Reader response: Australia’s underbelly in the Asian Century
7 Nov 2012|

Image entitled 'Mafia_guy' by Flickr user sacks08In his recent post Jacob Townsend pointed to organised crime as the dark side of Asia. He notes that the subject didn’t attract much attention in the ‘rivers of gold’ emphasis of the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper.

In a way that’s surprising: the Australia Crime Commission, established in 2003 to combat serious and organised crime, made a (classified) submission to Ken Henry’s White Paper team. The ACC explained (PDF, p.69) the relationship between serious and organised crime and the Asian region, and opportunities for improved law enforcement cooperation internationally. By virtue of making a submission, the ACC has flagged of the potential impact of organised crime on Australia’s relations with Asia.

But while focusing on Asian organised crime, let’s not forget that Australia too has its dark side.

Australia’s first national security statement in 2008 judged that organised crime is a national security threat in Australia, and recommended a strategic framework to enhance efforts by the Australian government to fight serious and organised crime. For the last four years, the approach to national security has focused on an all hazards approach, incorporating this area.

We’re all familiar with some of the major crime families involved in the Australian drug trade through shows like Underbelly. And again the criminal activities of outlaw motor cycle gangs have received a great deal of publicity in recent years. The most recent assessment by the Australian Crime Commission identified that there are 39 such gangs operating in Australia, with the number of ‘patched’ members as high as 4000.

At the national level the best analysis of organised crime has been undertaken by the Australian Crime Commission. In its latest annual report the ACC estimated that organised crime costs Australia at least $15 billion a year.

The ACC’s report on Organised Crime in Australia, launched in April last year, points out that organised crime is:

sophisticated, resilient, highly diversified and pervasive…and unrestrained by legislation, borders, morality or technology…organised crime operates within and alongside legitimate businesses, spanning multiple sectors to maximise return and minimise risk. Increasingly, organised crime uses logistics planning and aggressive marketing, buys in expertise and specialist facilitators and invests in research and development and risk mitigation strategies.

The ACC points out that most organised criminal activities in Australia are focused on illicit drug markets, but such groups also engage in tax evasion, money laundering, fraud, identity crime and high tech crime. The ACC estimates suggest that the level of money laundering in and through Australia is at least $10 billion a year.

Jacob is right that we need to recognise the impacts of organised crime in Asia. But let’s not also forget the need to tackle the problems caused by organised crime in Australia. Many journalists covering the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper aren’t from the fields of foreign affairs, national security and economics, but from areas as diverse as education, the environment and even the creative arts. That’s because the White Paper in a fundamental sense is really about Australia. Perhaps our journalists who focus on organised crime might also contribute to the debate on Australia in the Asian Century.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Image courtesy of Flickr user sacks08