other Australian agencies in this room, we are worried about what the future holds if we cannot sever the growing tentacles of organised crime.
We are worried Australia’s way of life will be less carefree and less safe, especially for the next generation.
Australians are listening but we have a long way to go.
And it brings me to this point.
The Australian Federal Police, together with our law enforcement partners in the Commonwealth and in state and territory police forces are doing an incredible job and I can’t thank you enough for your collective efforts. But we cannot defeat TSOC on our own, especially with the growth of dedicated encrypted communications
We need to work with you because outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian triads, Mexican cartels and Italian organised crime are not just an Australian problem, they are a global plague that needs a global solution.
FELEG can be the megaphone needed to capture the attention of key stakeholders, and do it in a way that has not been done before.
Over time, we have worked together with every law enforcement agency in this room. We know how devastatingly effective we can be when we work together.
It comes as we mark the first anniversary of Operation Ironside, known in the US as Operation Trojan Shield.
Operation Ironside and Trojan Shield perfectly showcases police ingenuity.
The AFP and FBI sat covertly in the pockets of offenders who thought they were safely planning their drug deals, money laundering and executions on an encrypted communication platform that was actually operated by law enforcement.
In Australia, Operation Ironside charged 383 alleged offenders with 2430 offences. More than 6.2 tonnes of illicit drugs and $55.6 million in cash have been seized. Already, 42 people have pleaded guilty or have been sentenced.
Globally, and excluding Australian statistics, more than 700 alleged offenders have been charged and 65 tonnes of illicit drugs seized.
While we will always need the muscle to kick down the door, our brains’ trust – like our innovators and our tech pioneers – are among the future of law enforcement.
This is where FELEG can come into its own by supercharging the technology and innovation needed to identify and disrupt offenders, wherever they are in the world.
By working in ways in which we have not done so before, it allows us to think globally and deliver a global blow.
And let’s not discount the psychological effect we have on organised crime when they know the Five Eyes is watching.
Tonight, I am wearing two hats – the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and the chair of the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Group.
As FELEG chair, I want us to unite the fight against organised criminals who are advancing the interests of their homeland at the expense of our countries.
The largest syndicate in the world is us – law enforcement. Our ability to immobilise serious crime is limited only by our collective will.
This week, I’m hoping we can find common ground to operationalise our common goals.
FELEG has achieved success but we can do better and we need to protect what is at stake – the safety of our citizens and institutions, democracy, the rule of law, our economies and our collective national security.
We need to determine what success looks like for FELEG and how we measure that success.
Colleagues, we know our history and we know we are the patriots of our countries and democracy.
A 20th Century alliance is a world apart from the 21st Century alliance before us.
With our collective legislation, resources, capability and collective will, FELEG can be the influential law enforcement alliance of our time.
All the agencies represented here tonight are true friends to Australia.
We are thankful for your unwavering support.
And on a personal note, I would like to sincerely thank you for your friendship and dedication to FELEG. I would also like to acknowledge the state and territory police Commissioners across Australia for their support.
To Attorney-General Dreyfus: Congratulations on your appointment. You have only been in this role for a week and despite your busy schedule, you have joined us tonight. We are very grateful for your time.
I would also like to pay tribute to a true servant of the justice system, Western Australia Police Force Commissioner Chris Dawson, who will be sworn in as that state’s Governor next month.
For almost half a century, Commissioner Dawson has helped keep Australians safe while in various senior policing and intelligence roles.
Commissioner Dawson, on behalf of myself and the AFP, we thank you for the leadership you have provided and wish you well in your new role.
Finally, before I return to my seat, I will take a final moment to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to New South Wales Police Force Commissioner Karen Webb.
New South Wales Police Force members have been providing critical support to the AFP in facilitating the visit of the FELEG Principals, and they have done so with the utmost professionalism and diligence. They are a credit to your agency and I thank them for their service.
Thank you again and have a good evening.