The annual reports for 2020-21 and 2021-22 were broadly positive regarding the performance of the Australian Federal Police (AFP). For instance, in the 2020-21 annual report the AFP Commissioner, Mr Reece Kershaw APM, said:
Once again in 2020–21 our work has been shaped by the ongoing COVID‑19 pandemic, both in Australia and overseas. But the unpredictability of the pandemic stands in stark contrast to the consistency, resilience and adaptability demonstrated by the AFP as we celebrate a year of exceptional operational success. This year has truly demonstrated the importance of our people and our partnerships.
This chapter examines the following key issues relating to the AFP’s performance in 2020-21 and 2021-22:
Operational highlights and key corporate developments.
The AFP’s performance framework and results.
The chapter concludes by providing the committee’s view.
Operational highlights and key corporate developments
The AFP Commissioner has described Operation Ironside ‘the biggest organised crime operation in the AFP’s history’. The operation was:
…a long-term, covert investigation into [transnational serious and organised crime] groups responsible for industrial-scale drug importations and manufacture, attempts to kill and other significant harm to the Australian community.
The AFP’s 2021-22 annual report explains that for nearly three years from 2018:
…the AFP and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) monitored communications over a dedicated encrypted communications platform known as ANØM. The users of ANØM believed that it was completely secure, and it is alleged some of the world’s most senior criminals were users of this platform.
Law enforcement publicly announced the operation in June 2021. A year later, as at 19 June 2022:
774 search warrants had been executed in Australia;
383 offenders had been charged with a cumulative 2,340 offences;
law enforcement had seized 6,339 kilograms of drugs, $55.6 million in cash, 69 firearms and 78 weapons; and
six clandestine labs had been shut down and 29 threats to kill identified.
At the peak of Operation Ironside between May and mid-June 2021, the AFP was required to temporarily pause almost 10 per cent of its other cases. In that period, 33 per cent of all investigators’ time was attributed to Operation Ironside. The 2020-21 annual report discussed how the ongoing workload might affect the AFP’s performance:
During 2021–22, the AFP will be required to devote significant resources from multiple disciplines to bring Operation Ironside to a successful conclusion particularly through the legal system. Because of the sheer volume of arrests, seizures and court actions arising from the operation, innovations and process improvements will be at the heart of how the AFP will manage the associated work ensuring other priorities are maintained. As the AFP has absorbed the workload so far and performance measures take a broad approach to outputs and impacts, it is not anticipated that the case[s] will affect performance results at this stage, especially as measures span more than investigative activity. We do anticipate some impacts on investigative process, and potentially tempo, but the degree of this is uncertain.
The 2021-22 annual report states that ‘[t]he prosecution phase of Operation Ironside is ongoing.’ It also reported that the throughput of cases (which is ‘the difference between cases on hand at the start of the year versus the end of the year’) had returned to more normal levels in 2021-22:
While the overall throughput of cases was disrupted in 2020–21 due to the additional effort required to undertake Operation Ironside, in 2021‑22…case throughput returned to normal levels. Similarly, suspended investigative cases peaked at 10% during the overt phase of Operation Ironside and subsequently reduced to 3% thereafter.
When asked about investigative lessons from Operation Ironside, Mr Ian McCartney, Deputy Commissioner Investigations at the AFP, told the committee:
I think there are many learnings from that exercise. I think we had a view that high/significant organised crime wasn't only impacting Australia. Our assessment increased after Operation Ironside, in terms of how globalised organised crime is, how connected they are and at times how ruthless they can be plying their illegal trade and impacting on Australia. I think the success of Ironside was based around a number of factors, and the ability to work with our international partners. There were 18 international partners that we worked with very closely over a two-year period, which contributed to the success of the operation. But I think from our assessment, in some respects, we won a battle but not the war. Organised crime still continues to have a significant impact on the Australian community, and of course it's a focus of the work that we do.
In terms of legislative reform and legislation, on a regular basis, we continue to engage with the Attorney-General's Department. Running parallel to Operation Ironside was the successful introduction of the SLAID [Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt)] legislation, which has provided the AFP with additional powers to investigate crime on the dark net and the internet. This legislation continues to be extremely beneficial to the work that we do.
The 2021-22 annual report also highlighted that Operation Ironside was shortlisted for a ComCover Award for Excellence in Risk Management in the ‘Risk Initiative’ category. The report states that the ‘highly complex nature of Operation Ironside meant that a higher tolerance of risk was adopted, enabling enhanced efficiency and an effective operating risk management method’.
Work to counter child exploitation
In speaking about the challenges of COVID-19, the AFP’s Deputy Commissioner Investigations, Mr McCartney, informed the committee that the AFP had ramped up its efforts to combat online child exploitation as people were spending more time online.
Mr McCartney told the committee that the 2020-21 financial year ‘also saw the largest operation to be coordinated by the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, Operation Molto, which resulted in 114 people charged and 44 children removed from harm’.
The reports for both 2020-21 and 2021-22 discuss highlights of the work of the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, a ‘collaborative hub’ based in Brisbane, Queensland. Ms Lesa Gale, Acting Deputy Commissioner Operations, discussed the work of the centre and the need for prevention of this crime:
One of the challenges we've faced for a very long time in relation to online child exploitation is it's an issue that people don't want to have to face. It's easy to think that it's someone else's children or they're kids offshore, not our own children, that are being exploited. Through the establishment of the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, we have invested as part of the pillars of effort…very much around prevention and promotion of the efforts of our members in relation to countering this crime type. Certainly, the podcast was one element. We have also done a number of commercials for TV using key NGOs to communicate the message to try and get, if I can talk frankly, the Australian community to listen. It's been one of those messages that's been really difficult for us to get out there and resonate with the community…[A] child can be getting groomed sitting in the same room as their parent within a matter of minutes. It's really quite worrying.
The gap between the online and offline world is almost non-existent anymore, and COVID particularly didn't assist with some of that as families were at home and device usage became more prevalent. Our prevention arm very much invests effort in different initiatives and strategies to try to reach the community in relation to that messaging that it's not just something happening overseas, it is something that's happening here in Australia and in everyone's loungerooms. It's not even necessarily in bedrooms. It's happening in the loungeroom and the kitchen, to be frank, in front of parents more often than not.
Ms Gale spoke about initiatives to raise awareness, including a podcast called Closing the Net that:
…was driven internally, but we utilised the expertise from a number of subject matter experts in relation to online child exploitation. For us with the AFP, we have invested significant effort into trying to raise awareness in the community of the perils of the online child exploitation space, and how easy it is for our children to be exploited online. Another way to connect with the community was via a podcast, and it wasn't just law enforcement, it was a number of experts globally that we utilised to convey some of those really key messages that we want the community to take to heart and adopt, particularly parents.
Ms Gale also told the committee about a book targeted at children of primary school age that the AFP recently published online. She said ‘[w]e really do target different ages and sectors to try to get that message through—so both the children themselves but also parents and caregivers’.
In response to questions seeking information about how AFP staff are supported as they engage in confronting work to counter child exploitation, Ms Gale explained:
If you're talking specifically around what we're doing in terms of protecting our people that have to look at online child exploitation material, I'm very proud to say that we have world-leading support in place for all members that work within that environment. We have dedicated psychologists that undergo regular check-ins with our members, and they have to pass certain clearances before we even expose them to looking at that type of material. That's done over a period of time just to ensure that they're going to be okay to work in that environment. It's also an opt-in area. It's an area where we have policy in place that says, if it's not something that you're comfortable working within, that's okay. So, you can opt out or in. We also have working, specifically within the [Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation] itself, even additional psychologists dedicated to the people particularly that are working in, I think [the committee] saw, our victim identification and also in our COVID online environment. We have dedicated psychologists. In addition to that, we also, through forums like the Virtual Global Task Force, draw on international best practice from our international colleagues about what they're doing to look after and protect their people that work in this environment. In collaboration with international law enforcement, we've developed some policies that are world leading in terms of how we protect our people and monitor and maintain their psychological health and wellbeing as they work within that environment.
The committee is currently conducting an inquiry into law enforcement capabilities in relation to child exploitation.
The 2021-22 annual report explains that the SHIELD program is:
…a new way of delivering health and wellbeing services for AFP employees, with a strong focus on education and prevention to give our employees the training and resources they need to better manage their health and wellbeing.
In October 2020 the government announced funding of $65.3 million over four years for the program. The first SHIELD health hub commenced operations in May 2021, and the 2020-21 annual report said health hubs ‘will be progressively operationalised across AFP regional locations by 2023’. In an update provided in November 2022 by the AFP’s Chief Operating Officer, Ms Charlotte Tressler, the committee heard that SHIELD had been stood up in all commands except eastern command, where it would be rolled out ‘in the next couple of weeks’.
Ms Tressler also provided an update on the SHIELD program more broadly:
We are really proud of our Shield program that we are 18 months into the implementation of. We think it's world leading in the health and wellbeing space for police across the globe. We are looking at revolutionising the way that we provide our services to our members all the way through from their onboarding into the AFP through to their transition into retirement. It's very much looking at education, prevention, early intervention, treatment as well as generating insights so that we can be finding new ways to support our members. It has a focus on regional delivery. We have stood up hubs within each of our regional command offices where members have access to psychologists, physical trainers, a whole range of medical services again in that prevention space. We know that's just really so important for us. It's important to say that Shield does leverage on a really good platform of health and wellbeing services that we did have in the AFP—our welfare office network, our early access programs, employee assistance program, health professionals, and others.
Partnership with the Australian Human Rights Commission
In early 2021, the AFP entered into ‘a 5‑year partnership agreement with the Australian Human Rights Commission to continue developing a healthy, diverse and inclusive culture within the AFP’.
The 2020-21 annual report says that annual staff surveys ‘will form an integral part of the measurement and evaluation process to track the success of the partnership and progress on key priorities over the next 5 years’. While the subsequent 2021-22 report discusses the work of this partnership, it does not appear to present relevant survey results. However, the AFP’s Chief Operating Officer, Ms Tressler, gave the committee a positive update about the partnership so far:
We have entered into a five-year partnership with the Australian Human Rights Commission, in particular Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. They have a dedicated team that's embedded within the AFP that works alongside our diversity and inclusion team as well. There's a number of really important pieces of work that we've been progressing. One of those has included a new diversity and inclusion strategy, which we'll be launching shortly. The AHRC [Australian Human Rights Commission] has also helped us with looking at a gender pay gap report, and understanding where there may be some work that we need to do to improve remuneration for our women colleagues in the AFP. They have been undertaking a number of workshops with our staff to get a really good understanding about where there might be barriers for progression or other issues that we need to work through to help women progress within the AFP, and if there are cultural issues and other things that we need to understand. They've also been doing workshops with our executive to build understanding about working with diverse cohorts and understanding what some of the gender experiences can be in the AFP. We have also, with their support and guidance, done voluntary reporting with WGEA, the Women's Gender Equality Agency. We've ensured that we've done that reporting upfront. There's a range of other things that we're doing.
Regarding future work involving the partnership, Ms Tressler said:
In the next couple of weeks we are settling our work plan for the next year. That will include, of course, how we implement respect at work within the AFP, which is a critical priority for us, as well as continuing some other important pieces of work with them.
Target for sworn female workforce
In May 2021, the AFP announced ‘an aspirational target of a 30 per cent sworn female cohort by 2028’. At the time, sworn women comprised 22 per cent of the AFP, which was ‘a two per cent increase since 2016’.
In November 2022 the AFP’s Chief Operating Officer, Ms Tressler, provided an update on progress towards the target and recruitment initiatives:
Our 30 per cent target is unfortunately a stretch target for the AFP. We do have a way to go. In our policewomen cohort, we have increased by modest amounts, in terms of our women representation, about three or four per cent over the last number of years. It is modest, because we do have a fairly low attrition in the AFP. It will take us quite some time to get the numbers to where we would like. We do have some additional challenges in our protection service officer cohort; we're not seeing those same increases that we're seeing in our sworn policewomen. It really is an area of focus for us. There's a range of initiatives that we have underway. We did engage a firm, Host/Havas, to work with us around a recruitment strategy aimed at a range of diversity cohorts, particularly women as well. We've updated our recruitment websites. We have a number of testimonials there so women can understand the kinds of roles they can have in the AFP. We have found that women are really competitive in our recruitment processes. The attraction piece is where we need to put the most focus, and so we're trying to build that awareness of AFP in the community and attract more women to us.
Ms Tressler also provided further detail about a relevant podcast released by the AFP called Crime Interrupted:
It's something that we're very proud of. It was a collaboration with Host/Havas and others. It really did come out that women, also other members of the community, don't know a lot about what the AFP does, and so this was a great opportunity for the community to understand more about what we do. A number of really extraordinary women were interviewed as part of that podcast, talking about the work that they've done with the AFP in collaboration.
First Nations Unit
During NAIDOC Week in 2020, the AFP Commissioner announced the establishment of a First Nations Unit to ‘promote full and unhindered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the AFP workforce and inform the provision of culturally aware policing services to the Australian community’. The 2020-21 annual report said the unit would initially focus on three main priorities: embedding cultural awareness, strengthening cultural competence and supporting First Nations members.
Over a year since the unit was established, the 2021-22 report said it ‘will continue to work closely to enhance partnerships and support the front line’, including through the establishment of an AFP First Nations Advisory Board that ‘will be responsible for informing the strategic agenda and specific inclusion initiatives relating to First Nations matters for the AFP’.
Ms Tressler provided an update in November 2022:
The Commissioner did establish a First Nations Unit, it must be, 18 months ago now, with a particular focus on ensuring that we were best supporting our First Nations employees, professional development, retention, attraction and other elements as well. It is a modest team and they're looking to build further capacity, but they've really done some great work already. We have a new reconciliation action plan in place with a range of initiatives that we're looking to implement in the AFP to improve our First Nations experience and also our cultural competence in the AFP as well. It's something that we're very proud of.
External oversight of the AFP
During the reporting periods, the work of the AFP continued to be overseen by other agencies such as the Australian National Audit Office and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. For instance, in June 2021 the audit office presented a report on the AFP’s use of statutory powers. The report contained three recommendations relating to warrant review processes, record keeping, and quality assurance, all of which were accepted by the AFP.
Other agencies that oversaw the AFP during the reporting period include:
the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which reported on several investigations relating to the AFP; and
the Australian Information Commissioner, which found in November 2021 that the AFP failed to comply with its privacy obligations in using the Clearview AI facial recognition tool.
Throughout 2020-21 and 2021-22, there were also a range of inspections carried out by the Ombudsman to examine the AFP’s compliance with statutory requirements governing the use of its powers.
At the committee’s hearing in November 2022, the AFP’s Deputy Commissioner Investigations, Mr McCartney, told the committee:
We take our engagement with the Ombudsman's office very seriously, but we also take our responsibilities under the various pieces of legislation very seriously. From our perspective, with responsibility comes responsibility. There have been previous reports that have outlined recommendations. All of those recommendations have been attended to and focused on. Over the last couple of years we've put in place a number of key strategies, not just in relation to this report but the overarching issue of accountability and review. Firstly, it's a strategy of proactive early engagement with the Ombudsman. In relation to the work that we do and any operational work we do, we'll engage early with the Ombudsman.
The second—and this arose from a number of the recommendations—is adequate training for members. It is a complex space in terms of the range of legislation, and adequately training our members. To assist we've introduced automated software streamlined processes to make it much easier for our members to operate, and reduced the number of mistakes.
In addition, Mr McCartney discussed the importance of ‘an executive-down driven culture of compliance’, which:
…is very much a focus of the Commissioner and the executive. What we've seen over the last couple of years is an 82 per cent reduction in noncompliance, in terms of inspection issues identified from the previous three-year period. So, it's an issue that we take responsibility for, but I think we've improved our response in relation to some of these matters.
AFP officers were also asked about a Commonwealth Ombudsman review of the AFP’s handling of complaints about police conduct. The review considered Safe Place, which was established following a major review by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, to ‘provide support to complainants and investigate sexual harassment and abuse’.
During its review, the Ombudsman was advised by Safe Place that the AFP had moved the sexual harassment complaint investigation role back to the AFP’s professional standards unit (AFP Professional Standards). The Ombudsman expressed concern ‘about the potential impact of this change, and how it aligned with previous recommendations in relation to the AFP by the Broderick Report’. In response, Safe Place expressed a view to the Ombudsman that ‘the structural circumstances relevant to the Broderick Report had changed’. The Ombudsman’s final report posited:
In our view, the AFP should monitor and address any barriers specific to sexual harassment complaints if the agency makes changes to its complaint handling process.
In response to questioning at the committee’s recent hearing, the AFP’s Chief Operating Officer, Ms Tressler, advised that the investigative function was being taken back out of AFP Professional Standards and assured the committee that ‘the AFP took the Broderick report extremely seriously and all of the recommendations have been implemented over time’. The AFP also explained that a recent review of the management of bullying and harassment complaints considered ‘the remit and future’ of Safe Place:
The AFP has partnered with the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Commonwealth Ombudsman on all aspects of this review and the development of a new Integrated Complaints Management Model (ICMM). Under the ICMM, the existing Safe Place function will be redefined as a new team called ‘Confidant Network and Safe Reporting’, which sits under the AFP’s People and Culture Command, separate to AFP Professional Standards.
In the new model, AFP Professional Standards will continue to investigate certain serious misconduct ‘due their greater investigative powers consistent with the serious nature of these complaints’.
The committee notes that it also has the benefit of regular private briefings with the Ombudsman, as required by section 10 of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Act 2010.
The AFP’s performance framework and results
Change from two to three outcomes
In 2020-21, the AFP was directed towards the same two outcomes as the prior financial year. The outcomes were changed in 2021-22, with Outcome 1 amended and a third outcome added, as described in the following table.
Table 2.1: AFP outcomes in recent financial years
Reduced criminal and security threats to Australia’s collective economic and societal interests through co‑operative policing services.
Reduce criminal and national security threats to Australia’s collective economic and societal interests through cooperative national and international policing services, primarily focused on the prevention, detection, disruption, investigation and prosecution of criminal activity.
A safe and secure environment through policing activities on behalf of the Australian Capital Territory Government.
Same as 2020-21
No Outcome 3
Safeguarding Australians and Australian interests through the delivery of policing services primarily focused on protective services, aviation policing and international missions.
Source: Commonwealth of Australia, Home Affairs Portfolio Budget Statements 2020-21: Budget Related Paper No. 1.8, p. 5; Commonwealth of Australia, Home Affairs Portfolio Budget Statements 2021-22: Budget Related Paper No. 1.8, p. 5.
The Home Affairs Portfolio Budget Statement for 2021-22 presented a rationale for this change:
The revised structure more clearly delineates [the] AFP’s national and international investigative and policing services through Outcomes 1 and 2, from its specialist protective and other operational services which now constitute Outcome 3. The new structure provides enhanced transparency and accountability to Government by clearly articulating the division of resources associated with the AFP’s different services and outcomes. This clarity additionally assists the AFP in tailoring recruitment, training and further developing employees within their functions, to increase the quality of its staff and ensure the organisation is delivering maximum impact to the threat environment.
In late 2020 the AFP Commissioner spoke positively about the then forthcoming three‑outcome structure:
This new outcome structure will better reflect the breadth and focus of current AFP operational priorities and activities, enhancing workforce planning and providing greater transparency and clarity to Government and the Australian community. This approach will ensure the AFP remains agile, continually improving its operational strategies and methodology to outsmart serious crime.
The change to outcomes was accompanied by changes to the AFP’s programs, which increased from three to four. This included renaming Program 1.1 and transferring elements of Outcome 1 to Program 3.2. The programs are listed in the following table.
Table 2.2: AFP programs in recent financial years
Federal Policing and National Security
Federal Policing – Investigations
International Police Assistance
No Program 1.2
ACT Community Policing
Same as 2020-21
No Program 3.1
Specialist Protective Services
No Program 3.2
International Police Assistance and External Territories
Source: Commonwealth of Australia, Home Affairs Portfolio Budget Statements 2020-21: Budget Related Paper No. 1.8, pp. 122–123, 125; Commonwealth of Australia, Home Affairs Portfolio Budget Statements 2021-22: Budget Related Paper No. 1.8, pp. 118, 122–123, 125, 129–30.
This report does not examine the AFP’s performance against Outcome 2 in either 2020-21 or 2021-22, as these matters are canvassed in separate annual reports by ACT Policing.
Performance targets and results
The AFP reported that in both 2020-21 and 2021-22 it met all its performance targets except for one, which related to community confidence (discussed below).
In the 2020-21 report the AFP foreshadowed a review of its targets:
As the AFP regularly exceeds its performance criteria targets, during 2021‑22 the AFP will review its performance measures and targets to see whether any improvements can be made. A focus will be on the high community confidence, disruption and return on investments measures.
The AFP subsequently told the committee that it ‘continually reviews our performance measures to ensure they drive high quality policing’, among other things. It explained that its review has involved:
…ongoing engagement with Commonwealth and State partner agencies on performance management, review of international better practice and consideration of learnings from the [Australian National Audit Office] pilot audit of performance statements. The AFP also engaged an external consultancy to support the ongoing review of performance measures. The review has resulted in enhancements being applied to case studies featuring in the 2021-22 Annual Performance Statement. The review is ongoing and further improvements to the AFP’s performance measures are being considered for adoption in 2023-24 and beyond.
In 2021-22, the performance criteria were ‘redistributed…to better support the realigned programs’. The annual report provided an explanation of the changes:
‘Return on investment – international’ has shifted from Program 1.2 to Program 1.1 in Outcome 1. ‘Response times’ and ‘Avoidable incidents’ have moved from Program 1.1 in Outcome 1 to Program 3.1 in Outcome 3, which is also measured by ‘Prevention case studies’. Program 3.2 in Outcome 3 is measured by ‘Mission evaluations’, ‘Prevention case studies’ and ‘Disruption case studies’.
The following tables are reproduced from each annual report, summarising the performance measures, targets and results.
Where a 2020-21 criterion refers to case studies, the annual report provides separate case studies for each criterion. In 2021-22, case studies are applied to multiple performance criteria, with the annual report stating:
Case studies are grouped by crime type. Each crime type may encompass multiple programs, as indicated in the heading for each case study.
Figure 2.1: AFP performance results in 2020-21
Table reproduced from AFP, Annual Report 2020-21, p. 36.
Figure 2.2: AFP performance results in 2021-22
Table reproduced from AFP, Annual Report 2021-22, p. 51.
Target not met—‘High community confidence’
In both 2020-21 and 2021-22 the AFP reported that it met all its performance targets except the ‘high community confidence’ criterion under Program 1.1.
This criterion relates to the level of ‘Australian community confidence in the AFP’s contribution to law enforcement and national security’. To gauge this, the AFP commissions a telephone survey of approximately 1,000 people ‘using a random sample of the population stratified by age, gender and state’. The AFP’s target is for 75 per cent of respondents to express a ‘high confidence rating’, defined as at least eight out of 10.
The AFP has not met this target since it was introduced in 2017-18. The following table shows the proportion of respondents in recent years who gave a high confidence rating, compared to the target of 75 per cent.
Table 2.3: ‘High confidence’ ratings in community confidence surveys
Source: AFP, Annual Report 2017-18, pp. 28–29; AFP, Annual Report 2018-19, pp. 25–26; AFP, Annual Report 2019-20, pp. 44–47; AFP, Annual Report 2020-21, p. 39; AFP, Annual Report 2021-22, p. 53.
The 2020-21 and 2021-22 annual reports discussed key points from the survey results, including the following:
Confidence levels varied depending on the respondent’s age:
…with older Australians (people aged 55 years and older) generally more confident, informed and positive about the AFP, and younger Australians (aged 18 to 34) less so. Younger people also had significantly lower levels of agreement that the AFP was honest and that it understood the needs of the community compared with older age groups.
A total of 11 per cent of respondents in 2020-21, and 12 per cent in 2021-22, were ‘unsure what the AFP’s responsibilities are’, which the reports said ‘highlights a need to continue to educate the community about the AFP’s role’.
Most respondents (72 per cent in 2020-21 and 83 per cent in 2021-22) ‘strongly agreed that the AFP performs its job professionally’.
The 2020-21 annual report observed that a 2021 Image of Professions Survey by Roy Morgan ‘highlighted a significant drop in respondents’ perceptions of police ethics and trust, partly due to COVID-19 restrictions’. However, the decrease in the AFP’s survey results:
…was milder than this external research, with COVID-19 not reported in the AFP survey as a key factor shaping opinion. This may reflect the different role played by the AFP compared to state and territory police, given the latter were enforcing lockdowns.
The 2021-22 report suggested that the improvement from the previous year was ‘potentially due to the wide-ranging success of Operation Ironside’.
When discussing the performance measure in November 2022, Mr McCartney, Deputy Commissioner Investigations at the AFP, said the target of 75 was ‘ambitious’:
Overall, the AFP has achieved excellent results in what has been a very challenging number of years. We've met all but one of our performance measures, which was the target for community confidence. This was an ambitious target, and since the survey the AFP has looked at new ways to engage with the public to improve the community's understanding of our role and confidence in our work.
For example, we released two award-winning podcasts, Closing the Net and Crime Interrupted, and launched a new recruitment strategy. The AFP very much values the work of this committee, and we're committed to a strong, transparent and trusting relationship. Our most recent annual report reflects feedback previously received from this committee.
The AFP also advised the committee that it ‘has set itself the highest community confidence measure of all policing jurisdictions in Australia’ and pointed out that less than three per cent of respondents reported low confidence in the AFP. It further explained that the AFP is considering revisions to the criterion ‘to improve comparability with other Australian policing jurisdictions’, and is also:
…adapting better practice from other Commonwealth agencies. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics differentiates between confidence from the general public and the ‘informed public’ in their suite of performance measures.
Conclusion and committee view
As stated at the outset of this report, the committee’s regular scrutiny of the AFP’s annual reports is an important accountability measure, especially in light of the strong coercive powers granted to the AFP. A key purpose of this scrutiny is to ensure that the AFP is performing efficiently and effectively while using its powers appropriately.
The committee is pleased to report that it has not identified any major areas of concern. As discussed throughout this report, the AFP has performed well overall during 2020-21 and 2021-22, as has been the case in previous years. The committee thanks the AFP and its officers for their valuable service to the Australian community.
One notable highlight during the reporting periods is Operation Ironside. This operation took an innovative approach to combating organised crime and drew on close collaboration with international partners. The operation led to a high number of seizures and charges, and it is positive that the AFP appears to have managed this large workload alongside its other duties.
The annual reports also reflect the AFP’s valuable work to counter child exploitation, including via the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation. The committee was pleased to hear, during its ongoing inquiry on this topic, about specialised support and welfare measures for officers who work with this distressing material. Considering the challenges facing police officers more generally, the committee also commends the AFP’s continued rollout of SHIELD health hubs.
These positive results do not mean that there is no room for improvement. For instance, it appears the AFP may be falling behind in its efforts to reach its target of a 30 per cent sworn female cohort by 2028. While recognising the AFP describes this as a ‘stretch target’, this issue is nonetheless important and the committee encourages the AFP to continue its efforts to build awareness of and interest in the AFP amongst the community.
Another issue relates to the AFP’s annual staff surveys. This only came to the committee’s attention during the final stages of its examination. Recent evidence during Senate estimates suggested the survey results have not always been published in a timely fashion and may raise other issues about the AFP’s performance. The committee will consider this matter in future examination reports.
The committee sets out some further issues in the following three sections. Nonetheless, the committee wishes to thank AFP officers for preparing a satisfactory annual report.
Community confidence in the AFP
The AFP has consistently not met its target for community confidence. While the most recent result was an improvement—68 per cent of respondents expressed high confidence in the AFP in 2021-22—it is still short of the target of 75 per cent.
The committee recognises that the AFP faces certain challenges in this area. Earlier AFP reports presented community confidence data from other jurisdictions that were higher than the AFP’s result, but the AFP pointed out that its target:
…appears ambitious…because the AFP has few public contact roles and rarely deals with individual community members, so community knowledge and recognition of the service starts from a lower level.
While acknowledging the AFP’s advice that its target is the highest of its kind among Australian police forces, it seems to the committee that the AFP could still improve its results. For instance, survey results in both 2020-21 and 2021‑22 found a gap in public awareness with more than one in ten of respondents unsure of the AFP’s responsibilities. As the AFP has identified, ‘an understanding of the unique role and functions of the AFP enables high community confidence’.
The committee is reassured that community confidence is not especially low, with fewer than three per cent of respondents reporting low confidence. It also commends the AFP’s efforts to date, such as the Crime Interrupted podcasts. The committee encourages the AFP to continue to prioritise this issue and suggests that it produce a clear plan to improve performance in this area.
The 2020-21 annual report foreshadowed a review of this performance target. The committee cannot identify any discussion of this review in the subsequent 2021-22 report, though the AFP recently advised that it ‘continually reviews’ its performance measures. In order to provide a more complete picture of work on performance measures, the committee’s view is that any substantial findings of such reviews should be outlined in subsequent annual reports—especially where a review has been foreshadowed.
The committee also encourages the AFP to, within reason, minimise changes to performance criteria between reporting periods. This better enables observers to track longer term trends. Where changes are made, the AFP should clearly describe and provide a rationale for each change.
Reporting of mandatory information
Like other Commonwealth entities, the AFP is required to comply with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) and ensure that its annual report contains all information required by the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014 (PGPA Rule).
As required by the PGPA rule, both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 annual reports provide a list of information that must be contained in the reports, and an accompanying page reference for each item. It is not clear to the committee why several mandatory items in the 2020-21 report do not have a page reference, and instead state ‘n.a.’. For example, the report does not provide mandatory statistics about ongoing and non-ongoing staff, nor about the salary ranges for APS employees by classification level.
The committee raised similar concerns regarding the AFP’s 2019‑20 and 2018‑19 annual reports.
The committee is reassured that the more recent 2021-22 report does appear to provide all required information. This includes some of the data for the 2020‑21 financial year that was missing from that year’s report. It is pleasing that the AFP has made efforts to provide this information in a subsequent report.
The committee urges the AFP to ensure that it complies with the requirements of the PGPA Act and the PGPA Rule.
Opportunities for more detailed reporting
In its recent examinations of the AFP’s annual reports, the committee made various comments about the level of information and detail provided by the AFP. This includes the following:
When assessing its performance in relation to prosecutions, the AFP should report both the proportion of briefs submitted to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) that were accepted by the CDPP, and the proportion of finalised cases that went before a court and resulted in a conviction. The 2020-21 and 2021-22 reports only provide the latter, but the former measure has previously been provided in its place.
It could be beneficial if performance measures that are assessed via case studies were supplemented with additional evidence, and the committee has suggested evidence that might be added for certain measures. As the committee said in its examination of the AFP’s 2018-19 report (and reiterated the following year):
It is essential that the AFP has a rigorous and meaningful annual performance framework in place which can demonstrate the effectiveness, quality, and quantity of its work. In many respects, the AFP's 2018-19 annual performance framework meets this goal; however, the organisation's broad targets of 'successfully prevented, disrupted, responded and enforced crime' could potentially be further broken down to facilitate deeper analysis.
Further clarity could be provided regarding the AFP’s performance at missions and external territories. The committee observed that the AFP did not seem to report on all missions or external territories, and suggested that the results of the AFP’s evaluations could be reported in greater detail.
It appears the AFP may have reduced the level of statistical detail that it provides. For example, the 2017-18 report provided detailed statistics about staff who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, but this detail is not in subsequent reports.
The committee reiterates these views. While there is no expectation that the AFP provide comprehensive information about all elements of its work, the committee considers that useful data should be provided where it is feasible to do so. The AFP should also endeavour to avoid reducing the level of information provided between reports, to enable readers to make long term comparisons. Where it is justified to substantially reduce the detail reported, the AFP should provide a clear justification.
Regarding the case studies, the committee recognises that it can be challenging to assess performance in some circumstances, and it is positive that some additional information is already provided; for example, the disruption case studies can be read alongside the separate ‘disruption count’ measure. The committee sees merit in continued refinement of the approach introduced in 2021-22, which applies each case study to multiple performance criteria. This recognises that the AFP’s work on prevention, disruption, response and enforcement is often intertwined, but the approach should not come at the expense of detailed evidence covering each individual measure.
Finally, the committee thanks the AFP for providing additional detail about the return on investment in its transnational crime efforts, in accordance with previous committee comments. The AFP’s 2018-19 and 2019-20 reports presented a graph showing the return on investment over five years. When examining those reports, the committee suggested that ‘[a]s investigations can sometimes take up to ten years to complete, it may be useful for the AFP to broaden the time range of its chart.’ It is pleasing that the AFP’s 2020-21 and 2021-22 reports include charts over ten years, which will enable more thorough long term scrutiny.
Senator Helen Polley