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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement
Australian Federal Police annual report 2016-17

BOX, Mr Darren, Chief Financial Officer, Australian Federal Police

CLOSE, Ms Leanne, Deputy Commissioner, National Security, Australian Federal Police

COLVIN, Mr Andrew, Commissioner, Australian Federal Police

GAUGHAN, Mr Neil, Deputy Commissioner, Operations, Australian Federal Police

Committee met at 09:01

CHAIR ( Mr Craig Kelly ): Good morning. I declare open this public hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement for its examination of the Australian Federal Police 2016-17 annual report. The committee's proceedings today will follow the program as circulated.

These are public proceedings being broadcast live via the web and in Parliament House. I remind witnesses that in giving evidence to a committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the parliament as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. The committee prefers evidence to be given in public, but, under the Senate's resolutions, witnesses have the right to request to be heard in confidence, being described as in camera. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera.

I remind committee members and officers that the Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided otherwise. The Senate has also resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

(a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

(b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

(13 May 2009 J.1941)

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders)

If a witness refuses to provide information, they are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document to the committee.

I welcome the representatives of the Australian Federal Police. Thank you for talking to us today. We're here to go through the Australian Federal Police's annual report for 2016-17. Congratulations on another highly successful year in very difficult circumstances. Would you like to make brief opening comments?

Mr Colvin : I don't have a formal prepared statement other than to say thank you for the opportunity this morning. Apologies: it has been a busy week, for yourselves and also for us, and we couldn't be joined this morning by the Chief Operating Officer, Sue Bird, or the Deputy Commissioner for Capability, Ramzi Jabbour. We are joined by a new face at the table that won't be as familiar to the committee. Darren Box joined us from the Department of Defence as our CFO towards the end of last year.

We welcome the opportunity to have a look at the 2016-17 annual report. It is interesting for us—it seems like a long time ago—and is an opportunity to go back and look at what we achieved. From my perspective, it was another very positive year that we can be proud of for our operational results but it was also a year in some ways of transition and transformation for us. It was a year that we released the cultural and diversity report from the work that we did with Elizabeth Broderick. It was the year that we also released our futures work, Policing for a Safer Australia—Our Strategy for Future Capability. That was work that we had been doing for a number of years to look at what our policing needs would be in the future. And it was also the year that we started our enterprise transformation, which is very much based on our look into the future—what do we need to be different to where we are now. But throughout all that, it was also a highly successful year. We welcome the fact that the committee takes an interest in this. Our members across the AFP, wherever they are working, take great pride in the work they do, and the annual report is but one way we can highlight that good work.

CHAIR: If we can just run through some of the staffing retention, recruitment, the staff members throughout the different sectors. It is on page 167. You had a drop of 117 personnel. In the overall scope, it's not a large number but could you give us some brief comments on that?

Mr Colvin : I welcome others to jump in. You are right; in the overall scope, it is not a large percentage. And often these are moment-in-time numbers so it could be that we had just lost—

CHAIR: If it had been done several months before, it could have been different?

Mr Colvin : The fluctuations in our numbers are small but it's intense in that it's constantly going up and down, and there are a number of things at play. One is simply attrition and our ability to recruit against attrition. We are always in a difficult cycle of how far we turn the tap of recruitment on and off to control what is coming in. We do that against unknown or expected attrition but there are budget flows, measures starting and stopping, and that is a normal part of our budgetary cycle. Do any others have any further comments on that?

Ms Close : No.

CHAIR: So rather than a cut in staff personnel, that was a normal fluctuation of numbers that occurred throughout the year?

Mr Colvin : It would be ons and offs according to measures or programs we are running but it is not a large change. Our staffing numbers over the last 10 years, while they have gone up and down—we do have some figures here—they have remained reasonably static, by and large.

CHAIR: I'm looking at the page 168. I'm looking at the total numbers there—6,500. The vast majority of those have had six or more years in length of service.

Mr Colvin : That's right. It's a challenge for us. It's a positive challenge in some ways because I have a very experienced workforce. But an ageing workforce is a challenge for a range of reasons in terms of people's planned retirement and our ability to constantly refresh our workforce. Attrition out of the AFP, particularly our sworn police numbers, is quite low.

CHAIR: How would that compare with the state police forces? Do you think you would have greater retention?

Mr Colvin : No, it is pretty consistent, to be honest. Attrition for state police, the ones I've spoken to—New South Wales I have spoken to directly—their rates are quite low. Even when I look at overseas agencies, the attrition numbers for the FBI, from their federal agent cohort, is quite low as well.

CHAIR: When it comes to recruitment, is that an area of significant difficulty? Is there a long waiting list of people willing to get in that you pick from or do you have to go out and run a whole lot of advertising campaigns to try and recruit?

Mr Colvin : It's a good question. It's a constant that we are always out there in the market looking, and there will be periods when we will run a campaign. Right at the moment we are in a campaign for ACT Policing—the local police. Not everybody who comes through that campaign will want to stay here in Canberra, but we are focused on that because we have specific needs. We recruit at a steady level every year, but there are fluctuations, according to new programs that might come on, or we might have new contracts in our protection area, or a contract might end in our protection area, so we slow recruitment down. But it is constant. We are always out in the market and we never have a shortage of talented people wanting to come and join the AFP.

CHAIR: Is there a changing mix of the type of new recruit you are looking for? Are there more high-technology areas that you are looking for than in the past?

Mr Colvin : My answer to that is that I hope so, because that needs to change. We work very hard on a few things. You can't change this overnight—you can't just flick a switch. The workforce has to absorb the skills that come in. There are little things that we've been doing. Our average recruit age sneaked up to almost 30 years old under a range of our programs. That doesn't sound old but it creates a few other challenges for us. So, we have started to bring our average recruit age back down to probably around 25, which is a very conscious effort. We are looking for a greater diversity mix in our recruits—not just gender but also background, ethnicity, education—

Ms Close : Languages.

Mr Colvin : Absolutely. That's part of the work that we did during this financial year and the earlier one, to say 'How do we need to be different in the future?' One of those clear messages was that the workforce of the future for a police organisation like the AFP is probably not what we have at the moment.

CHAIR: Moving on to some of the KPI numbers you have for this year: ninety per cent of cases before the courts resulting in a conviction.

Mr Colvin : We achieved a conviction rate of 95 per cent. Our target is 90.

CHAIR: Your KPI is 90 per cent?

Mr Colvin : Yes.

CHAIR: Does having such a high KPI discourage you from maybe sometimes prosecuting a case? Is there a risk that you then only want to run cases that you know are almost 100 per cent certain before you take them on? Does having a KPI set like that help or hinder?

Mr Colvin : It's a good question, and this has come up from time to time. There are a few things. One is that the Commonwealth DPP has a big role in this, as well. While we may lay the charge and prepare the brief of evidence, ultimately the Commonwealth DPP will decide whether it's going to proceed with the prosecution. That figure, speaking frankly, I'm not sure is a good measure of a great deal. But it is one that has been consistently there and I think earlier predecessors of yours have been keen to see it stay in there. We are not conservative in the way that we go about deciding who and went to charge somebody. We just look at the facts of the matter and if we believe there is a case we will put it forward. But in fairness to the Commonwealth DPP and to the courts, they have to take a lot of things into consideration.

Ms Close : Over more recent years our cases have become much more complex long-term: fraud and anticorruption matters, counterterrorism investigations—so we've had to put in a significant effort and resources and focus on those sorts of issues. I think that also shows through in some of the results. We put a lot of people and a lot of resource into it but we are also getting really positive results because of the complex nature of what we do.

Mr Colvin : I certainly don't think that it says we are conservative or that it makes us think more conservatively. The strong positive about this—and it gets to Deputy Commissioner Close's issue—is that the world the AFP operates in now from when we were all detectives—I'd like to say five years ago, but it's probably more than that!—is so much more complicated. We refer to the tail of an investigation. Often the media will focus, rightly, on the arrest—all the lights and song and dance that go with an arrest and a series of search warrants, or whatever it might be. For the complex matters that we are dealing with now, particularly our tax fraud, our foreign bribery matters, even our large organised crime, that's the start of the hard work. The arrest is the start of a two-, three-, four- and sometimes five- to 10-year prosecution, a criminal proceeds of crime action that takes a long, long time. So I think holding us to account on our conviction rate is still appropriate.

CHAIR: What percentage of the matters that you are dealing with have an international context?

Mr Colvin : If we were to look at the AFP in totality—and that would include ACT Policing and airports and protection—the number would be small. Separate that out for a moment and focus on those matters that are our national investigations, the things that most people are interested in, the number would be in excess of 70 per cent—very high—and that's probably conservative. Nearly everything we do now—organised crime, serious financial crime, child exploitation, counterterrorism, cyber—I can't think of too many that do not have an international nexus.

Mr Gaughan : I'd say it'd be over 80 per cent. Every organised crime investigation has an international nexus. All child protection matters do because of the internet. The vast majority, certainly, of foreign bribery is all offshore. I don't think there would be anything. Even in the CT realm there'd be very few things that wouldn't have some international nexus, and that obviously leads, to some extent, to the lag time in investigations, because mutual assistance requests and all those sorts of processes have got to go through to get information from our foreign partners. And, to some extent, that probably also shows why there's such a high prosecution rate. These investigations take a long time, the evidence collected is very, very strong and we get a hell of a lot of guilty pleas for some very serious matters.

Mr Colvin : We do.

CHAIR: With the mutual assistance, you are trying to work with overseas agencies. If I were to flip it, how many overseas agencies are making requests to the AFP here? Would you, say, send 10 requests overseas and get four requests back? Can you give me an idea of what the ratio is?

Mr Colvin : I've seen the numbers before. It's certainly into the thousands. I would say we are probably one of the most advanced, in terms of how we internationalise our operations. I'd say we're probably a net user of the international environment more than people coming and asking us. But that's also a product of us not necessarily being an exporter of crime, if that makes sense.

CHAIR: That's the question I'm getting to. If there were an export-import balance, where would it actually sit?

Mr Colvin : We have a lot of Australian criminals who are operating in our near region—the Pacific, South-East Asia. More broadly than that, I don't know that there are a lot of requests coming in, but there are a lot of joint task forces that we do with our international partners. In fact, most of the organised crime work we do involves not only one of the Five Eyes countries; we have some very good European and South-East Asian partners that we do all of our work with.

CHAIR: Of our overseas partners, are there any particular ones you'd like to give a bit of a compliment to?

Mr Colvin : Absolutely, and I welcome others to join. The traditional relationships everybody expects us to have are with our Five Eyes partners, and they are as strong and as fruitful as they've ever been. I will put that aside for a minute. Where we work very hard is in South-East Asia. Our partnerships with organisations like the Indonesian National Police, the Royal Malaysian Police and the Philippine National Police are really strong. While there might be ups and downs in broader relationships from time to time, law enforcement is one of those diplomatic niceties that everybody agrees on. Everybody wants to stop drugs. Everybody wants to stop children being abused. Everybody wants to stop terrorism. I'm missing agencies out in singling out those three; we could list many. Our European colleagues include the Dutch police. People are always surprised at how strong our relationship is with the Dutch police.

CHAIR: And how's the interaction? Let's take the Dutch or the Indonesians as an example. Are they sending officers here to Australia to liaise with and work amongst our AFP?

Mr Colvin : There's a Dutch police officer here permanently. He works out of the Dutch embassy. And in the Hague, which is one of our bigger posts, I think we have probably four people. The Hague rightly calls itself the centre of peace and justice because it's where the International Criminal Court is, it's where Europol is, it's where the International Criminal Tribunal is. We have officers attached to Europol, and this has been a force multiplier for us. I can't even begin to tell you how good it is.

Mr Gaughan : It has been a long-term investment for us as well. This year, it'll be 20 years that we've had a liaison officer in China. That's a fairly significant investment on our behalf. And now China MPS have a liaison officer here in Canberra, which is the first time they've done that. That commenced last year, I think. Surprisingly—or not—we do some fantastic work with the Chinese. Over 20 tonnes of drugs have been interdicted either in Australia or in China in the last five years, as a result of the relationship we have with the Chinese, and in Myanmar and places like that, where we continue to work very closely with our international partners. So the strength, I think, of an organisation like the AFP is our international network. That's what sets us apart from pretty much most law enforcement agencies. We invest heavily in that. The dividends are that we actually get some great results with those partners.

CHAIR: To all of you: as to your, say, counterparts, or equivalent positions, in Indonesia, do you have direct contact with them?

Mr Colvin : Tito Karnavian is the head of the IMP, with 550,000 police under his control. I WhatsApp him quite regularly. That was probably a plug for WhatsApp! But that's the level of the relationship. I consider him a colleague but also someone who I can talk to.

CHAIR: How has that relationship come about?

Mr Colvin : Time.

CHAIR: Is it active? Is it something where you've gone up and actually visited him and he has come to Australia? How have we worked it? Do we invite these senior people to Australia at times?

Mr Colvin : We do. It's based on time, trust in the relationship and operations where we've worked together—as in, the organisations have worked together. But also I spend quite a bit of time in Indonesia. He has been to Australia a number of times. We have formal senior officials' meetings, as well as more informal arrangements.

CHAIR: I have Channel 10 just wanting to do, I imagine, a bit of a brief shot.

Mr Colvin : Nothing's been happening this week, I take it!

CHAIR: I've got a few more questions. I'll hand over to Senator Singh.

Senator SINGH: Thank you, Mr Colvin and colleagues. I'm glad that we could be quorate today!

Mr Colvin : So are we!

Senator SINGH: It's always a bit strange when we're reviewing annual reports that are from some time ago. This is from 2016-17. It feels like—

Mr Colvin : A long time ago.

Senator SINGH: Well, I guess it kind of is, in a sense, when it's 2019 now, and I'm sure that within the AFP a lot has changed—but probably a lot has also got underway—from the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Mr Colvin : Yes.

Senator SINGH: So I think it's worth traversing some of that spend that you received in that year and seeing where things are—

Mr Colvin : Of course.

Senator SINGH: and whether they are on track or where the deficits might be. I was going to start with cybercrime—it's a certain interest of mine this week!

Mr Colvin : Understandably and rightly.

Senator SINGH: Anyway, the AFP received an additional $20.4 million over four years, in response to recommendations arising from the Australian government's Cyber Security Strategy. That was a fair spend. And I'm sure it was much needed in the current international cybercrime landscape. How have you gone about it? I know that London and Washington were areas where you were dedicating liaison officers, as you've noted in the annual report on page 64. How is that strategy going, in terms of what's really required to combat something which is becoming more and more prolific in the lives of many Australians and yet it's so difficult, when hackers are so clever—if I can use that word in a negative sense!

Mr Colvin : You are right, and I will hand to Deputy Commissioner Gaughan in a minute. That money was on the back of the cyber strategy. The government is constantly reviewing that strategy, and that's because, in cybercrime, of all the crimes we deal with, two years ago is a very long time and things have changed enormously, both in the threat actors that we are dealing with but also in the technologies—the targets that they're attacking. Again, to get into what we talked about before, we used that money to put liaison officers overseas, because this is an area where we cannot do without other countries, particularly the US, where so much of the industry is domiciled, and the expertise is there as well. We've also used those funds to recruit against the technical skills required for a cybercrime investigator. That is a constant challenge for us in this space. Firstly, there are not a lot of them. The skill is perishable and it's highly sought after, so no sooner do you have someone on the hook than they might end up going to another agency or to private industry. So it's a constant challenge for us to keep our cybercrime skills up. I will hand to the deputy.

Mr Gaughan : Senator, you're right when you say things have moved a fair bit in that time. The establishment of the Australian Cyber Security Centre is a significant change from where we were in 2016-17, to the extent that we have investigators embedded with that group working with ASD and others not just here in Canberra but throughout Australia. The people who have been recruited, as the commissioner said, have perishable skills, but we've embedded them with, if you like, the whole-of-government architecture to try to ensure that we stay up to date with these things.

The liaison officers in Washington and London have probably gone past liaison, if you like. They're actually embedded with our counterparts overseas. That has been invaluable. Not only do we get notification of real-time threats and intelligence exchange in a real-time process but, more importantly from my perspective, it's upskilling our people. The people we currently have in those two locations are world's best in relation to investigations of cybercrime, and they'll come back when their term is up and be able to pass those skills on to our people here.

But it is a challenge for us to retain people. We are not only in competition with our Commonwealth partners. Certainly private industry are very keen on getting their hands on some of our investigators, and over time we've lost some really good people to some of the biggest companies you can think of. The results have been positive in relation to some of our investigations, but it's one of these areas where, again, it's a complex, long-burning investigation, but there are also significant sensitivities in some of the investigations we've actually undertaken around intellectual property theft and the like that we're not in a position to disclose, because of the sensitivities around some of those investigations. We work very closely with the intelligence community. Of course, with events such as occurred earlier this week and over the weekend, we're engaged in those things with the Australian Cyber Security Centre.

Senator SINGH: I recognise the sensitivities and that this is a broadcasted public hearing, so I wouldn't want you sharing the ways in which you go about combating some of this. It was more to recognise that, as you outline in this annual report, the AFP was given extra fiscal resources to deal with this. The question was about whether or not that has been sufficient and whether or not there is going to be an ongoing need or a change of need in the financial years going forward.

Mr Colvin : What I would say is that we welcome the injection. It's not the totality of the AFP's efforts in this area. We have made conscious decisions that we see cybercrime and our technical skills as the future of the organisation, so we've had to make hard decisions internally to say we want to do more. But that's just a part of running an organisation like the AFP. So that $20 million was very welcome. There's always a discussion with government about what more they can do to help us, but we do see cybercrime as the future of the organisation in many ways.

Senator SINGH: Was it in the 2016 budget that AFP had a cut? I'm trying to remember now which year it was. Maybe it was 2017.

Mr Colvin : There have been fluctuations in the budget. The CFO might have the exact figures there for me. I think in the 2016-17 year there were a few measures that ended, but a few more measures came on as well.

Senator SINGH: I remember that obviously the AFP pulled out of Hobart Airport, and there was a lot of budget concern around that.

Mr Colvin : Yes, that would have been the year, I think.

Ms Close : It would have been that year.

Senator SINGH: I'm sure it was that year.

Ms Close : Yes, Hobart Airport and Alice Springs as well. That would potentially have been attributed to some of the reduction in staffing numbers as well.

Senator SINGH: Yes.

Ms Close : As the commissioner said, there are ons and offs, so I'd have to go back and have a look at the specific measures.

Senator SINGH: I thought it was $300 million, for some reason.

Ms Close : I don't think it was that much.

Senator SINGH: That figure sticks in my mind, but maybe that was over a period of time with subsequent cuts.

Mr Box : Just according to the financial statements, the revenue from government in 2016-17 was pretty consistent with the year before, so there are ons and offs, as the commissioner has noted.

Mr Colvin : I should say that part of the issue—and you're right to have an interest in the Hobart airport; I know you have—was that it was around this time, maybe the year before this, that it lost its designation as a designated airport. That contributed to the reason, obviously, why the AFP was no longer required there.

Senator SINGH: We've traversed that quite a lot in the past, and I think we have differing views on that—but anyway. I might just go to the international operations part of the annual report. Particularly, I've always had an interest in our UN peacekeeping force and contribution. In my time at the UN in 2016, I was meeting with some of our counterparts over there working in the UN, who are highly regarded. For our ability to train other nations in the peacekeeping forces, we were very highly regarded. However I was shocked to learn at that time—and I'm interested to see if anything has changed—that the number of peacekeepers from Australia who were sent was very low. I think it was around 30.

Mr Colvin : It's now zero. We have no Australian police peacekeepers. I can't speak for Defence peacekeepers, but there are no Australian UN police peacekeepers.

Senator SINGH: None at all? Why is that?

Mr Colvin : These are effectively foreign-policy judgements, Senator.

Ms Close : But we do obviously still have Australian police in large numbers, approximately 45, in Papua New Guinea now continuing the capacity building. In the Solomon Islands as well, we have a large number of officers, I think about 26, from memory, in a capacity building, support—

Senator SINGH: But they're bilateral arrangements?

Ms Close : That's right.

Mr Colvin : In blue caps—

Senator SINGH: There are no blue caps.

Mr Colvin : I think the last one was—well, there was Cyprus, which ended in the financial year that we're talking about. We had the UN policing contingent commander in Liberia. He would have finished his three-year term—

Ms Close : Twelve months or so ago, or 18 months.

Mr Colvin : about 12 months ago. Again, this is cyclical. We were in South Sudan, but we're no longer in South Sudan.

Senator SINGH: In South Sudan, I don't think the violence is completely quelled at all.

Mr Colvin : No, I think you're right, Senator. These are other judgements though.

Senator SINGH: There would still be UN peacekeepers there, just not with Australians—right?

Mr Colvin : Yes, just not Australians; that's right. Sorry, I should say that we have a very senior former Australian Federal Police officer, Peter Drennan, who some of you would remember. He's the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security for the United Nations, based in New York.

Senator SINGH: Yes, I met with him when I was at the UN. He was doing a fantastic job in being part of that kind of training.

Mr Colvin : I know it's something that the government is constantly thinking about. I can't really go into the policy machinations and discussions that sit around that. The UN, I know, would be very keen for the Australian Federal Police to have a greater role. We're very proud of the fact that our peacekeeping operations training centre out here in Canberra behind the airport was, I think, the first registered, accredited, UN police peacekeeping training centre in the world. We still have that. We still use it. We still train other police occasionally when the need is there. But, right at the moment, there are no UN police peacekeepers.

Senator SINGH: Let's just find out. When did the last lot of peacekeepers come back?

Mr Colvin : I think that would have been Cyprus, which was the end of this financial year, so it would have been June of 2016-17. We formally withdrew from Cyprus.

Senator SINGH: June 2017?

Mr Colvin : Yes.

Senator SINGH: How many did we have in Cyprus?

Mr Colvin : At that point, we were down to three officers. Australia and Australian police were the longest continually serving UN peacekeeping mission anywhere in Cyprus. We'd been there since 1963, from memory. At its height, we would have had 30 or 40 people; but, again, these are policy decisions. We had been drawing down in Cyprus for probably five to 10 years—just slowly drawing our contingent down.

Senator SINGH: It was 30, I think—

Mr Colvin : At one point, yes.

Senator SINGH: back in early 2016 or whenever.

Mr Colvin : I would have thought it was less than that then. In the mid- to late nineties, early two thousands, we would have been up around that number, I'm sure—probably even more.

Senator SINGH: No-one was in South Sudan?

Mr Colvin : We were in South Sudan, but I'm thinking: when did we pull out?

Ms Close : I don't know the exact date, Senator, but it was set quite a number of years ago now. We would have to take that on notice.

Senator SINGH: Cyprus was the last country which we were actually active in and withdrew from?

Mr Colvin : Yes.

Senator SINGH: The training component of what we were doing—I know we were training in the past; I'm going back now—involved Bangladesh and a number of other countries that didn't have the capabilities and that we were so well respected for. What was the last country that we would have been training?

Mr Colvin : The training still continues to this day, but it has dropped right down. We used to put a lot of the Pacific through training. I don't remember the last time we trained Bangladeshis, but I won't argue that we did; I'm sure we have. It was mostly the Pacific nations. Quite a few of them—Fiji, for instance—are large contributors to UN peacekeeping operations. I would have to take on notice how many courses we have been running and when the last one was, but it has certainly dropped off. It is not what it was.

Senator SINGH: As you say on page 67, after more than 53 years of service, you withdrew from Cyprus, the UN peacekeeping force. That is a long legacy of Australians being part of a multilateral peacekeeping operation, and now we are not there. When you say this is a policy decision of government, at the AFP level, where does that directive come from? Which minister?

Mr Colvin : It's a foreign affairs; it's a foreign policy.

Senator SINGH: It's the foreign minister?

Mr Colvin : Yes. I'm sure it's a discussion that is had at cabinet.

Senator SINGH: I'm just trying to work out where the directive came from to start winding down and withdrawing our contingency.

Mr Colvin : Some of it is funding decisions. The funding for our mission in South Sudan ends on a certain date, which will be an agreed arrangement with the UN. When that day comes around, we withdraw.

Mr Gaughan : Senator, just in relation to one of the questions you asked earlier on South Sudan, we pulled out of there in January 2014, but the drawdown out of Cyprus was a fairly long burn; it wasn't something we did over 12 months. It was probably about 10 years that we started to reduce those numbers. So, there is the financial year which we are talking about now, but the decision to withdraw or, if you like, down draw was probably taken in the early two thousands.

Mr Colvin : In fact, we weren't the only agency that withdrew. Cyprus has been on a trajectory down from the UN perspective for a very long time.

Ms Close : There is also recognition that Australia is doing a lot in the Pacific region. So we have significant numbers in Vanuatu, helping the police there, and the Solomon Islands, as I mentioned, as well as Papua New Guinea. The resources that are put into those efforts are taken into consideration as well when United Nations missions are established, because a lot of other countries contribute to those United Nations missions.

Mr Colvin : It's a burden sharing issue that governments consider around the world: who is doing their share and where.

Senator SINGH: In an ideal world, we wouldn't need peacekeeping, but I know that's not the case. It's more a case of a shift away from a kind of multilateral engagement to the bilateral, which you're engaged with in the Pacific, and understanding that reason.

Mr Colvin : I think Foreign Affairs would be better placed to talk about policy decisions.

Senator SINGH: Yes. I can understand the policy position came from there.

Mr Colvin : What I can say from an AFP perspective, one thing you might find interesting, is about the fact that we are on no UN peacekeeping missions now. It has been such a part of the AFP's history that I constantly get old members—'old' isn't fair; former members and current serving members—this has been a large part of our identity. Cyprus was before the AFP was even an organisation. It's a part of our culture, especially Cyprus.

Senator SINGH: It certainly is, and I'm sure they've brushed the dust off their blue berets.

Mr Colvin : Yes. Our members, quite rightly, march very proudly on UN peacekeepers day every year.

Ms Close : We were also pleased, more recently, to open up the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial on Anzac Parade here in Canberra. It's another thing where former members were key in instigating the whole proposal, and the funding.

Senator SINGH: All right. I might let the chair take over questions.

CHAIR: I have a question on the Criminal Assets Confiscation Task Force. You have some numbers in the report about the assets restrained.

Mr Colvin : Which page are you looking at?

CHAIR: Page 30. Can you give me a definition of 'restrained', what it actually means? Is it that you obtained a court order and it's put on the assets so they can't use them?

Mr Colvin : Correct—

CHAIR: Is it confiscation?

Mr Colvin : No.

CHAIR: Where's the line in restraint?

Mr Colvin : It's a good question. There will always be a difference in the figure between what is restrained and what is ultimately forfeited. 'Restrained' means we have taken some action against that asset, be it cash, property or whatever, to ensure that the owner cannot deal with it in any way until a court makes a decision. Under a range of proceeds of crime mechanisms, whether it's an instrument of crime or a proceed of crime, the court will determine if it needs to be forfeited.

CHAIR: If you make an assessment that a certain asset is likely to have been obtained by criminal activity, what is the process? Do you have to obtain a court order?

Mr Colvin : A court order, yes.

CHAIR: So it's a court order for assets to be initially restrained?

Mr Colvin : Yes.

CHAIR: Where do those assets then sit? Do they then get transferred somewhere? What is the legal mechanism that restrains them?

Mr Colvin : It varies, depending on the asset. Now, I'm going to get the name of the agency wrong because I've always known it as ITSA, but it's now changed.

Ms Close : AFSA.

Mr Colvin : AFSA, Australian financial services?

Ms Close : Agency.

Mr Colvin : Effectively, they are the trustees. If it's a bank account, then it's easy enough: a bank will freeze the account and it can't operate. If it's a depreciating asset such as a vehicle, there might be decisions made by that agency about how they want to deal with it. But, by and large, we don't maintain the asset unless it's also evidence of the crime, and this is where it becomes complicated. If it's a car that was used to transport drugs, it's evidence of the crime as well as a proceed of the crime. But there is an agency dedicated to this type of work.

CHAIR: Say it was a house, for example.

Mr Colvin : The financial services agency—

Ms Close : We're just confirming the name.

Mr Colvin : will value the property. They will go through—I know this from my own personal experience, having done this with them—and value the artwork in the property, and they'll make an assessment.

CHAIR: Would that person still be allowed to use the property, as far as living in it goes?

Mr Colvin : Mostly, yes. Again, it would be court orders. The court can also make arrangements that a certain value of the property can be made available for the person's defence. We can't restrain everybody's access to funds and then deny them their best defence. So the court will make arrangements.

CHAIR: So, if you found someone with $10 million in cash hidden under the bed, they could still use part of that to fund their legal defence, depending on the circumstances?

Mr Colvin : It would be up to the court. Ten million dollars in cash under a bed—I think the court would probably take a fairly dim view of that. But certainly, from our perspective, no-one wants to deny a defendant a proper defence, so the court will find a way through that.

Ms Close : Chair, can I just confirm the name of the authority? It's the Australian Financial Security Authority.

CHAIR: Okay. Are they a part of the AFP?

Mr Colvin : No.

CHAIR: Where do they sit?

Mr Colvin : I think they're part of Attorney-General's or maybe Treasury.

Ms Close : Sorry, I don't know. We'll have to take that on notice.

CHAIR: From those assets restrained, do you make also an assessment of what is actually finally confiscated?

Mr Colvin : The court will make that assessment.

CHAIR: I know, but do you monitor what—

Mr Colvin : Oh, yes. It can run a number of parallels—

CHAIR: I know those things can take several years.

Mr Colvin : Well, they can take 10 years. We've got matters that are still in court from 10 years ago. Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, we can proceed either criminally or civilly. If we're proceeding on a criminal basis, then the forfeiture of the asset will be linked to the conviction of the individual. If we are proceeding on a civil basis, then it's linked to the probability threshold as to whether the asset was a proceeds of crime or an instrument of crime. So it's not a simple pathway. But, throughout that, we are making judgements all the time as to whether we think it's the proceeds of crime, instrument of crime—unexplained wealth is another piece of legislation that we operate under.

Ms Close : We have specialist litigators attached to the AFP who help us to work through all of those processes. Chair, just to confirm for you, it is the Attorney-General's Department that administers that authority.

CHAIR: Those figures you have there for assets restrained, does that include assets restrained from unexplained wealth?

Mr Colvin : It probably wouldn't, and I say that only because the unexplained wealth legislation has only recently started to get used. There have been some complications with its constitutional issues, about what the actual derivative crime is that the money has come from, whether it is a state or Commonwealth crime. So I would say that the very vast majority, if not all of that restrained, would be from Commonwealth matters where we have linked the asset to a crime, not unexplained wealth.

CHAIR: This is not meant to be a criticism, but $93 million worth of assets restrained—if we were putting a value on the total value of criminal activity—

Mr Colvin : Nowhere near it.

CHAIR: in the nation, that's only, as you said, a drop in the bucket.

Mr Colvin : It is.

CHAIR: Therefore, my next question goes to policy, and I hope you can answer. Do you believe the current legislative settings that we have for unexplained wealth give you the teeth and the firepower that you need?

Mr Colvin : There are a couple of things on that. You are right in terms of how much we are restrained and how much we think the criminal economy is. The ACIC estimate that the cost of organised crime in this country is, I think, $36 billion, but that is health costs, education costs, everything totalled up. We know that the criminal economy in Australia is strong, and that is a drop in the ocean. Is the legislation sufficient? The unexplained wealth legislation has been problematic, because it is Commonwealth legislation that pushes up against the Constitution and the ability of the Commonwealth to make laws that affect the state and territories.

I will give you a practical example. If the AFP is investigating Andrew Colvin, and we think that he has assets well beyond what he has claimed in his last 10 years of tax returns—what we can establish as his legitimate income—we believe he is involved in organised crime. The challenge for the unexplained wealth legislation is that, the states and territories need to be prepared individually to give a referral of power to the Commonwealth. The problem for my investigators is that, unless they can show that that money is from a Commonwealth crime, not in any way derived from a state crime, then the legislation can't be used.

Now, New South Wales are the first jurisdiction to have signed up and to have referred that power to the Commonwealth. The territories—the ACT and the Northern Territory—I think have as well, because of their arrangements with the Commonwealth. The other jurisdictions are currently considering that, and it is a constant discussion between police ministers and attorneys-general. But these are the wonders of our Federation and the wonders of our Constitution.

CHAIR: Obviously there is a balance in this, because someone still has the right to their wealth, and then do they then have to prove their innocence as well?

Mr Colvin : Yes.

CHAIR: So I understand that. Those states, other than New South Wales, is that—I don't want to say recalcitrance, but is it sort of delays—or is that making it more difficult to proceed with that legislation on unexplained wealth?

Mr Colvin : It certainly means that the Commonwealth unexplained wealth legislation is probably not being used to its full extent. Jurisdictions have their own unexplained wealth legislation. Western Australia, for instance, probably has some of the best unexplained wealth legislation in the country.

CHAIR: What makes Western Australia superior to the other states?

Mr Colvin : I say 'better' from a law enforcement perspective. It's probably easier for police to operate with it. It puts more onus on the individual to explain their wealth. I don't say that as a criticism or a complaint about the Commonwealth legislation; it is what it is, and we work very hard to get it there. I think what it does go to is the complexity of how and what the Commonwealth can legislate for in a law enforcement sense under our constitutional arrangements. The Constitution says that states and territories are responsible for enforcing the laws. Every piece of legislation that we deal with in a law enforcement sense has to get constitutional advice. That's why you hear debates occasionally about whether legislation is constitutional, because it does rub up against our ability to make laws at the Commonwealth level.

CHAIR: Are you seeing an increase in seizures activity in the illegal tobacco space?

Mr Gaughan : The seizure of tobacco is primarily the domain of Australian Border Force. What we have seen ongoing, not just in this particular financial year, is that organised crime groups basically import any commodity to make money. It doesn't matter whether it's tobacco or illicit drugs—they're into making money.

CHAIR: It's good entrepreneurial spirit. It's a pity it's not channelled into other areas.

Mr Gaughan : Exactly. You will note we don't have any significant data in relation to tobacco seizures there, but I know that Border Force has seized substantial amounts. In the last couple of financial years, we have seen some significant interdictions of organised crime groups importing both tobacco and some serious methamphetamines and cocaine. I think whilst the price of tobacco continues to rise through taxation and other things, the availability of chop-chop being imported into the country will remain quite high.

CHAIR: This is a jurisdictional overlap where you've got state police and Border Force. How do you work in the illegal tobacco space?

Mr Gaughan : Transnational, serious and organised crime is coordinated both Commonwealth-wise and domestically. This week in Canberra, the serious organised crime committee got together, which is all state and territory law enforcement and Commonwealth agencies—ABF, Tax, the crime commission and ourselves—to work out what the priorities are for the next 12 months. That happens regularly; it's reviewed every six months but set every 12 months. Each jurisdiction also has organised crime groups organised in their own jurisdictions. We set the priorities at the national level and work through the states and territories to determine that. It's certainly a major focus for Australian Border Force. Our role is: if it touches on large-scale organised crime groups that we have an interest in, that are involved in other commodities, we certainly get interested in those ones as well.

Mr Colvin : To my knowledge, there are no task force arrangements that are dedicated to illegal tobacco. There are task forces set up that are dedicated to organised crime and transnational crime, and illegal tobacco will come up.

Mr Gaughan : We have moved away from commodity-specific task forces. We're now looking at the criminality. We are focusing on large organised crime groups involved in importing drugs or tobacco less so than saying, 'We're going to have a task force on tobacco.'

CHAIR: Take a theoretical example: in my area of south-west Sydney, I could go out and buy illegal cigarettes from hundreds of different locations. If a citizen was to ring up and make a complaint that a shop is selling illegal tobacco, where would that first go? Does that become a state policing matter? Does Border Force get involved? Are the AFP involved? Where would that go? It seems to be a type of criminal activity that seems to be quite open in our society without a great deal of sanction.

Mr Gaughan : It also becomes an issue for the ATO, because it's an excise issue.

CHAIR: We have all these multiple agencies that have some jurisdiction interest in it.

Mr Gaughan : That's right. There is the regulatory function that Tax has as well; it would also get involved. The complaint would initially go to the state or territory police. That would be the normal course of events. They would probably submit an intelligence report, and, from there, that would find its way at some stage to either the tax office or ABF for them to primarily take that action. It wouldn't fall to us.

CHAIR: Let's say it was at Belconnen, for example—without wanting to pick on Belconnen! If there was a particular retailer in Belconnen that was selling illegal cigarettes, and someone phoned through to the ACT police, what would be the procedure and what priority would that be given?

Mr Gaughan : Fairly low.

Mr Colvin : A fairly low priority. Unless the intelligence aggregated up to show that we've got a larger problem—which it quite likely would do—it wouldn't be given a high priority, because, frankly, there's a lot of that type of transactional crime.

Chair, I misled you earlier. The team behind me have just told me that there is an illicit tobacco task force that was established last month. It has the Australian Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Taxation Office and the New South Wales police. We're not a part of it. The agencies involved can probably tell you where the issue lies. It's around excise and taxation.

CHAIR: Okay. So, if we're looking at illegal tobacco as a societal problem, where would AFP involvement come in?

Mr Colvin : If, as a result of collected intelligence, aggregated intelligence, we became aware of a significant organised crime syndicate that was (a) making a lot of money from it and, most likely, (b) importing then that would be of interest to the AFP.

Mr Gaughan : I can give you a practical example, I suppose, although isn't relevant to this financial year. Operations Astatine and Vehda were about large-scale organised crime entities in New South Wales that we knew were involved in the importation of not just tobacco but methamphetamine as well. We worked with our colleagues in Dubai to take that syndicate out both there in Dubai and here in Australia. That's one we got involved in, as the commissioner alluded to. That group were involved in large-scale tobacco importation, but they were also involved in significant importation of methamphetamine.

CHAIR: Okay. Senator Singh.

Senator SINGH: I've been going through your KPI targets, and there is quite a high level of stakeholder satisfaction in this annual report, which I'm sure you would be pleased about, Mr Colvin. But I guess I'm interested in where the flaws are in the organisation and where the ongoing challenges are for the AFP. It's obviously good to read all the good stuff—it makes us feel warm and fuzzy as a good democracy—but I'm sure there are ongoing flaws and challenges. I guess I'm interested in some of those potholes.

Mr Colvin : Of course there are. We're not a perfect organisation. Even if we were, which we're not, the environment is changing so quickly that what's perfect today is not going to be perfect tomorrow.

You mentioned the stakeholder satisfaction survey. Yes, we are pleased that we get good feedback from our stakeholders, but in reality our stakeholders do occasionally get frustrated with the AFP because we can't get to every crime that they want us to look at. Purely from a Commonwealth perspective, there is a lot of Commonwealth crime that happens that the AFP simply cannot get to. And that's normal for every police force. That satisfaction rating is largely because we spend a lot of time working with them, explaining why we're not doing certain things and helping them improve their systems. But I guarantee that if you had some of our partners from the Commonwealth sitting here they would say they wished we did more. The issue is simply that we can't get to everything; no police force can.

In terms of other things, the particular year that we're looking at was, of course, the year that we released the Culture change report about diversity and inclusion in the AFP. We know that we have more work to do within the organisation as to how we care for and look after our workforce. More recently, of course, there's been a very large focus, rightly, on mental health in the AFP: Do we have our settings right? Do we have support for our organisation right? That's a challenge for us.

This year, as well, was the year that we launched the futures report, which was: what do we need to be different in the future? That told us that our diversity mix and our skill set mix had to be different. So that's a constant challenge for us in terms of keeping the right skills in the right place at the right time.

The AFP is a very broad organisation. I think, to be honest, it's an organisation that not many people understand. People see us at the airport and think that that's what we do, or they see us in counterterrorism and think we're the counterterrorism police. There are 6,500 police in the organisation. When I break it down into the various chunks of what we do, it's very disparate at times, and I think people don't really understand that. So we've got more work to do to educate parliamentarians as well as the public about what the AFP does and therefore what our capacity is to do more. Cyber is a huge challenge for us. Counterterrorism is a huge challenge for us. When I became commissioner in 2014, at the start of what became a big upswing for counterterrorism, the challenges that we were dealing with were vastly different to the counterterrorism challenges we're dealing with in 2019. So it's just constantly changing.

CHAIR: I have a final question: at our airports, where are the jurisdictional lines and how do you work with Border Force?

Mr Colvin : The jurisdictional line with Border Force is easy. The jurisdictional line with our state and territory partners is the one that's a little bit more complicated at times. Border Force are not a police force, so their ability to enforce laws is confined to their immigration powers and their Customs Act powers. Beyond that, we are the uniformed police at airports, so we are the community police that you would think of in any other sense. If someone steals a book from Downtown Duty Free, it would be a low priority for us but that is a policing matter that we may get involved in. We might get involved in traffic matters out the front of an airport. But we're also the counterterrorism first response, which is our main priority at airports: dealing with incidents at airports.

Airports in Australia are small pockets of jurisdiction within a much larger pool of a different jurisdiction, so it is complicated for us with our state and territory partners, but again it works well. We have good relationships. I'll give you an anecdote that you'll find interesting. At some point in the not-too-distant future, there will be a new terminal built at the Gold Coast international airport. That terminal will literally sit across the New South Wales-Queensland border. The border will run through the middle of the terminal, so for our officers there will be instances where they will be on one side of the border and there might be a crime on the other side. It could be a different crime. So these are challenges that we're accustomed to working with in environments that we deal with all the time.

CHAIR: At Sydney Airport, you have an office?

Mr Colvin : We do. Outside the international terminal, we have our AFP office. That's where we run our Sydney Airport operation, which is our biggest airport operation.

CHAIR: That is space that you would lease from Sydney Airport Corporation? Is that how you work?

Mr Colvin : It varies around the country, to be honest. I think in Sydney it is owned by the Sydney Airport Corporation. We're lessees. It's not our building.

CHAIR: And at the new Western Sydney Airport that's under construction it would be similar?

Mr Colvin : It could be a different arrangement, but we will need to have a large presence there, so we will need to have a location where we can do interviews, hold people and run a police station out of.

CHAIR: This is my last one. You mentioned your counterterrorism investigations. Again, there is a very high rate of convictions there.

Mr Colvin : Yes.

CHAIR: Can you put an estimate on the percentage of the agency's resources dedicated to counterterrorism activities?

Mr Colvin : I don't know if we can.

Ms Close : We have over 100 Federal Police investigators across the country involved in counterterrorism operations, but all of those are in joint counterterrorism teams with our state and territory partners or with ASIO, so they work together on each of the various investigations that we have running. As well as that, we obviously use the resources of our surveillance teams, our technical capabilities and a raft of other intelligence. So there are a range of other support mechanisms for counterterrorism investigations, as there are for organised crime. That's the sort of mix.

Mr Colvin : It's difficult for us to unpick. Counterterrorism is the No. 1 priority for the organisation, and what it needs it will get, from a resourcing perspective. It draws on everything the AFP has at different times.

Mr Gaughan : During this financial year, it was fair enough to say that the vast majority of investigators, even in the rest of the pool, were moving across to counterterrorism matters because of the heightened threat environment. So it really waxed and waned over 12 months.

Ms Close : I think I said 100. It's actually over 200 involved in investigation and disruption activities, working with Home Affairs on countering violent extremism, education and those sorts of things.

CHAIR: Okay. We're a little bit past time. That concludes today's proceedings. The committee has agreed that answers to questions taken on notice—there were a couple—should be returned by 22 March 2019. I thank witnesses for their evidence to the committee today. I also thank Hansard, Broadcasting and the secretariat.

Committee adjourned at 10:05