Chapter 1


Globally, governments have adopted significant measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent healthcare systems from being overwhelmed. Governments have introduced restrictions on international and domestic travel, required lockdowns and the closure of non-essential businesses, and set limits on public gatherings. The COVID-19 pandemic and the steps taken to address it have profoundly disrupted and altered individual, government and business activities, as well as people's mobility and social habits.
Just as these changes have demanded flexibility, adaptation and resilience from Australians, correspondingly, opportunistic individuals and criminal organisations have been agile and adaptive in their criminal enterprises.
Submitters and witnesses to the inquiry highlighted significant changes in serious and organised crime during the initial stages of the pandemic. Evidence indicated that the pandemic had a disruptive effect on some criminal activity, such as a reduction in the trafficking of illicit drugs. In contrast, other criminal activities, such as cybercrime, fraud, domestic violence and online child sexual exploitation have increased.
Throughout the pandemic, Australian law enforcement agencies have undertaken a variety of essential roles. The Australian Federal Police, along with other law enforcement agencies within the Home Affairs Portfolio, remained focused on disrupting transnational, serious and organised crime and assisted with operational duties such as the repatriation of Australians. Conversely, state and territory police organisations were responsible for enforcing emergency declarations and related health orders.
Although law enforcement agencies had distinct roles in some aspects of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, due to cross-jurisdictional issues, law enforcement agencies worked proactively together to understand and respond to the impact of COVID-19. They have focused their efforts and shared their immense expertise and capability to respond to the dynamic nature of serious crime and protect the Australian community.
Law enforcement agencies continue to react to the evolving nature of criminal activity in the pandemic. It will be imperative for Australia to build on law enforcement experiences in dealing with criminal activity under challenging circumstances.

Referral and conduct of the inquiry

On 10 June 2020, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement (the committee) initiated an inquiry into the impacts of COVID-19 on criminal activity and law enforcement, pursuant to subsection 7(1) of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Act 2010.
The terms of reference for the inquiry required the committee to inquire into and report on trends and changes in criminal activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic and law enforcement responses, with particular reference to:
the nature and operations of transnational, serious and organised crime, including the impact of border controls and other policy responses to the pandemic that have impacted supply chains and the movement of goods and people, and tactics adopted by criminal organisations to adjust to or exploit changes in their operating environment during the pandemic;
how the pandemic has affected the prevalence of certain types of crime, particularly crime types associated with transnational, serious and organised crime;
trends and changes in relation to other crime types of specific interest to Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, including but not limited to fraud and cyber-crime;
the nature and effectiveness of responses by law enforcement to trends and changes in criminal activity related to the pandemic, including any changes in the practices, methods and procedures of law enforcement;
the impact of the pandemic and related social distancing measures on the capacity and operational abilities of law enforcement, and the extent of law enforcement preparedness in relation to the current pandemic and similar future events;
the extent to which trends and changes in criminal activity during the pandemic, and related changes to law enforcement methods, practices and procedures, might endure beyond the pandemic;
changes that might be desirable, in light of any current and possibly longer-lasting trends and changes in criminal activity related to the pandemic, and in view of the preparedness of Commonwealth law enforcement in undertaking its work during the pandemic, to the functions, structure, powers and procedures of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission; and
any related matters.
The committee received 41 submissions. A list of public submissions, together with other information authorised for publication is provided at Appendix 1.
On Friday 28 August 2020, the committee held a public hearing in Canberra. The witnesses who appeared at the public hearing are listed at Appendix 2.

Related inquiries and reports by other committees

On 8 April 2020, the Senate resolved to establish a Select Committee on COVID-19 (Select Committee) to inquire into the Australian Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Select Committee is due to present its final report on or before 30 June 2022.1 The committee's inquiry into
COVID-19, criminal activity and law enforcement is separate from the Select Committee's work; however, there is likely to be some crossover in themes covered by this inquiry and the work of the Select Committee.


The committee thanks the individuals and organisations that contributed to the inquiry and appeared as witnesses at the public hearing on 28 August 2020.

Notes on references

References to the Committee Hansard are references to the proof transcript. Page numbers may differ between proof and official transcripts.

Structure and scope of this report

This report examines the evidence submitted to the inquiry concerning serious and organised criminal activity and law enforcement responses to it during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report consists of five chapters, including this introductory chapter:
Chapter two highlights changes to serious and organised criminal activities during the pandemic.
Chapter three discusses profiteering from genuine and substandard medical products and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Chapter four explains the prevalence of cybercrime during the pandemic.
Chapter five considers the implications of COVID-19 government measures on law enforcement and the Australian community.
The committee's views are contained within each chapter.

  • 1
    Journals of the Senate, No. 48, 8 April 2020, pp. 1580-1584.

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