The role of law enforcement and serious and organised crime
This chapter discusses current law enforcement measures to combat the
supply, distribution and consumption of crystal methamphetamine (and other
illicit drugs) in Australia. It first provides an overview of a number of
current Commonwealth law enforcement activities and key collaboration aimed at
targeting criminal groups' illicit activities. This is followed by
consideration of data on detections of methamphetamine at Australia's border,
existing border control measures and known embarkation points of crystal
methamphetamine being trafficked to Australia. Finally, this chapter considers
the role of outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) and other organised criminal groups
in the manufacture, importation and sale of crystal methamphetamine in
The next chapter, chapter 5, considers Australia's law enforcement
approach to tackling crystal methamphetamine in the context of the National Ice
Taskforce (NIT) and the National Ice Action Strategy (NIAS).
Commonwealth's law enforcement activities
The principal agencies responsible for the Commonwealth's law
enforcement measures to combat illicit drugs are:
the Australian Border Force (ABF):
the Australian Crime and Intelligence Commission (ACIC);
the Australian Federal Police (AFP);
Attorney-General's Department (AGD);
the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC);
the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC);
the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).
The Commonwealth is primarily responsible for controlling illicit
substances at Australia's borders. The state and territory governments have
responsibility for criminal laws and regulatory controls, such as laws for
possession, trafficking or manufacturing of illicit drugs. Regulation of the sale
of precursor chemicals, including recordkeeping and reporting, is also the
responsibility of the states and territories.
Collaboration between Commonwealth agencies and the state and territory
law enforcement bodies is common, and has significantly improved over time.
Victoria Police highlighted the importance of collaboration:
From a law enforcement perspective, a collaborative response
or approach between the Commonwealth law enforcement agencies and the state and
territory police is absolutely critical. My experience working in Victoria
Police on organised crime is that, in terms of a collaborative approach, the
better and more involved we get in working together, the better chance we have
of targeting this issue from a law enforcement perspective.
Collaboration between agencies is demonstrated by a number of national
initiatives and committees that provide a holistic and inter-agency approach to
dealing with illicit drugs, such as:
the Serious Organised Crime Coordination Committee (SOCCC);
the Australian Gangs Intelligence Coordination Centre (AGICC) and
the National Anti‑Gangs Squad (NAGS);
the National Criminal Target List (NCTL); and
Taskforces Eligo and Vestigo.
Serious Organised Crime
The SOCCC is a national committee that prioritises, endorses and
coordinates operational strategies to deal with serious and organised crime
investigations. Representatives of all Australian police jurisdictions (as well
as New Zealand) participate in the SOCCC, together with the ACIC, DIBP, AUSTRAC
and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
The SOCCC considers and endorses key law enforcement strategies, such as the
National Organised Crime Response Plan 2015–18 (Crime Response Plan),
which outlines law enforcement activities.
The SOCCC also supports the work of State and Territory Joint Management
Groups (JMGs). The management and prioritisation of serious and organised crime
activities are managed through JMGs, as well as the implementation of
multi-agency strategies. JMGs are also supported by Joint Analysist Groups that
'identify, coordinate and prioritise intelligence about targets and threats,
and provide JMGs with information to support local decision making and
de-confliction of cross jurisdictional targeting'.
Western Australia Police (WA Police) acknowledged the vital role that
collaborative efforts, such as the SOCCC, play:
What I will say about our cooperation with our Commonwealth
partners—having been involved in drug investigations as a detective and now
running state crime in the operational area—is that our partnerships have never
been better. We are no longer acting with a silo mentality. With the creation
of the [Joint Organised Crime Task Force] and working out the Serious and
Organised Crime Coordination Committee, down to our joint management groups and
to our strategy groups, and then the local efforts here in Western Australia
and across Australia, the information sharing and the cooperation have never
One activity outlined under the Crime Response Plan is the National
Law Enforcement Methylamphetamine Strategy, established to respond to
organised crime groups' activities. This strategy outlines agencies' roles and
aligns 'responsibilities for...enforcement, intelligence collection, public
engagement and awareness'.
The overall goal of the strategy is to improve cross-border coordination and
reduce the supply of methamphetamine.
Australian Gangs Intelligence
Coordination Centre and the National Anti-Gangs Squad
The AGICC is housed within the ACIC, and coordinates an intelligence led
response to OMCGs and other gangs operating across jurisdictions. The AGICC includes
representatives from the AFP, ATO, ABF, DIBP and the Department of Human
Services. Intelligence gained through the AGICC informs the activities of the
AFP's NAGS and 'aims to:
develop and maintain the national and transnational picture of
criminal gangs impacting on Australia;
strengthen the coordination and sharing of gang intelligence by
complementing existing Commonwealth and [s]tate and [t]erritory efforts;
provide high quality tactical, operational and strategic
intelligence advice to the NAGS and its members;
drive the proactive discovery and development of new criminal
gang intelligence insight; [and]
identify new targeting opportunities to complement existing
Commonwealth and State and Territory investigative efforts'.
National Criminal Target List
The NCTL is a national listing of known organised crime groups operating
in Australia based on input from Commonwealth, state and territory agencies.
The Commonwealth government informed the committee that more than 60 per cent
of the high risk criminal targets on this list are known to be involved in the
Eligo 2 National Taskforce
In December 2012, the Eligo National Taskforce was authorised to
coordinate activities to tackle high risks in the alternative remittance sector
and operators of the informal value transfer systems.
After the Eligo National Taskforce ended, Eligo 2 was established to
target high priority international and domestic money laundering operations.
This taskforce comprised members from the ACIC, AFP, AUSTRAC and other state,
territory and international partners. The ACIC reported that Eligo 2 resulted
...the disruption of very significant global money laundering
operations and drug networks, resulting in the seizure of over $80 million in
cash, the restraint of more than $59 million worth of assets and in excess of
$1.6 billion in street value of drugs which have been taken from the streets.
The work of the task force does include long-term prevention strategies. There
are significant arrests that have been made by our international partners.
Those have severely disrupted a number of networks.
Eligo 2 ceased operation on 31 December 2016.
The Vestigo Taskforce began in November 2016 to target transnational
serious organised crime activities that impact on Australia and international
partners. It coordinates efforts by Commonwealth, state and territory partners,
as well as international partners including those from the Five Eyes Law
Enforcement Group. According
to the ACIC, the Vestigo Taskforce:
...provides a framework for the ACIC to enhance our
international engagement and collaboration in response to the threat posed by
high risk serious and organised crime entities based overseas or with direct
links to criminal entities based overseas impacting adversely on Australia.
Building upon the work of Eligo 2 and Taskforce Morpheus, Vestigo has
identified and is addressing a range of criminal issues, including the
importation of methamphetamine into Australia, cyber-crime, money laundering
and serious financial crime.
...identified and are addressing a range of serious and
organised crime activities which continue to pose a significant threat to the
Australian community and its national interests, including but not limited to
the importation methylamphetamine into the Australian market, evolving threats
posed by serious organised crime groups within the national security
environment, the criminal exploitation of cyber technologies, money laundering
and serious financial crime.
Detections of illicit substances at Australia's border
In its Illicit Drug Data Report 2015–16 the ACIC reported on
illicit drug detections at Australia's border. Since 2008–09, there has been an
increase in the number of detection of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) at
Australia's border, with a drastic increase since 2011–12. However, the number
of border detections for 2015–16 decreased by 13.3 per cent,
a significant change from 2014–15, when there was a 47 per cent increase.
There were 3017 border detections of ATS in 2015–16, weighing a total of
2620.6 kilograms. In 2014–15, there were 3478 detections, weighing
3422.8 kilograms, the highest number on record. By weight, methamphetamine
was the predominant drug detected at the border: 64.2 per cent of all ATS
detections were crystal methamphetamine.
Figure 9 shows the number and weight of ATS detections (excluding MDMA)
at Australia's border from 2006–07 to 2015–16.
Figure 9: number and weigh of ATS
detections between 2006–07 and 2015–16
ATS are imported into Australia via four pathways: air cargo; air
passengers and crew; international mail; and sea cargo. Of the four pathways, the
majority of detections were made in international mail (86.9 per cent),
followed by air cargo (10.7 per cent), sea cargo (1.3 per cent) and air
passenger and crew (1.0 per cent).
By weight, international mail detections are often smaller amounts of
ATS. A technique known as 'scatter imports' is used by criminals, which involves
sending large volumes of postal items each containing a small amount of drugs
to multiple addresses or post box numbers.
While international mail represents the bulk of detections by number, most
ATS by weight is trafficked to Australia in sea cargo. In 2015–16, sea cargo
accounted for 46.2 per cent of total weight, followed by air cargo (30.5 per
cent), international mail (19.0 per cent) and air passenger/crew (4.3 per
Figure 10 shows the number of ATS detections (excluding MDMA) at
Australia's border, as a proportion of the total detections and by the method
of importation in 2015–16.
Figure 10: ATS detections by number
Figure 11 shows the number of ATS detection by weight (excluding MDMA)
at Australia's borders as a proportion of total weight and method of
importation in 2015–16.
Figure 11: ATS detections by weight
Major seizures in 2016–17
The AFP and ABF regularly release details of methamphetamine seizures. Major
seizures since August 2016 have included:
17 June 2017: 200 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine were
detected in the air cargo of a flight from Taiwan to Sydney.
4 January 2017: 195 kilograms of methamphetamine were detected
via sea cargo from Hong Kong to Sydney.
Two Malaysian nationals were arrested and charged with possessing
over 100 kilograms of methamphetamine on 23 December 2016. This seizure
was worth an estimated street value of $128 million.
21 December 2016: four men were charged with attempted possession
of approximately 10 kilograms of methamphetamine disguised as 'aircraft cylinders'.
18 August 2016: a man was arrested and charged with importing
210 kilograms of methamphetamine hidden in 12 boxes of women's clothing.
The estimated street value was $210 million.
4 August 2016: two people were arrested after anomalies were
found in timber logs imported from Africa via sea cargo. 154 kilograms of
methamphetamine were found, with an estimated street value of $115 million.
Border control measures
Australia's border control measures continue to be improved, through
additional screening of incoming sea and air cargo, and through the
establishment of the National Forensic Rapid Lab and Forensic Drug Intelligence
Capability (Rapid Lab).
As discussed in paragraphs 4.23–4.24, sea cargo and air cargo detections
accounted for 76.7 per cent of all illicit drug detections in 2015–16. The NIT's
final report stated that the sharp increase in detections over recent years was
due to a rise in both high and low volume smuggling into Australia. Another
contributing factor to the increase in detections, especially during the
2014–15 reporting period, was additional screening of incoming cargo occurring
from July 2014.
In addition to screening of air and sea cargo, law enforcement agencies
have sought to enhance the detection of illicit drugs through the international
mail system. This enhancement has been achieved through the creation of the
The committee was informed that any illicit drugs detected in the
international mail system is:
...put through the rapid lab process where it then goes through
a series of filters. So it will go through an intelligence filter, a DNA filter
and a fingerprint filter trying to do an analysis of those items to determine
who is actually bringing the import in. So, instead of chasing after every
single mail item trying to work out who is doing it, which is next to
impossible from a resource point of view, we are now taking a really
sophisticated approach. It is an intelligence-driven process. All mail items
with narcotics are taken to one place and put through this process. Then we can
determine who the organisers are, and they are who we are going after.
AUSTRAC advised the committee that it uses the information obtained through
the Rapid Lab to develop financial profiles of those sending illicit drugs,
which are shared with DIBP and then linked with parcel post importations.
The Rapid Lab resides within Sydney's Clyde mail exchange, and it is at
this location that seizures are made. The AFP anticipates that by the end of
2017, all international mail will be received and processed through the Clyde
mail exchange. Once processed, ABF will utilise its own international networks
to find out more about the source of the illicit material, information which
will also go into a single database. This database will then be used to target
future incoming mail.
In 2015–16, the DIBP identified 49 countries as embarkation points for
ATS. In order of the total number of detections, these were:
the Netherlands (457 detections);
China and Hong Kong (408 detections);
the United Kingdom (UK) (398 detections);
Singapore (272 detections);
Germany (201 detections);
India (188 detections);
Thailand (169 detections);
Malaysia (143 detections);
Canada (142 detections); and
the United States of America (136 detections).
The three main embarkation points, by weight, were:
China and Hong Kong (1458.7 kilograms);
Taiwan (289.2 kilograms); and
Nigeria (222 kilograms).
Role of outlaw motorcycle gangs and other organised criminal groups
Law enforcement agencies frequently refer to the role of OMCGs and other
organised criminal groups as facilitators of the illicit drug market in
Australia. The role of OMCGs and other organised criminal groups is explored in
the following sections.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs
OMCGs are known to supply of methamphetamine in Australia. The
Commonwealth government reports that approximately 45 per cent of high
risk criminal targets in the methamphetamine market are OMCGs.
These gangs have strong links with both domestic and international criminal
groups, have access to precursor chemicals and have established drug
distribution networks. OMCGs use violence, have access to weaponry and are specialised
in money laundering.
Often, OMCGs' illicit activities are merged with legitimate business interests,
such as the 'transport industry, tattoo parlours, gyms and nightclubs that
allow for the distribution of methamphetamine to a wider drug market'.
According to NSW Police, OMCGs are heavily involved in the drug market,
The percentage of their productivity out in the field is
almost impossible to guess because we do not have visibility on the entire
market. But certainly there is more than enough anecdotal evidence to satisfy
me and the drug squad that pretty much all the outlaw motorcycle groups are
heavily involved in methamphetamines.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund's report titled Sydney
methamphetamine market: Patterns of supply, use, personal harms and social
consequences notes that OMCGs 'play a dominant role in the clandestine
production of methamphetamine in Australia'
but, within the Sydney market, they are influential in the domestic production
and distribution of base methamphetamine, rather than crystal.
These groups are also heavily involved in the distribution of precursors,
reagents and the glassware required to smoke crystal methamphetamine.
Other state and territory law enforcement agencies also spoke of OMCGs'
involvement in the methamphetamine market. The Northern Territory (NT) police
reported that OMCGs (and other organised crime groups) have had a significant
influence on the supply of amphetamines to the territory. The NT police has
seen a correlation between the increase in the supply of amphetamines in the
territory and the increase in the number of members of NT-based OMCGs.
In Tasmania, the police force's focus is on aggressively targeting motor
cycle gangs and preventing the establishment of clubrooms in the state:
We impact on them as much as we possibly can, whether that is
through major operations or using Treasury to close down their clubhouses and
take their licences off them. Certainly one motorcycle gang from the mainland
have tried to set up a group here, and we have targeted those quite
aggressively with a view to making it uncomfortable. We are letting them know
that we do not want them to set up in Tasmania. They are not welcome. They are
part of an organised crime group. They are not welcome in Tasmania.
WA Police told the committee that its force has no doubt that OMCGs are
involved in a range of criminal activities, 'including where a payment has
possibly been made for a consignment and people are threatened or extorted'.
The Victoria Police informed the committee that motorcycle gangs are a
particular concern, especially in rural communities. In some instances, there
have been turf wars between motorcycle gangs and:
...outlaw motorcycle gangs have probably got really good
distribution networks throughout the country; they have particularly expanded
in Victoria. They have set up a lot of clubs in rural communities, and we have
seen violence play out in those communities between different clubs. One
example would be Mildura, where we had the Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang
initially set up its operations there and then the Comancheros took over and it
was a very violent takeover within that particular community. They terrified
the individuals there until we actually managed to arrest the main players for
the violence and the drug trafficking that was going on.
Submitters and witnesses informed the committee that there are a number
of challenges in combating OMCGs. Mr Mick Palmer said one challenge facing
police is that the higher up the drug supply chain an investigations gets:
...the more sophisticated the people and the more likely that
they will call a lawyer within two minutes. They will not answer any questions
unless you find them with the drugs in their possession. They will deny involvement
in whatever it is you are alleging they are involved in.
It becomes difficult. And it must be considered that the
reality in this country, particularly with ice but also with regard to most
illicit drugs, is that the marketplace is essentially owned by the outlaw
motorcycle gangs. They talk to nobody, they answer no questions and they are
very difficult to infiltrate. Police officers who go undercover take a very big
risk and can quite easily be killed, as has happened in the United States. It
is a very difficult proposition, which is only very rarely considered.
Another issue, raised by Victoria Police, is the lack of nationally
consistent OMCG legislation which 'results in displacement to states such as
Victoria which is perceived by opportunists as an arena where OMCGs, gangs
and/or organised crime groups can move their drug operations'.
The view that OMCGs are key players in the illicit drug market was
questioned by Dr Terry Goldsworthy from the Criminology Department at
Bond University. Dr Goldsworthy questioned the role of OMCGs in the
Queensland illicit drug market, arguing that they are not central to the
illicit trade, contrary to previous thinking. In his analysis of data on OMCG
member arrests in Queensland, Dr Goldsworthy found that over a six year
period the supply of illicit drugs only accounted for 0.2 per cent of arrests;
the production of illicit drugs accounted for 0.3 per cent; and drug
trafficking accounted for 0.9 per cent. Dr Goldsworthy's analysis concluded that
although OMCGs are players in the illicit drug market, they are not major
Dr Goldsworthy felt that this misconception is due to OMCGs being an easy
They are very visible—they were very visible up here but they
are not anymore—and we do get a lot of media exposure on arrests involving
bikies, because they are great media ammunition...I just do not think that we are
seeing the number of arrests to justify saying they are the major players.
Where do they fit into the organised crime chain? If you look at drug activity
and the functional level of that, are they manufacturers and wholesalers? Again
I have not seen the evidence for that. We have had claims from the police that
they were heavily involved in clandestine amphetamine labs, but we never saw
any data to back that claim up, and I would have thought it would be quite easy
to say, 'We located 380 labs. Of those labs, this many resulted in the arrest
of an OMCG member attached to it. We have never seen that come out to back up
the claim that they were heavily behind the labs. Certainly they do play a role
in distribution and retailing. I think you can see that coming out in some of
the arrests. We know that in Queensland the criminality within the gangs
averages about 40 per cent; so 60 per cent do not have criminal histories and
40 per cent do.
The NIT's final report discussed the issue of OMCG involvement in
crystal methamphetamine distribution and made recommendations to tackle the
issue. It found that OMCGs play a significant role in the distribution of
crystal methamphetamine and other illicit drugs in rural and remote
communities, providing a 'competitive advantage over other organised crime
groups in this context because of their geographic diversity'.
Subsequently, the NIT recommended the Commonwealth government work with the
states and territories through the AFP's NAGS to:
...tackle the significant outlaw motorcycle gangs' involvement
in ice production, importation and distribution, and through the [AFP's] Rapid
lab capacity to disrupt regional ice distribution through the mail and parcel
The NIAS makes minimal reference to OMCGs, however, it did note that law
enforcement agencies would '[w]ork through existing structures to disrupt the
production and supply of ice in regional and remote areas' as part of the NIAS.
Organised criminal groups and the
international supply chain
Pursuant to the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002, serious
and organised crime is an offence:
- that involves 2 or more offenders and substantial
planning and organisation; and
- that involves, or is of a kind that ordinarily
involves, the use of sophisticated methods and techniques; and
- that is committed, or is of a kind that is
ordinarily committed, in conjunction with other offences of a like kind.
Serious offences include crimes such as theft, fraud, tax evasion, money
laundering, illegal drug dealings, illegal gambling and cybercrime.
Internationally, organised crime groups are defined, under Article 2 of
the United Nation's Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, as:
...a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a
period of time, acting on concert with the aim of committing serious crime
offences in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or material
Links between organised criminal groups
and drug trafficking are well documented, and drug trafficking is considered
the leading source of funds and activity for serious and organised crime.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), drug
trafficking is responsible for 20 to 85 per cent of proceeds from organised
crime, followed by counterfeiting and human trafficking.
According to the ACIC, organised criminal groups are responsible for
much of Australia's serious crime. Primarily driven by money, their activities
activities across multiple criminal markets;
financial crime (such as money laundering);
intermingling of legitimate and criminal enterprises;
use of a range of new technologies to facilitate crime;
use of specialist advice and professional facilitators; and
ability to withstand law enforcement initiatives.
The ACIC estimates that approximately 70 per cent of Australia's serious
and organised crime threats are based in offshore locations, or have links to offshore
Mr Chris Dawson, Chief Executive Officer of the ACIC, advised the committee
that the 70 per cent are diverse and international, for example:
Chinese triad or Australians that have located themselves in
other countries, they are organising a lot of the harm in the form of drug
trafficking, money laundering, weapons and all of those sorts of criminal
threats. They are either domiciled offshore or they have very strong
connections with Australian criminals. But our estimation is that 70 per cent
of these have that international or transnational connection. Hence, they are
not just domestically focused.
Serious and organised criminal groups use professional facilitators,
such as public servants, accountants, lawyers and members of the police, to
assist with their criminal activities. These professionals may be willing
participants or paid helpers, or are coerced through blackmail and
intimidation. Often these professionals have access to specialist knowledge of
and expertise in legal or regulatory systems. This information assists criminal
groups with finding opportunities or to retain and legitimise their proceeds of
Within Australia, organised criminal groups are known producers and
distributers of illicit drugs, including crystal methamphetamine. According to
the Commonwealth government, organised criminal groups are drawn to
methamphetamine because of its high profitability and ease of manufacture:
60 per cent of high risk criminal targets on the NCTL are known by
the Commonwealth government to be involved in the methamphetamine market. These
criminal groups were once predominantly focused on heroin or cocaine markets,
but are now focusing predominantly or in part on methamphetamine.
Organised criminal groups supply Australia's methamphetamine market
primarily from China and Hong Kong. Approximately 70 per cent of all
methamphetamine detected (by weight) in Australia originates from China.
The AFP described the situation in China and South East Asia, as well as
Australia's proximity to these countries:
China, like a lot of countries in Asia, has a serious
domestic drug problem. We are not immune from that sitting here in Australia. I
think if you look at most South-East Asian countries, they do have a serious
ice problem which is growing. We have a situation in our country where we are
paying a lot for drugs. So we are creating the problem. Organised crime is just
obtaining the drug and bringing it to Australia. At the moment, we have an
unprecedented amount of drugs coming onto our shores.
Mexican and West African organised crime groups are also major suppliers
of methamphetamine to Australia. Other countries known to be linked to the
global supply chain for methamphetamine include Iran, Canada, Indonesia,
Nigeria, Kenya, Thailand, Singapore, Brazil, Congo, South Africa and India.
The UNODC also identified the growing threat from the methamphetamine
market in Pacific Island Countries (PICs). Criminal groups are using PICs to
trans‑ship precursors and finished methamphetamine products. Fiji, French
Polynesia, Guam, Samoa and Tonga have all reported methamphetamine seizures
over recent years. The UNODC noted that these countries lack the resources to
manage the problem.
Counter to the UNODC's view, the AFP said that it has not seen an increase in
the number of methamphetamine detections coming from the Pacific, although it
has seen an increase in the number of cocaine detections.
The AFP has in place a liaison network through the Pacific to monitor the
illicit drug market and identify vulnerabilities.
The UNODC considers East Asia, South East Asia and Oceania (Australia
and New Zealand) to be the world's largest market for ATS (with methamphetamine
comprising of the majority of ATS), as well as having the largest number of users
in the world (almost 9.5 million). ATS seizures in the region have
substantially increased, from 12 tonnes in 2008 to approximately 48 tonnes
in 2013; methamphetamine seizures have increased from 11 tonnes in 2008 to 42
tonnes in 2013, accounting for more than 85 per cent of all ATS seizures.
The magnitude of the problem in the region, and the accessibility of the
Australian methamphetamine market, means law enforcement agencies have seen an
increasing amount of crystal methamphetamine coming across Australia's border.
South Australia Police made it clear to the committee that the organised
criminal groups responsible for the importation of illicit drugs:
...are savvy business people. They do not make these things in
the hope that they will find a market; they tap into the market, they exploit
the market. They are very in tune with the market forces and where that market
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page