CHAPTER 2: Unnecessary Secrecy

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CHAPTER 2: Unnecessary Secrecy

2.1 The Committee accepts that much of the information held by Australian law enforcement agencies must remain confidential. This includes much information about specific current investigations, operational methods and intelligence, about matters before the courts, and about matters affecting the personal safety and privacy of individuals. However, the Committee believes that there is other, more general, information held by Australian law enforcement agencies about organised criminal activity that could and should be made public, but which the agencies regard, by and large, as confidential.

2.2 For example, the Committee has seen intelligence assessments produced by the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence (ABCI) that are marked 'Police Protected' and contain instructions that the contents are not to be disseminated without the written consent of the ABCI Director. Yet the Committee can see nothing in the contents of the assessments that, in the Committee's view, would prevent them being available to the public. The Committee considers that a better-informed public debate would result if such assessments were available to the public.

2.3 The Committee is not singling out the ABCI, or, for that matter, the National Crime Authority. [1] Rather it is concerned about over-secretiveness on the part of Australian agencies in general. The Committee has had access over the years to 'confidential' papers produced by Australian law enforcement agencies or individuals within those agencies. Often they have been produced for seminars and conferences which are closed to the public and the media. There is often nothing in these papers which would, in the Committee's view, require their contents to be kept confidential.

2.4 In the Committee's view, the amount of information provided publicly by Australian agencies contrasts unfavourably with that provided in some overseas countries. The depth of publicly-available information available in the United States on Asian organised crime will be apparent from material quoted and referred to in later parts of this discussion paper. In the United Kingdom, the National Criminal Intelligence Service in 1993 made available an assessment of the impact of organised crime, though it was a brief and sketchy document. [2] An assessment of the involvement of organised crime in drug trafficking was produced in 1992 for the European Parliament. [3]

2.5 In Canada in recent years the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has published an annual report on organised crime. The report gives an overview of the extent of organised criminal activity in Canada and highlights significant events during the year. It is based on information provided by the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada.

2.6 There is no Australian equivalent to this Canadian report. The Committee acknowledges that the February 1994 Report of the Review of Commonwealth Law Enforcement Arrangements contained a chapter entitled 'An Assessment of the Changing Nature of Major and Organised Crime in Australia'. The Committee has found this chapter useful, and quotes extracts from it below. But this report was a one-off exercise, and the chapter on organised crime was in a sense a by-product of the main purpose of the report.

2.7 In the Committee's view the Australian public are entitled to be given more information about the extent of organised criminal activity in Australia. Such information will contribute to a more informed debate about how much the community needs to spend on law enforcement efforts to combat such activity, and to assessing the effectiveness of the agencies charged with that task.

2.8 The Committee considers that there is a second reason why the Australian public should be better informed. Organised crime is successful to some extent because of the fear that it engenders. Popular beliefs exist in 'organised crime' and its power, its willingness to use violence and its ability to corrupt police and other public officials. Such beliefs are partly based on fact but are also fostered by films, novels and sensationalised media reporting. As a result, criminals can trade on public ignorance of the true situation. By falsely claiming to be mafioso, triads, or the like, or by falsely claiming that such an organisation exists, ordinary criminals may be able to intimidate members of the public from reporting their activities to the police or appearing in court proceedings against them. Protection rackets and extortion are facilitated if the victims believe that violent retaliation from the organisation is inevitable should they inform on the perpetrators. Yet in some cases the organisation simply does not exist, and the criminal is benefiting from a false public perception.

2.9 Unwarranted fears of this sort may make the task of law enforcement much harder. More readily available, accurate, public information will prevent unnecessary fears from impeding the work of law enforcement. This in turn will make successful prosecution of relatively unorganised, opportunist, criminals easier. The law enforcement resources thereby saved can then be directed at the organised criminal activity that genuinely does exist.


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1. See Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, Who Is To Guard The Guards?: An Evaluation of the National Crime Authority, Canberra, November 1991, pp. 163-181 for discussion on the provision of more information to the public by the Authority.

2. United Kingdom, National Criminal Intelligence Service, Briefing Paper, "An Outline Assessment of the Threat and Impact by Organised/Enterprise Crime upon United Kingdom Interests".

3. European Parliament, Session Documents, Report drawn up by the Committee of Inquiry into the spread of organized crime linked to drugs trafficking in the Member States of the European Community (Patrick Cooney, Rapporteur), 23 April 1992.