Reader response: serious and organised crime, more than the sum of its parts?
21 Aug 2013|

David Connery’s recent post prompts us to understand serious and organised crime as a national security issue. This is often difficult to comprehend because organised crime is like an iceberg: the majority of it is hidden from view.

On the one hand, there are very visible manifestations of organised criminality such as street violence, a shooting in a public place, outlaw motorcycle gangs, illicit drugs distributed at a nightclub or even the peddling of fake handbags at a market.

However, Australians are increasingly getting glimpses of the hidden part of the iceberg as technology and globalisation enable cyber criminals to launch attacks into our homes and offices to commit a range of crimes. These include sophisticated frauds, identity theft, malicious software attacks, intellectual property crime, tax avoidance and price manipulation.

At the Australian Crime Commission, our intelligence is showing us that the threat from organised crime is now ‘more pervasive, powerful and complex’ (PDF) than ever. Put simply, the opportunities for organised crime today are unparalleled and unprecedented.

Connery’s post is right, we need to delve deeper than the $15 billion cost of organised crime and determine why it’s an immediate national security issue. In a sense, we need to quantify and humanise the impact and stop only talking about organised crime as some sort of future threat and look at the very real threat it poses today.

That’s not to say that the economic impact is insignificant. It’s hard to go past world estimates that show if organised crime were an economy, it would be in the G20. It impacts almost every part of Australian society. In Australia alone, billions of dollars of organised criminal profits are being remitted offshore. This is money that should have stayed in the Australian economy to create jobs, investment and future opportunities.

But more concerning is what happens when organised crime corrupts societies. Internationally, when responses are inadequate, we see a number of the following effects:

  • weakening of political and economic institutions
  • extrajudicial killings in unparalleled numbers
  • human suffering similar to the destruction caused by a war
  • undermining of independent judicial power, the rule of law and law enforcement
  • manipulation of prices of commodities
  • holding of victims to ransom through infectious malicious codes
  • threatening the existence of legitimate businesses trying to abide by the law
  • unequal and unjust societies
  • corruption, violence, stealing identities, money laundering, and
  • impacts on social cohesion, straining on health systems and irreparable damage.

To give you an Australian example, one criminal syndicate committing investment fraud over a twelve-month period was able to steal $113 million from Australian victims. This figure hides fraud’s human cost. In some cases, families lose their retirement income due to an investment fraud and must depend on the social welfare system for the rest of their lives.

If organised criminal activities were left unchecked, they’d undermine the national security of Australia and damage the quality of life for all Australian citizens by damaging the reputation of our institutions, the national economy, our rule of law and the devastating social impacts that make organised crime a national security priority.

The question is how we should respond to this threat. Together with federal agencies (police, tax, security, regulatory and policy agencies) as well as state and territory police and the private sector, the Australian Crime Commission discovers, understands and enables national responses. And our national responses will only come with a two-pronged attack—criminal justice responses combined with disruption or prevention activities.

A successful example of this is Project Wickenby—a coordinated cross-agency taskforce designed to protect the integrity of Australia’s financial and regulatory systems from tax evasion and the abusive use of secrecy havens to launder money. This project responds in a multifaceted way by incorporating investigations and prosecutions of those who abuse Australia’s tax system, prevention and awareness of tax evasion schemes and regulatory responses leading to the successful raising of tax liabilities of $1.8 billion. And importantly, it monitors impact—we’re seeing a reduction in the quantum of funds being sent to secrecy havens due to the threat of being caught.

It’s projects like Project Wickenby which protect the community, our economy and ensure our national security by allowing for money that was destined for hospitals, schools and communities and that would have been stolen from the economy are now left in the hands of Australians.

The key question Connery left us with is: do we understand the damage that organised crime is having on Australia? The ACC is grappling with this issue, and we’re partnering with a number of audit, research and statistically-minded agencies to try and quantify the impact and damage so that this can be reported to the public in a more sophisticated way in future.

Hamish Hansford is chief of staff at the Australian Crime Commission. Image courtesy of Flickr user Highway Patrol Images.