Law Enforcement in Australia an International Perspective

Law Enforcement in Australia an International Perspective


© Commonwealth of Australia 2002
ISBN 0 642 71541 6


One of the Committee's statutory functions is to examine trends and changes in criminal activities, practices and methods and to report to Parliament any change which the Committee thinks desirable to the functions, structure, powers and procedures of the National Crime Authority (paragraph 55(1)(d) of the National Crime Authority Act 1984).

It is widely acknowledged that one of the more substantial changes in major criminal activity over recent decades has been its internationalisation, assisted by rapid improvements in transport and communications systems. The need for an international law enforcement effort was recognised as early as 1923 when the International Criminal Police Commission was established in Vienna. Since 1956 the task has been undertaken by the International Criminal Police Organisation, otherwise known as Interpol.

Following Committee member, Mr Paul Filing's, visit to Interpol's headquarters in Lyon, France last year the Committee was provided with an opportunity to meet and hold discussions with Interpol's Secretary General, Mr Raymond Kendall QPM, when he visited Australia in December 1996. Discussion with Mr Kendall traversed various topics, some of which are summarised in this report. He raised several issues which, if they are not already under examination, the appropriate authorities are urged by the Committee to now give priority consideration.

The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol)

Interpol is an intergovernmental organisation of 178 member countries, making it the second largest international organisation after the United Nations. It has no operational role, which is the responsibility of the relevant national police forces. Mr Kendall emphasised that Interpol's role is to 'provide the tools for international cooperation amongst police services' (Evidence, p. 3).

The main function of the General Secretariat located in Lyon, with a staff of 350 people, is to manage a secure global telecommunications system for conveying information about suspects, criminals and criminal activity. Each member country determines what information it will place in the Interpol system and which other member countries are able to access that material.

Interpol also maintains a database of people who carry out criminal activity of an international nature. The database currently holds material on some 250,000 people, enabling Interpol's officers to conduct analytical work on crime trends, on the actions of certain groups and individuals, and the links they might have with other individuals. An officer of the Australian Federal Police currently heads Interpol's drugs operation.

The President, Vice Presidents and the Secretary General are elected by an annual General Assembly of member countries. A broadly-based Executive Committee is also elected to deal with the development of policy. Representation on the Executive Committee is allocated by continent, and Australia is part of the ASEAN 'continent'.

Australia's relations with Interpol

Australia coordinates with Interpol through the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in Canberra. The positive benefits of this relationship were demonstrated during January 1997 on two notable occasions: with the arrest in South Africa of Mr Phillip Bell, who was sought in relation to evidence given at the NSW Police Royal Commission; and the tracing in Australia of Mr Clifford Harris, a British murder suspect.

The National Crime Authority (NCA) also benefits from the AFP's access to Interpol, channelling requests for overseas information through its International Liaison Officer, based in its Sydney office. The AFP also has Liaison Officers stationed overseas who provide a conduit to local agencies and who can help with NCA investigations. The AFP states that 'the efforts of the liaison officer network complements the activities of the Interpol NCB (National Central Bureau) which handles the more formal exchange of police information and requests at the international level' (AFP Annual Report 1995-96, p. 24).

While Australia is represented at Interpol General Assembly meetings, Australia has never had representation on Interpol's Executive Committee. Mr Kendall expressed the view that somebody from Australia would be 'most appropriate on the executive committee' (Evidence, p.8).

Mr Kendall also stressed that the ASEAN continent is an enormous area, and that cooperative action at a more regional level in the south-east Pacific area would be desirable. The NCA has also noted the need to develop a practical methodology at the operational level with overseas agencies to facilitate the coordination of information sharing and investigations themselves if a significant impact is to be made on South-East Asian organised crime in Australia, especially narcotics trafficking (NCA Annual Report 1995-96, p. 51).

The Committee suggests that any initiatives which increase Australia's readiness and capacity to confront the ever-increasing threat of international criminal activity, especially from within the immediate region, should be given serious consideration. Australia can demonstrate its successful use at a domestic level of interagency cooperation in achieving positive outcomes and the expansion of this framework to overseas agencies can only be beneficial. The Committee recommends:

Recommendation 1: That the Australian Government promote the appointment of an Australian representative to the Executive Committee of the International Criminal Police Organisation; and


Recommendation 2: That the Australian Government take a leading role in the development of cooperative arrangements between law enforcement bodies in the south-east Pacific region.


Law enforcement and security

With the passing of the east-west threat to international security, the distinction between the activities of the security agencies and the law enforcement activities is now somewhat blurred. This is most clearly demonstrated in the case of terrorism, where both police and security services tend to be involved. This issue is of particular concern in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympic Games.

Mr Kendall noted that the essential issue is interagency cooperation. He said:

We have allowed ourselves to get into some terms of cooperation between the interests of the security service, on the one hand, [which] may not necessarily be the same as, and very often are different from, those that would be normal for...the criminal police side of things. can be part of the problem.

We all recognise that if you want to deal with the problem of international terrorism you must exchange as much information as you possibly can relating to the activity of terrorists. The security services have a tendency to want to develop their intelligence and to keep it to themselves, so you have a contradiction in terms of interest, in my opinion. We have to work very hard at getting across that contradiction (Evidence, p. 9).

Mr Kendall stressed that the key issue in the lead-up to the Olympics is prevention and that every effort should be made to ensure that information of a preventative nature is freely distributed between relevant agencies, even to the point of removing legislative barriers to such free exchange.

This Committee is not well placed to comment on the levels of cooperation between Australia's law enforcement agencies and its security agencies, largely because of the constraints of its statutory duties. It is possible that Mr Kendall's concerns about agencies protecting their 'patches' may apply in Australia, however. The Committee simply notes that there is no mention of the NCA or the AFP in the annual report of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), nor is ASIO mentioned in either of the NCA or AFP annual reports. On the face of it, this is not an encouraging sign of interagency cooperation. On a more positive note, however, the Committee is reassured to observe that policy advice on national and protective security and law enforcement matters is undertaken from within the same division of the Federal Attorney-General's Department.

This is an issue which the Committee will take up with the NCA at the earliest opportunity. The issue will similarly be raised with ASIO by a Committee member who is also a member of the Joint Committee on ASIO. The Committee sees the need for priority attention to be given to this issue by all Australian governments.

Recommendation 3: That the Australian Government take steps to ensure that there are no legislative barriers which would inhibit the free flow of information and intelligence between security and law enforcement agencies.


Electronic commerce

An area of increasing concern is the opportunities provided by modern systems of electronic commerce, such as smart cards, and telecommunications systems, such as the Internet, for money laundering and fraud to be successfully conducted beyond the reach of traditional national laws.

Mr Kendall noted that such issues were often addressed by the passage of national laws when, essentially, only an international approach can address such international problems. In this respect he noted that international conventions, such as the United Nations adoption in 1988 in Vienna of the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, laid the basis for a level of international cooperation. Problems have still arisen, however, with the practical implementation of such conventions when countries do not act promptly to adapt their national legislation to meet the requirements of the convention.

Mr Kendall was somewhat sceptical of the pursuit of money laundering in isolation, which he suggested was of the order of $450 billion per annum worldwide. He described money laundering investigations as 'time consuming, manpower consuming and extremely difficult' (Evidence, p. 16). Part of the problem is that money launderers use the same methods that are used by the legitimate business community, such as the use of tax havens, and the long term solution to money laundering rests in the somewhat unrealistic notion of changing the way business is done.

In fact, Australia had already fulfilled the majority of its obligations under the Vienna Convention when it became a signatory in February 1989. The Commonwealth and the States had enacted legislation to criminalise money laundering and to provide for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters legislation had been enacted by the Commonwealth. The Crimes (Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act 1990 was passed by the Commonwealth to fulfil obligations under the Convention in relation to extraterritorial offences.

A subsequent report of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 1990, which had been established by the G7 in 1989 to address the abuse of the financial system by those involved in the drug trade, led to further remedial measures being taken by Australia. The then Chairman of the NCA, Mr Tom Sherman, served a term as Chairman of the FATF.

Whether more needs to be done in Australia to address the law enforcement considerations in the new era of electronic commerce has been the subject of a recent study by the Electronic Commerce Task Force, chaired by the Director of the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre. Release of the Task Force report is imminent and the Committee will examine it with interest.

Immigration issues

Interpol has naturally always had an interest in monitoring the movements of known or suspected criminals. Somewhat surprisingly, however, Mr Kendall informed the Committee that his organisation had only started to examine the issue of immigration in the past two or three years. The major issue that has come to its attention has been the involvement of organised crime in the movement of people between countries, with large sums of money being made by the provision of false papers or corruption of officials to obtain genuine papers, and related activities.

Mr Kendall noted that increasingly his organisation is being asked to provide information on applicants for political asylum, because of criminals seeking to use that as an excuse to gain status in a preferred country. He noted that Australia is receiving considerable immigration from Asia and, while noting that only 10% of crime is international, suggested that we should not neglect the potential for growth of this international aspect of crime in association with increased immigration.

The operation of ethnically-based organised crime is well recognised in Australia, as is its role in the immigration program. For example, the February 1994 Report of the Review of Commonwealth Law Enforcement Arrangements recommended that the NCA have a strategic and/or coordination role in respect of 11 matters, all but three of which were ethnically based. The Committee collated a summary of the state of knowledge in its February 1995 discussion paper Asian Organised Crime. In particular, it noted that the Australian Federal Police had raised in September 1994 its 'considerable concerns about the possibility of organised crime interests in Japan extending into Australia' in its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration's Inquiry into Australia's visa system for visitors.

This is another matter which falls outside the Committee's statutory terms of reference. It is certainly an issue to which considerable attention has been paid by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration and by the Parliament itself in performing its legislative role. The Committee shares Mr Kendall's concerns that this issue should not be neglected and that Australia should not be complacent about the potential risks that accompany large scale immigration programs. The message, once again, is that the maximum international cooperation on information exchange is one of the best defences against misuse and corruption of Australia's important immigration program.

Paedophile activity

The Committee's continuing interest in and concern about this topic follows the publication of its report in November 1995 entitled Organised Criminal Paedophile Activity. Mr Kendall was asked whether Interpol was active in this area. In fact, Interpol has had a special international working group looking at organised paedophile activity since 1992. The establishment of the working group preceded the more recent events in Belgium that highlighted the nature of the problem and raised the level of public interest.

Mr Kendall stated that 'it has now been recognised, because of those (Belgian) cases, that this is a serious international problem' (Evidence, p.20). The Committee was reassured that the issue is now receiving the close attention it deserves and that Interpol is taking a leading role in helping member countries to deal with the elimination of organised paedophile activity.

Mutual assistance

The final matter raised with Mr Kendall was one of particular interest to one member of the Committee, Mr Paul Filing MP. Mr Kendall was asked for his reaction to the measures adopted by the Australian Government generally to refuse (unless the Attorney-General determines that special circumstances otherwise apply) to provide assistance to another country where it relates to the prosecution or punishment of a person charged with or convicted of an offence in respect of which the death penalty may be imposed. This has been Government policy following the carriage of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at the UN General Assembly in December 1989, a protocol which was aimed at the abolition of the death penalty.

Mutual assistance is, of course, one of the most effective ways by which countries can cooperate to counter transnational crime, especially drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime. Because of his concerns about its capacity to constrain the fight against international drug trafficking particularly in relation to several South-East Asian countries where the death penalty applies to drug-related offences, Mr Filing moved an amendment to aspects of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Bill 1996, the intention of which was to put beyond doubt Australia's policy in this respect. This matter was debated at length in both the Main Committee and the House of Representatives on 21 August 1996. Mr Filing's amendment was negatived.

Mr Kendall noted that, while he could understand a refusal to extradite in a case where the requesting country might apply the death penalty, he found the application of the policy to the exchange of information less easy to understand. As is apparent from the discussion above, it is clear that Mr Kendall believes in the principle of the maximum exchange of information between law enforcement agencies. Had Mr Kendall been fully apprised on the Australian situation, his comments suggest that he would have given support to Australia's policy on mutual assistance, which provides a greater discretion for assistance to be provided in circumstances where charges have not been laid in a foreign country.

John Bradford MP