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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
28/02/2017
Estimates
ATTORNEY-GENERAL'S PORTFOLIO
Australian Institute of Criminology

Australian Institute of Criminology

[15:56]

CHAIR: Do either of the organisations want to make an opening statement?

Ms Rose : No. The time considered, we will not make an opening statement. But can I just offer the CEO's apologies. He was not able to attend. I am acting CEO.

CHAIR: That is fine. You are from Sydney, are you?

Ms Rose : No, we are all here in Canberra.

Senator WILLIAMS: Are you familiar with these encrypted telephones?

Ms Rose : Yes.

Senator WILLIAMS: Encrypted communications, like the Blackberry mobile phone, are increasingly being used by organised crime figures to conduct illegal business such as drug trafficking. The messaging services available through these phones cannot be cracked by law enforcement, I believe. ACIC has examined this problem through operations such as Project Muskwood. That is the brief I have. What are you doing to halt the black market trade and use of these Blackberry mobile phones?

Ms Rose : I will not talk about the brands, because there are a number of them that have encryption devices.

Senator WILLIAMS: Yes, sorry, I was using that for an example.

Ms Rose : Obviously the encryption is not just an issue for law enforcement; it is a benefit for government because we also get to encrypt our communications. What we are doing is a project, but we are also working with our Five Eyes partners overseas, because all law enforcement agencies have this issue. It is worldwide, obviously. We are working through what can be done on individual brands and cases. If you want some more information, we can give you information on the projects we are doing.

Senator WILLIAMS: No, that is fine. Have you been receiving cooperation from the manufacturers?

Ms Rose : Absolutely.

Senator WILLIAMS: What I am saying to you is that there is a problem here with these encrypted telephones of various brands. You are working on it. The manufacturer is working with you. It all seems to be progressing well. Is that how you would summarise it?

Ms Rose : Let me clarify that.

Senator WILLIAMS: Please do.

Ms Rose : Our law enforcement partners, particularly in the countries that those devices are manufactured, are working very closely with us because they are progressing work in that area.

Senator WILLIAMS: To the best of your knowledge, is there a common use for these in Australia, in terms of criminal activity?

Ms Rose : There is increasing use, yes.

Senator PRATT: I want to ask some questions about the Australian Firearms Information Network. Is the network now fully operational?

Ms Rose : It is ready to be used by jurisdictions. Not all jurisdictions are using it. There are some issues that we have with data quality. We are working with states and territories to upload that data so they will actually start using it. We are working with them through data quality boot camps and further working groups, to get that on board.

Senator PRATT: How many states have joined so far?

Ms Oberoi : We will have to take that on notice.

Senator PRATT: Do you have any idea when it will be fully operational?

Ms Rose : No, we have another working group meeting in two weeks time. Because the system is operational, we are very keen to get it up and running, and we are working, as I said, with the operational areas in each of those police jurisdictions to get them to upload that data and start using the system.

Senator PRATT: Why has it not been operational since the end of 2015 as recommended by the Martin Place siege review?

Ms Rose : The siege review recommended that it be ready by the end of 2015. That was what we thought was a feasible stretch target and we certainly tried to meet that. We had to go through a tender process in building the system, which meant that it stretched out another six months. We have worked with the states and territories on connectivity—every state and territory has different issues with connectivity. Now that the system is able to be used, it is just a matter of getting states and territories to put that data onto the system and to use it as a national system.

Senator PRATT: Are you able to tell us how many weapons entered the illicit market in 2016?

Ms Rose : I might have to take that on notice. I have an ongoing figure, but I do not have right here—

Senator PRATT: If you can give us the ongoing figure, that would be helpful.

Ms Rose : We conservatively estimate that there are more than 260,000 firearms in the illicit firearms market.

Senator PRATT: But you do not know how many entered it?

Ms Rose : Not an annual basis.

Senator PRATT: What kinds of information should the Australian Firearms Information Network be able to track?

Ms Rose : We are looking at it as a cradle-to-grave system. The aim is that as soon as a firearm is either manufactured or imported into the country we have all of the information and, if you like, its life cycle—until it is either destroyed or exported. It is not just a point-in-time registration system; it is the entire cycle.

Senator PRATT: There would still be firearms entering the legal market rather than the illegal market that are not yet being adequately captured by that information network because it is not yet fully operational—is that right?

Ms Rose : No, it would not be on that network, but it would be on the NFLR network which the police are already using as the firearms registration system.

Senator PRATT: What would you be expecting to be able to do once the system is operational? What is the importance of the network?

Ms Rose : From an intelligence point of view, as I said, the important element is having the life cycle of the firearm. We will have tracking across jurisdictions and we will have a lot better information on, in particular, illicit firearms that are in the market across the country.

Senator PRATT: Rather than individual registrations existing—

Ms Rose : There is also connectivity. You are talking about coming from a system where, for some firearms registries, things were being recorded in a book.

Senator PRATT: Clearly we are still, at this point in time, missing out on this information for the purposes of law enforcement and tackling illegal firearms—even though it was due to be up and running well before now. Is that not correct?

Ms Rose : It was certainly not finished when we would have liked, but we are getting very close.

Senator PRATT: How much funding has ACIC received for the Firearms Information Network?

Ms Rose : Just over $5 million over three years. The build part was just over $5 million.

Senator PRATT: And how many staff are currently working on it?

Ms Rose : I would have to take that on notice. I think it is less than a dozen. We are just building the system. It is actually the working group that we liaise with in the states and territories with which the larger group are actually getting it to work in those states and territories. Could we take that on notice and get back to you?

Senator PRATT: All right. How long do you expect the cleaning up of the data to take so that it will be fully operational?

Ms Rose : We are hopeful that it is going to take only the next 12 to 24 months, but it is not something we can do; it is something states and territories have to do, and it is resource intensive for each police jurisdiction to go back and look at historical data before they put it in.

Senator PRATT: So, when the website—the National Firearms Information Network's, your website, sorry—indicates that the information network has not yet been established, are you saying that it will not be established officially until that work over the next 24 months is actually done?

Ms Rose : Well, it is dependent on your definition of 'established'. It has been built. It is fully functional when every state and territory goes onto that system. It will be incremental. Some states and territories are more forward leading and able to do data cleansing more easily, so they are going to come on first, and then it will be finalised obviously once all the data is on there.

Senator PRATT: Does that mean it is not officially going to exist until that point in time?

Ms Rose : No, it absolutely exists, but it will not completely be a national system until every state and territory has that data in it.

Senator PRATT: Your own website makes it sound like it does not yet exist, because it says that it 'will' do this and it 'will' do that, and clearly it is not fully operationally doing that.

Ms Rose : Correct, because it does not have the data in it.

Senator PRATT: How much data is in there currently?

Ms Rose : That I do not know.

Ms Oberoi : We will have to take that on notice. We understand that there is a bit of data from New South Wales, but we will have to take the detail of that on notice.

Senator PRATT: Okay. And what approach are you taking with the states to put some pressure on them to make this happen? It is a fairly important initiative.

Ms Rose : Yes, it is an issue that is raised at the level of our board and it is one of the issues on the agenda for the board in a couple of weeks. These issues are raised at the ministerial level as well and also in the working groups that we have with police in states and territories.

Senator PRATT: Is any of that having any effect?

Ms Rose : Yes, absolutely. The serious and organised crime capability coordination group has the heads of crime in each of the states and territories. They have taken it on as one of their most important issues. They are one of our subgroups, and they have each taken on to go back to their jurisdictions and really push for that data cleansing.

Senator PRATT: Well, if it is one of the most important issues and it is still going to take 24 months, that does seem to be a serious issue.

Ms Rose : Perhaps I could just clarify. I would not want to say that it is going to take six months, because I cannot influence every state and territory as to when they are going to be able to deliver it. I would not expect that it would take longer than 24 months and I would be hoping that it would be less than 12.

Senator PRATT: At what point does it start to become useful as a database?

Ms Rose : Obviously the volume data, particularly along the eastern states—because if we are looking at the movement of firearms it is often up and down the eastern coast—if we can get New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria on that it will be very, very helpful.

CHAIR: There are no more questions for the Criminal Intelligence Commission or the Australian Institute of Criminology, so, thank you for your attendance. You have been let off lightly today!—which I guess is not a problem.