You can tell it’s an election year. The announcement yesterday by Prime Minister Julia Gillard of a $64 million national anti-gang taskforce to fight gang-related crime across Australia will no doubt be appealing to voters who are fed up about bikies out of control and cowardly drive-by shootings in their suburban streets, particularly in western Sydney. Gillard loves law enforcement agencies at the moment. Didn’t the recent drugs in sport scandal led by the Australian Crime Commission take the focus off the anti-Gillard press?

Gillard’s new taskforce is nothing new, and indeed many in law enforcement circles attribute much of the successful inroad into organised crime to the work done by former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who gave the inaugural national security statement to the Australian Parliament in December 2008, where he placed organised crime for the first time squarely in the Australian national security context and called for greater co-ordination across all law enforcement agencies.

What Gillard has done is simply rebadge current initiatives with claims the taskforce is based on the FBI’s Violent Gang Safe Street Taskforce model, which has resulted in over 55,000 arrests in the US since 2001. The FBI Safe Street Taskforce is built on co-operation between local, state and federal investigators. “To track the criminals, you have got to track the money,” Gillard said yesterday.

The reality is that the level of co-operation between federal and state authorities has never been greater. Rudd made it clear to law enforcement agencies back in 2008 the government wanted a piece of the criminal financial pie estimated to cost Australia between $10-15 billion a year, and he pushed the Australian Taxation Office into playing an increasingly important role in working with law enforcement agencies across Australia. The results show that consolidated revenue is the big winner, with ATO statistics revealing it has stripped $335 million out of the clutches of criminals in just the last three years.

Right now the ATO is involved in five national taskforces and 24 joint-agency operations involving state and federal police, including Task Force Polaris, established to investigate organised crime on the waterfront around Australia, Strike Force Edinburgh, investigating outlaw motorcycle gangs alongside NSW police, and the Purana taskforce with the Victorian Police, investigating Melbourne’s underbelly.

Polaris is made up of 49 criminal investigators and intelligence analysts from the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the ATO, the Australian Crime Commission, the NSW Police Force and the NSW Crime Commission.

On February 4, 2010, the Commissioner of Taxation was appointed to the board of the ACC, further demonstrating the value of the ATO as an attribute to law enforcement. He is also a member of the Heads of Commonwealth Operational Law Enforcement Agencies (HOCOLEA). Other members of the ACC board include the commissioner of the AFP, director-general of ASIO, CEO of Customs, secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, chairperson of ASIC and the commissioner of every state and territory police service in Australia.

Another significant development in July 2010 was the introduction of the ACC-led National Criminal Intelligence Fusion Capability, which co-locates investigators, analysts and technical experts to maximise the use of public and private-sector data and facilitate real-time intelligence sharing and analysis. Fusion brings together people from key Commonwealth agencies including the Australian Federal Police, Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink, Customs and Border Protection and State and Territory law enforcement authorities.

In 2010 John Lawler, chief executive of the ACC, said the concept of Fusion encapsulated the strategic direction of the ACC and was just one example of how the agency was instigating a joint attack on serious and organised crime.

“The focus of the ACC is on the value we add to the work of our partner agencies and the national, and increasingly international, linkages we can provide. Rather than duplicating the work of our partners, we are constantly looking at ways to best utilise the data, skills and resources available to more effectively disrupt the highest threat criminal targets,” Lawler said.

Gillard said yesterday that the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce would support the new taskforce through asset confiscation in relation to gang-related crimes. The multi-agency taskforce draws its resources from the AFP, the ACC, ATO and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.  In just two years it has confiscated $138 million dollars in cash, share portfolios, luxury cars, jewellery, motorcycles, light planes, jet-skis, sail and motor boats, artwork and other collectibles from criminals.

Some might question what the difference is between Gillard’s National Anti-Gang Taskforce and what is already happening.

Peter Fray

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