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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
(Senate-Tuesday, 16 October 2012)
National Native Title Tribunal
Australian Human Rights Commission
Australian Law Reform Commission
Australian Crime Commission
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
Rear Adm. Johnston
Australian Federal Police
Senator DI NATALE
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation
Family Court of Australia
Federal Court of Australia
Federal Magistrates Court of Australia
Mr R Foster
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions
- National Native Title Tribunal
- ATTORNEY-GENERAL PORTFOLIO
Content WindowLegal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee - 16/10/2012 - Estimates - ATTORNEY-GENERAL PORTFOLIO - Australian Crime Commission
Australian Crime Commission
CHAIR: Mr Lawler, Dr Lacey, good morning. Do you have an opening statement, Mr Lawler?
Mr Lawler : No, we do not.
CHAIR: Then let us go to questions.
Senator WRIGHT: I have some questions about guns—illegal and legal firearms—particularly about the national intelligence assessment of the illegal firearms market that was undertaken by the commission at the request of the Minister for Home Affairs. In announcing the findings of the final report back on 29 June this year, the minister revealed that there are more than 2.75 million registered firearms in Australia. Does the report disaggregate this number by weapons type?
Mr Lawler : Yes, it does to a degree. The ACC conservatively estimates that there are over 250,000 long arms and 10,000 hand guns in the illicit market. In relation to the 2.75 million registered firearms in Australia, they are held by over 730,000 individual firearm licence holders. The vast majority of firearms registered in Australia are long arms which represent over 90 per cent of registered firearms.
Senator WRIGHT: I do not know that you answered this second question in those statistics you just gave but I am interested to know how many hand guns are registered in Australia and how many of those are semiautomatic?
Mr Lawler : I could do some quick arithmetic on the figures that I just gave you. Of the 2.75 million registered firearms, 90 per cent are long arms so 10 per cent is 275,000 registered hand guns, which would be the deduction from those figures.
Senator WRIGHT: And how many of those are semiautomatics?
Mr Lawler : I do not know that the data we have for the assessment breaks it down specifically by semiautomatic. I would need to check that if I can so that I am completely accurate and then get back to the committee. Potentially during the course of this hearing we may be able to provide information on that.
Senator WRIGHT: Thank you, I would appreciate that you take it on notice. Can the data be broken down even further to show how many of these hand guns are owned by civilians and how many are owned by the police or other security providers?
Mr Lawler : I believe there is the opportunity to further refine the data holdings. Whether that has been done specifically in the context of the national firearms assessment is another issue.
The assessment did not go to the specific type of firearms per se but made broad strategic assessments about the market as we knew it based on the data that was available to us.
Senator WRIGHT: Can I ask you to take that question on notice? I would be very interested to know that breakdown.
Mr Lawler : If it is available we will certainly provide that.
Senator WRIGHT: I am going to move on now to some questions about the illegal firearms market. The minister's media release on 29 June this year indicated a conservative estimate that there are around 10,000 illegal handguns in the illicit firearms market. I would like to have a better understanding of why there are uncertainties around this figure and why that estimate is described as conservative.
Mr Lawler : The reality is that, as with any illicit market, these are estimates, and our best intelligence judgements as to the size of a particular market. There will be a range of factors that will influence that and the principal factor is the data that is available.
One of the things to bear in mind, particularly with illicit firearms, is their durability, their length of serviceability and operability in the illicit market. Once a firearm enters the illicit market it can remain in the market for a very long time. Illicit firearms have entered the market decades ago, where records and material may not have been at the standard we would like it to be at today, and it is nigh on impossible to be absolutely sure about the size of the markets. We are, through the managing and assessment of records as they are available, making intelligence judgements about the size of the markets. We have done this, and it has been our view that we should take a conservative position in relation to that.
Senator WRIGHT: Why is it your view to take a conservative position?
Mr Lawler : We tend to do that with all of our assessments. We want to make sure we can back up the assessment we have made with factual information, and that might be at a particular point or a particular number. There might be intelligence to indicate that that figure is higher, but we do not have hard facts to support that or sufficient intelligence to justify the assessment. That is why we take the conservative view we do.
Senator WRIGHT: I can understand why you would do that. I suppose that when you are dealing with something where the potential consequences of getting the figure wrong are serious because of the nature of what we are describing there is that to be taken into account. But the fact that you are acknowledging that it is a conservative figure alerts people to the fact that the figure may well be higher.
Mr Lawler : Indeed. We do this in other areas as well. For example, we conservatively estimate the cost of organised crime to the Australian community to be $15 billion per year. People often ask how we arrive at those sorts of figures—it is done on the basis of world studies by the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which estimate that it is between one and two per cent of GDP—
Senator WRIGHT: I will cut you off there because it is a little bit off the track and I only have a very limited amount of time. I understand the rationale for having reliable justification for a figure. I want to explore the fact that it is acknowledged that it may be a conservative figure we are talking about.
Mr Lawler : I think we have done that.
Senator WRIGHT: Of those 10,000 illegal hand guns, do you have any idea how many of those are thought to be semi-automatic?
Mr Lawler : I will have to take that on notice in relation to semi-automatic hand guns.
Senator WRIGHT: I assume that semi-automatic hand guns are the weapons that were likely to be involved in, say, this year's spate of shootings in Sydney, which the community is understandably concerned about.
Mr Lawler : I do not know that that is altogether right. Certainly, a combination of hand guns have, I understand, been used. We will have to see if we have data that breaks those down. I do not know whether the assessment specifically went to that point, or whether we have done the work to go through the multitude of records to try to make assessments about that. I am not at all sure that the data will be available.
Senator WRIGHT: If the data is not available do you think that would be useful data to understand and interrogate?
Mr Lawler : It would be data that would be important in one context, but in the context of the assessment a range of other things are equally important, if not more important: How is the illicit firearms market working? Who is responsible for the market? How are these firearms entering the illicit market? To what degree? What does our intelligence tell us about that particular picture?
Senator WRIGHT: I can certainly understand that. I imagine the nature of the weapons involved would also help add information to that question that would need to be understood.
Mr Lawler : Indeed.
Senator WRIGHT: The media release also indicates that a significant proportion of the illegal firearms market consists of weapons that were not registered or surrendered after the 1996 gun buyback. We know that up to 660,000 firearms were surrendered as a result of that buyback. Do you know, or do you have an estimate of, how many firearms were eligible for surrender at that time? I am interested in understanding better the percentage of guns that were eligible that were surrendered at that time.
Mr Lawler : This figure might be a little elusive. The reason for that is the data we are relying on is jurisdictional data. My understanding is that there were different licensing regimes in the various jurisdictions in relation to long arms and hand guns, how that was recorded and whether we are able to definitively say at a particular point in time how many weapons were registered. As I understand it there were regimes where a person who was registered could have a number of firearms registered to them based on a licence to a person. For some of those figures to be absolutely accurate may be elusive, but I will take that on notice.
Senator WRIGHT: Thank you for that. If you could take on notice not only the question I asked, which was the number of weapons which were eligible for surrender at the time, but also an assessment on the basis of those figures of what percentage of the newly prohibited firearms did the buyback scheme succeed in removing from the community. I understand that it is not always going to be a totally accurate figure, but the degree of uncertainty that you have around the figure would be helpful for me to understand as well. This is just so we have a sense of the problem we are looking at.
Mr Lawler : If the information is available—that is the only caveat I would put in place here.
Senator WRIGHT: Thank you for that. Will the final report of the national investigation into the illegal firearms market, as presented to the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management back in June, be made public at any point?
Mr Lawler : No, it is a classified document.
Senator WRIGHT: In that case, has the commission given consideration to publishing at least parts of that report for the public interest, such as the disaggregated data on the number and types of registered firearms in Australia?
Mr Lawler : We have not considered making that particular report public. There have been statements made by members of the ACC board and by the minister about the general findings from the National Illicit Firearms Assessment. I am happy to go through the summary of key findings from the assessment if it would help, but there has not been any plan to make that report an unclassified report.
Senator WRIGHT: Nor aspects of it?
Mr Lawler : No.
Senator WRIGHT: The summary you just referred to is available publicly, I think.
Mr Lawler : There are, I understand, summary documents available on the website.
Senator WRIGHT: When you just offered to go through those, they would be the publicly available documents that you would go through in this forum?
Mr Lawler : Correct.
Senator WRIGHT: In that case I will not ask you to go through those now. In delivering advice on how to tackle the illegal firearms market, has the commission given any consideration to the likely impact, effectiveness or cost of introducing a ban on semiautomatic handguns with exemptions for government owned guns or perhaps other security providers?
Mr Lawler : No.
Senator WRIGHT: No consideration at all?
Mr Lawler : No.
Senator WRIGHT: I have a couple of questions in relation to the confiscated assets account. I understand that the commission, along with the Australian Federal Police, is a member of the Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce.
Mr Lawler : That is correct.
Senator WRIGHT: Does the task force have targets or guidelines for the amount of money it is required to identify, pursue or confiscate in any year or across any other period of time?
Mr Lawler : The task force is being led by the Australian Federal Police, with, as you say, the Crime Commission and the Australian Taxation Office and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions involved in the task force. I am not aware of specific targets that have been set but that may be a question better directed to the Australian Federal Police. The commission has six staff attached to this task force, specialist staff that complement and assist the task force's work. Can I just say that the task force has been very successful in its activities and significantly enhanced seizures of cash and property have resulted from the task force's work, so they are to be commended.
Senator WRIGHT: It has a number of options available to it in order to target the accumulated wealth of criminals. I am interested in the amounts flowing to the confiscated assets account. Do you know if the task force has a monetary target specific to that account, or would your answer be the same as the previous answer?
Mr Lawler : I think again the question is better directed to the Australian Federal Police. I am not aware of a target.
Senator WRIGHT: How much money has entered the confiscated assets account since the establishment of the task force?
Mr Lawler : Again, the ACC does not manage the confiscated assets. The department might be best placed to answer.
Senator WRIGHT: Can I ask someone who might be able to answer that? I imagine it would be fairly simple question to answer, to take that on notice.
Mr Sheehan : We will be able to answer that at nine o'clock tonight.
Senator WRIGHT: Okay. Thank you very much. They are all my questions, Chair.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I want to ask about the effect of budget cuts on the ACC. In the submission made to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement earlier this year there was a description of the effect of the cuts or at least of the quantity of the costs. Funding available to the commission in 2012-13 has been reduced by $1.69 million. That is an approximately 9.1 per cent decrease in appropriation for this financial year. Is that correct?
Mr Lawler : That is right.
Senator HUMPHRIES: The submission says that the commission has been subject to very significant cost reduction strategies, particularly in the context of agency's supplier budget. Can you describe what the effects on the supplier budget will have on the operations of the ACC?
Mr Lawler : Yes, I can. The ACC has undergone continuous operational and back-office cost-cutting activities over the last three financial years. For example, when comparing actual expenditure for 2011-12 against budget allocated for 2012-13, the ACC has undertaken further reductions in the following supplier expenses: a 31 per cent reduction in travel, $770,000; a 23 per cent reduction in staff training and development; a 36 per cent reduction in consultant costs; and a 67 per cent reduction in recruitment budget for advertising and recruitment costs.
Senator HUMPHRIES: What is the last figure?
Mr Lawler : Sixty-seven per cent, which equates to about $200,000.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I gather this is a matter that is before the joint standing committee but if I can just traverse some of those issues for the moment. Sixty-seven per cent less spent on recruitment: has there been a reduction in the amount of turnover of staff of the ACC in the last 12 months?
Mr Lawler : I think the figures are reasonably static, albeit we do have quite a high attrition rate.
Senator HUMPHRIES: But that has not changed in recent years?
Mr Lawler : It has not changed markedly I do not think—no.
Senator HUMPHRIES: If you are still getting the same churn of staff, how will a 67 per cent reduction in recruitment costs affect the operation of the commission?
Dr Lacey : Like other agencies have stated, we are looking at more efficient ways to recruit that does not involve external advertisements such as through newspapers. We will be doing predominantly online and that is where a lot of the recruitment savings are being announced. We also undertook a fairly large program involving the recruitment of some specific staff members last year with highly specialist skills. Independent examiners are an example of that. The budget that was allocated last year for that particular process inflated that budget more than we would see in normal years. But the overall attrition rate has not changed, or the turnover has not really changed markedly.
Senator HUMPHRIES: The 23 per cent reduction in training: what sort of implication does that have on what the commission does?
Mr Lawler : There will be reduced training. What we will try and do is prioritise our training delivery in the best training opportunities we can within our given budget and doing as much of that training in-house as is possible.
Senator HUMPHRIES: That must result in a reduced ability to respond to serious and organised crime, must it not?
Mr Lawler : The reality is that the training budget has been reduced by those amounts. We all know that, over time, training is an important element of an agency to invest in, but within the context of the budget situation we believe that is the most appropriate area in which reductions are made, to the extent that they have been made
Senator HUMPHRIES: I am sure it is a prudent decision in the circumstances, but presumably those cuts do inevitably lead in some way to a reduced ability to respond to serious and organised crime—as was the point made in your submission to the joint parliamentary committee.
Mr Lawler : Indeed.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Over those two financial years you mention, what is the reduction in staffing numbers, if any?
Dr Lacey : In 2010-11 the estimated actual average staffing level was 570 and in 2011-12 the estimated actual was 565, and in 2012-13 the budgeted average staffing level was 539. That is the average staffing level not the head count or full-time equivalent.
Senator HUMPHRIES: . That is full-time equivalents?
Dr Lacey : That is average staffing level, not head count or full-time. That is within the PBS.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Apart from those incidental costs or the supply budget cuts that you have mentioned before, are there any other functions that are being modified or reduced in order to accommodate the cuts in the budget?
Mr Lawler : I have spoken about this before. The commission has an operating model that is a scalable operating model—it is a sentinel strategy that you may have heard of—and it was introduced three years ago to take account of shifts in resourcing that is available for the commission, either an ability to ramp up in the context of the scalable model or indeed to reduce. What we do, through our internal processes after our strategic direction has been set by the board, is to deploy, within the funding envelope available, our resources against the highest priority risks and threats emanating from organised criminality in Australia or impacting Australia.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Could I turn to some of the specific threats. Does the ACC have involvement in investigation of people-smuggling operations—either onshore or offshore?
Mr Lawler : We assist partner agencies in people-smuggling activities. We do that in two ways, principally. The first is through the gathering of criminal intelligence on people-smuggling activities, often coming to us as a result of our other investigations or operations. We also assist partner agencies with the application of the commission's special powers, its coercive powers, and have applied those powers and assisted other agencies in relation to people-smuggling activity.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Is it possible to measure the proportion of the commission's work that is now going into people smuggling compared with two or three years ago?
Mr Lawler : We would be able to document and report on the amount of money expended against the determination under which people smuggling occurs. To give you an idea, a financial year spend as of September 2012 on people smuggling was $375,377, and that was principally expended through a number of examinations—16 in total—that were conducted.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Would those kinds of expenditure of resources be greater or less than was the case, say, three years ago?
Mr Lawler : To be accurate, I would need to take that on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Has the ACC determined any connection between people-smuggling operations and organised criminal activity within Australia?
Mr Lawler : Yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Would you say that that link was significant, or only very marginal involvement by organised crime in Australia with people smuggling?
Mr Lawler : We see that organised criminals are flexible, entrepreneurial and looking to exploit any opportunity to make money. We see them engaged in multiple markets, be it fraud, be it narcotics, be it illicit tobacco trafficking or be it people smuggling. Indeed, we see organised crime linked with other national security challenges we face. The reality is that any involvement of serious and organised crime in any of the crime types I have just mentioned is serious.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Would you say that existing organised crime groups within Australia are, as it were, diversifying into people-smuggling activities?
Mr Lawler : I do not know specifically about people smuggling, but they have diversified and they are involved in people smuggling.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Are you aware of any collaboration between Australian organised criminal syndicates and overseas criminal networks in the people-smuggling space?
Mr Lawler : Yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Are there many Australian based organisers or facilitators of people smuggling that are known to the ACC?
Mr Lawler : I think that question is best directed to the Australian Federal Police, but the ACC does have intelligence on these matters, yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES: So there are investigations underway presently into those sorts of activities?
Mr Lawler : Again, those matters are best directed to the Australian Federal Police.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Is there collaboration between the ACC and state police forces on any of those connections between Australian organised crime and people-smuggling operations?
Mr Lawler : We work very closely with the state and territory police and the Commonwealth law enforcement agencies across the full gamut of organised criminal activity, and when necessary work with the state and territory police in relation to people-smuggling matters.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I turn to investigations of crime on the waterfront. There was a special joint task force into organised crime on the waterfront announced in May this year by the Minister for Home Affairs. Could you update the committee on what has happened with that task force.
Mr Lawler : Yes, I can. The ACC is part of what is referred to as Task Force Polaris. That particular task force has a range of agencies involved—the New South Wales police, the Australian Federal Police, the New South Wales Crime Commission and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. Indeed, the Australian Crime Commission has quite a small but distinct role in the task force's activities. The broader questions about investigations are again best directed to the Australian Federal Police, I would suggest. The ACC has led the development of the strategic assessment on procedural, technical and regulatory vulnerabilities being exploited by serious and organised crime in that environment—a classified report, for obvious reasons, but a very important initial starting point to have a strategic intelligence documents that lays out the risks and threats and vulnerabilities that are being exploited.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Is AFP the lead agency for Task Force Polaris?
Mr Lawler : The AFP, the Australian Customs Service and the New South Wales police all have a significant contribution to the task force's operations, yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES: But there is no lead agency as such?
Mr Lawler : I think it might be being led by a New South Wales police officer, but just the breakdown of resources and all of that. I might let the New South Wales police talk to that.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Sure. How many ACC staff are involved?
Mr Lawler : There is one officer involved in the task force.
Senator HUMPHRIES: You mentioned New South Wales. Is the task force only operational in New South Wales at this stage?
Mr Lawler : That particular task force is operational in New South Wales. I neglected to mention the New South Wales Crime Commission which is also a part of the task force; my apologies.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Thank you. We will await further developments on that front. Have there been investigations in the last 12 months of claims of corruption against either Customs or AFP officers or links between organised criminal syndicates and employees of those two agencies that the ACC has been involved in?
Mr Lawler : Matters involving corruption against members of the two agencies that you spoke of are a matter for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. That agency has the lead and responsibility for such matters. It is fair to say that, given the complex nature of organised crime investigations, particularly where they touch on official corruption, these investigations require a significant capacity to be delivered against those particular investigations. We have worked closely with the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity in advancing some of these matters.
Senator HUMPHRIES: It is their responsibility, but you said that ACC is involved in those investigations or has a role to play?
Mr Lawler : We provide capacity on occasions if and when it is required. But I believe the best agency to answer those questions is the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.
Senator HUMPHRIES: That agency is not a witness appearing in front of us today, so I cannot ask these questions. But you can confirm that there are investigations currently underway in which ACC is involved that touch on either or both officers of the Australian Customs Service or the Australian Federal Police?
Mr Lawler : I was a lot more circumspect than that. I would not confirm that; it is not for me to confirm or deny that. I simply made the point that the commission works closely with ACLEI. We do see organised crime and official corruption in our investigations and in our work. It should be no surprise to anybody that organised crime does attempt to corrupt individuals, but as far as confirming what may be ongoing matters, it is not appropriate that I do so.
CHAIR: Mr Lawler, a report from the ACC and the AIC earlier this year indicated that more than 2½ thousand Australians may have lost more than $113 million to serious and organised investment fraud in the last five years. Can you tell us what is happening to educate people about the risks of this type of fraud?
Mr Lawler : That is another example where the commission is being deliberately conservative, around those figures. We think the problem is far more serious and systemic than that. Indeed, what is happening is that this sort of crime and crime like it is being enabled by cyberspace and the internet. There is a much greater opportunity for organised criminals to connect with victims or potential victims than there ever has been before in our history. These offenders are often outside of Australia; they are overseas and are often in countries where our judicial processes cannot reach them or if they can reach them they are reached with difficulty. As a result we see organised crime continuing to exploit both in the context of serious and organised investment fraud and a range of other frauds committed over the internet. We assess that this will be an increasingly challenging problem to deal with.
There some of the traditional judicial responses of prosecution and incarceration, or indeed mutual legal assistance, will be difficult to activate because of how the organised criminals shield themselves from those processes. A part of the commission's response, working with a large number of partner agencies, has been about how we stop victims becoming victims. What can we do as part of a concerted strategy across multiple agencies, in the order of some 50 agencies both at the government and in the private sector all engaged to try and interface what would be a comprehensive response to alerting the public to these risks that they face.
One of the things that you may be aware of is that for the first in Australia's history, to my knowledge, there has been a mail-out to every household in Australia. That was a partnership done through the ACC board but with Australia Post as a strong supporter. Commissioners of police, the head of ASIC, Mr Greg Metcalf, myself and Ahmed Fahour from Australia Post jointly co-signed a letter out to residents to alert them to the risk. There is more work being done through a range of agencies, like Centrelink, to target particularly vulnerable groups in our community, particularly, those that are nearing retirement that have self-managed superannuation funds that are vulnerable, and to give them some easily understood messages about how they might protect themselves from fraud over the internet, but specifically a serious and organised investment fraud.
CHAIR: Thanks. I also note that the ACC has produced a report on the threats to the integrity of professional sport in Australia, last year. Can you just perhaps enlighten us about what you are doing to assist in hardening professional sports against infiltration in Australia?
Mr Lawler : Yes. The commission, with the board's support, has been very active in this space. One of the things that we have done is to again undertake a strategic assessment to actually develop a baseline understanding of the problem, and in doing that one of course then has the opportunity to develop response strategies. The ACC, working with key partners including ASADA and the Therapeutic Goods Administration, prepared the Threats to the integrity of professional sport in Australiastrategic assessment in 2011 that laid out some of the risks that the ACC and its partners had identified. Indeed, that report on 22 July 2011 was presented to a meeting of Attorneys-General of the Commonwealth, states and territories, and from New Zealand. I understood that particular group made some recommendations around match-fixing and like matters. We do see this as a serious and emerging issue. We see, again, cyber-enabled online betting as a dimension. We see large amounts of money available to be wagered. The report does identify vulnerabilities in the sporting sector which could be exploited by the serious and organised criminals. It is one that we are working very closely on with a range of partner agencies, and we will continue to do so.
CHAIR: Can I take you back to your answer about organised investment fraud. Perhaps I might get you to provide this committee with a copy of that letter you sent to every household so that we have it on our records as a committee. Would that be all right?
Mr Lawler : Certainly.
CHAIR: Can I also ask you about your national illicit firearm assessment that was conducted earlier this year. What were the key findings and what is the Crime Commission doing on an ongoing basis to assist in the disruption of trafficking of illicit firearms and to reduce firearms related crime?
Mr Lawler : The key findings of the assessment are as follows. Firstly, Australia has a sizeable and growing pool of firearms which are readily accessible by criminals. Secondly, the durability of firearms ensures that those diverted to the illicit market remain in circulation and are available for use by criminals for many decades. I made that point when I answered a question of Senator Wright's. Thirdly, we spoke about the assessment being a classified document, but it found that the illicit firearm market is predominantly comprised of firearms that have been previously diverted from the licit market through various means. The predominant sources of diversion include the grey market, theft from licensed individuals and firearms dealers, illegal importation and the reactivation of deactivated firearms.
The assessment found that there is no single group the dominates the sale and supply of firearms to the illicit market, with activity involving a disparate range of market participants. Firearms will continue to be used by criminals, including those involved in organised crime, for a variety of reasons, and the pattern of public place shootings will likely continue, reflecting the ebb and flow of rivalries both within and between criminal groups. The overt and public use of firearms to intimidate, retaliate and/or resolve interpersonal disputes are factors present in the recent spate of public place shootings, along with traditional disputes between crime groups over drug territory. Regulatory gaps and inconsistent processes across jurisdictions may inadvertently create opportunities for the diversion of firearms into the illicit market.
That particular report was presented to the board of the Australian Crime Commission, and the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management was briefed on the assessment's findings at their 29 June 2012 meeting, and a number of resolutions were passed by that particular ministerial meeting.
CHAIR: What is the next step?
Mr Lawler : The next step is to advance those recommendations and resolutions from that ministerial council, a number of which specifically involve the ACC. In addition to our business as usual work of trying, along with law enforcement, to take guns off the street, this is about gathering a clearer intelligence picture as to how gaps and vulnerabilities are being exploited, and trying to plug those. But one can do that only if one has a powerful intelligence picture understanding of what those risks and gaps are, which is why the strategic intelligence work in this area and in the area relating to the ports becomes very important. It informs the policy makers and regulators of what responses might be more effective.
Mr Wilkins : I know we are not supposed to be giving evidence until nine o'clock, but if you wanted Tony Sheehan could talk to you about where that firearms stuff is going in terms of the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management.
We can leave that until nine, but it is a logical follow-on to your question.
CHAIR: It probably would make sense if we want to know where that is going and how that is tracking.
Mr Wilkins : We might get Mr Sheehan to talk to you.
CHAIR: Thank you.
Mr Sheehan : As Mr Lawler has said, there were a number of outcomes from the meeting of the Standing Council on Police And Emergency Management on 29 June, and Mr Lawler has outlined some of them. I can very quickly run through what some of the other outcomes were: agreement in principle to the development of a national ballistics identification network; agreement in principle to the development of a national firearms registry; implementation of a national firearms identification database consistent with the INTERPOL Firearms Reference Table; and in reference to some of Mr Lawler's comments, the ACC working in conjunction with CrimTrac and with all the jurisdictions to establish a set of nationally agreed key data for registered and unregistered firearms—a lot of that obviously goes to providing an important intelligence base; agreement in principle to the development of an enhanced national firearms serial number tracing capability; consideration of stronger legislation to target firearms trafficking; strengthening the integrity of firearms regulation across jurisdictions through the use of criminal intelligence and stronger identity management—again, relevant to some of Mr Lawler's comments; looking at whether further work can be done in respect of strengthening legislation governing firearms possession and use; developing a coordinated national operational response to serious and organised crime involving firearms, including targeted enforcement measures across high-risk groups—there is a working group looking at that particular piece of work currently and I think you heard earlier in the hearing about some of the work being done across agencies in an organised crime context that is relevant to this; and working on national community awareness in relation to unlicensed firearms. All of that work is in varying stages—some of it agreed, some agreed in principle—but there is a high level of focus across jurisdictions.
CHAIR: When is the next meeting of the committee?
Mr Sheehan : The next meeting of the committee is, I think, in November. I cannot recall the exact date.
CHAIR: Are different outcomes reported against like an ongoing plan?
Mr Sheehan : Yes. Ministers will expect to be updated on progress of various aspects of these.
CHAIR: That is a fair body of work actually.
Mr Sheehan : It is, and obviously a significant body of work in respect of not just the ACC but also CrimTrac, our department and of course the state and territory law enforcement agencies.
CHAIR: Finally, Mr Lawler, I want to ask you about the amendments to the Australian Crime Commission Act that came into force in June this year that actually provide for the ACC to disclose information to the private sector in relevant or appropriate cases. Do you have a handle now on what benefit this arrangement has been and what safeguards are in place to protect the information?
Mr Lawler : The benefits are already apparent. We have had one instance where we briefed the private sector in accordance with those provisions. Indeed, it was information that has enabled that particular private body to self-regulate. We have identified vulnerabilities to that particular private sector body's activities being exploited by organised criminality and we are able to alert them to those risks, and as a result that particular industry body is responding to those particular threats.
CHAIR: When you say 'private sector body' what type of body are we talking about, or can't you disclose that? Are they are in a particular field or area?
Mr Lawler : Sorry, madam chair?
CHAIR: Are they in a particular field or area, or is it not something you can disclose?
Mr Lawler : I do not want to name the particular private sector body. Our work is still ongoing with that industry representative body but it is aligned with our determinations as approved by the board and relates to the serious and investment fraud that we spoke about earlier.
CHAIR: I do not have any other questions. I think we have finished Mr Lawler, unless there is something else you want to add.
Mr Lawler : There is. In response to one of the questions, I think from Senator Humphries, I indicated that the sum of $375,377 had been expended by the commission in the financial year up to September 2012 on people smuggling. I would like to correct that. That spend relates to a special operation—the national security impacts from serious and organised crime, special operations, under which people smuggling falls. That is the spend for that particular determination, which includes complex organised technology-enabled crimes, terrorism and some other matters, so it is not that total spend. I want to correct the record on that in case I may have misled the committee.
Senator HUMPHRIES: So there is other spending by the commission on other aspects of people smuggling, is that what you are saying?
Mr Lawler : Under the board-approved determination that I just read out, it includes terrorism and people smuggling. So the total spend, including complex organised technology-enabled crimes, of $375,000 is not exclusively on people smuggling.
Senator HUMPHRIES: But outside that determination there is no other spending on people smuggling?
Mr Lawler : No.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Okay.
CHAIR: I think we are finished with our questions today so thanks Mr Lawler. Dr Lacey, thank you very much.