Chapter 1 - Committee visit to the ACCCE

Chapter 1Committee visit to the ACCCE

1.1On 20 February 2024 the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement (the committee) visited the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) in Brisbane, Queensland.

1.2The committee presents this report on the site visit to draw attention to the valuable work of the ACCCE and to emphasise the need for ongoing action to counter child exploitation. The committee also wishes to highlight the detailed evidence and recommendations that it presented in its recent November 2023 report on law enforcement capabilities in relation to child exploitation.

Recent visit to the ACCCE

1.3The ACCCE is led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), which described it as:

…a world-class collaborative hub, bringing together law enforcement, public and private sectors and civil society, to drive a national response to deter, disrupt and prevent child exploitation, with a specific focus on countering online child sexual exploitation.[1]

1.4First announced in March 2018, the ACCCE is ‘founded on a principle of partnership’ and guided by five pillars of work:

Prepare future capabilities, including technologies, to counter online child exploitation;

Prevent the online exploitation of children and intervene earlier in the abuse of victims;

Protect victims from further victimisation and protect the wellbeing of staff;

Support authorities to Pursue, disrupt and prosecute online child sex offenders, and remove victims from harm; and

Promote the ACCCE, its successes and the work of its partners in achieving collective objectives.[2]

1.5During its visit to the ACCCE, the committee received a tour of the building and heard about how its design is intended to support staff wellbeing. For instance, the layout encourages staff to use breakout areas that are separate from the areas where explicit material is viewed, and access controls are in place to minimise potential exposure to explicit material. The committee also heard about various psychological supports that are available to ACCCE officers and commends these specialised measures.

1.6The site visit was also an opportunity for committee members to speak directly to staff from several ACCCE work areas, including the Intelligence Fusion Cell, the Victim Identification Unit, and the Online Child Safety Team. These officers discussed their work and expounded the challenges and opportunities they face when countering this terrible crime. Most memorably, the committee heard heart-wrenching cases and compelling examples of how ACCCE operations have led to actual interventions that rescued children from abuse.

1.7The committee commends the ACCCE for its valuable work and was especially impressed by the dedication of its officers. These officers work in an extremely confronting field and can be required to view horrendous child abuse material in order to identify victims or investigate offenders. They perform these difficult tasks in the service of our community and to help to protect children, for which the committee has great respect and admiration. The committee extends its thanks to all law enforcement officers working to counter child exploitation, whether at the ACCCE, in a Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team, or elsewhere.

Figure 1.1Photo of committee visit to the ACCCE, 20 February 2024

Photograph of committee members and AFP members, each facing the camera, at the committee's visit to the ACCCE.

Source: Photograph taken by AFP member.

From left: Detective Superintendent Stephen Jay, Coordinator Manichan Puurand, Ms Louise Miller-Frost MP, Senator David Shoebridge, Commander Helen Schneider, Senator Helen Polley (Chair), Mr Llew O'Brien MP (Deputy Chair), Mr Dan Repacholi MP, Deputy Commissioner Lesa Gale APM

1.8The committee appreciates the efforts of the AFP and its officers to host the committee at the ACCCE and answer its questions during the visit.

Recent committee report relating to child exploitation

1.9The committee’s visit to the ACCCE follows its long-running inquiry into law enforcement capabilities in relation to child exploitation. The committee reported on this inquiry in November 2023.

1.10The committee’s report highlighted the staggering scale of online child sexual exploitation and the various forms it can take. This includes distribution of child abuse material on end-to-end encrypted platforms, live online child sexual abuse (also known as live streaming), and sexual extortion. As technology has advanced, offenders have misused those developments for criminal purposes.

1.11Being the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, the committee's report focussed on challenges and opportunities for law enforcement's response to this crime. This includes whether law enforcement has appropriate powers, whether officers are well supported, whether criminal justice legislation is operating effectively, and whether technology companies provide proper support to law enforcement investigations.

1.12The committee wishes to draw attention to the thorough evidence discussed in that report as well as its 15 recommendations to improve law enforcement's response to this crime.

Child exploitation is an ongoing challenge

1.13In the few short months since the committee presented its report in November2023, this issue has continued to develop.

1.14A central focus of the committee’s inquiry was the increasing use of endtoend encryption. In particular, law enforcement agencies and other submitters were concerned that Meta’s plan to expand this form of encryption in 2023 would reduce detection of potential child abuse material.

1.15Just a week after the committee’s report, Meta announced that it had started to roll out end-to-end encryption for all personal chats and calls on Messenger and Facebook.[3] The exact effect of this remains to be seen, but the committee is seriously concerned that it will facilitate child exploitation by reducing the ability of technology platforms and law enforcement to properly detect and investigate it.[4]

1.16The widespread availability of another technological development—generative artificial intelligence—also poses growing challenges for law enforcement. Evidence to the committee’s inquiry highlighted the risk that this technology will be used to create child abuse material, and it appears this risk is already being realised.[5]

1.17A positive development occurred on 31 January 2024 when the AttorneyGeneral, the Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP, and his United States counterpart announced that the two countries have brought into force the Agreement on Access to Electronic Data for the Purpose of Countering Serious Crime. The committee expressed support for this agreement in its report because it will improve the process for law enforcement to obtain critical evidence in child exploitation investigations. As the Attorney-General said in a joint statement:

The Agreement will transform and enhance international cooperation in addressing serious crimes, including terrorism and child sexual abuse. The Agreement will complement the existing close relationships between the United States and Australia across law enforcement, contributing to the safety and security of both nations.[6]

1.18Additionally, on 20 February 2024, Australia and the United Kingdom co-signed an Online Safety and Security Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).[7] The MoU relates to a broad range of online safety matters including online child sexual exploitation and abuse. The MoU states that it will:

…serve as a strategic framework for both Participants [the United Kingdom and Australia] to jointly deliver concrete and coordinated online safety and security policy initiatives and outcomes to support their citizens, businesses and economies.[8]

1.19These developments provide cause for optimism but the sad truth is that this insidious crime will continue to evolve and requires persistent attention.

1.20Following its visit to the ACCCE, the committee takes this opportunity to draw attention to its recent report and recommendations, as well as the valuable and dedicated work of law enforcement to counter child exploitation. This crime is a terrible scourge on our society that not only harms children overseas; children in Australia are also victims of abuse. It is vital that governments, law enforcement, technology companies, non-government organisations, and parents prioritise ongoing efforts to counter this horrific crime.

1.21The committee looks forward to the government response to its recent report.

Senator Helen Polley



[1]Australian Federal Police, Submission 18 to the committee’s inquiry into law enforcement capabilities in relation to child exploitation, p. 8.

[2]Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, ACCCE Strategic Plan 2022-2026, p. 4.

[3]Loredana Crisan, Head of Messenger, ‘Launching Default End-to-End Encryption on Messenger’, Newsroom, 6 December 2023, (accessed 4 March 2024).

[4]Also see comments by AFP officials after Meta’s announcement: Mr Reece Kershaw APM, Commissioner, Ms Lesa Gale APM, Deputy Commissioner International and Specialist Capabilities, and Mr Grant Nicholls, Acting Deputy Commissioner Crime, Committee Hansard, Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement examination of the Australian Federal Police Annual Report 202223, 5 February 2024, pp. 5, 9–10.

[5]For example, Sheila Dang, ‘US receives thousands of reports of AI-generated child abuse content in growing risk’, Reuters, 1 February 2024, (accessed 4March2024).

[6]Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP, Attorney-General, ‘Joint statement by US Attorney-General MerrickB.Garland and Australia Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus’, Media release, 31 January 2024.

[7]Hon Michelle Rowland MP, Minister for Communications, and Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, United Kingdom Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, ‘Australia and the United Kingdom join forces to advance online safety and security’, Joint media release, 21February2024.

[8]Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Australia Concerning Online Safety and Security, 20 February 2024, p. 1.