Australia’s general level of wealth, compounded by technological, economic, and geopolitical factors, contribute to Australia being an attractive target for criminals across the spectrum of transnational serious organised crime, terrorism, cybercrime, espionage and foreign interference, fraud and corruption and human exploitation.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has released its first Federal Crime Threat Picture, providing insight into these pervasive and evolving criminal threats targeting Australia.
Transnational serious organised crime (TSOC)
Transnational serious organised crime (TSOC) emerges as a significant concern, with its detrimental impact on public health, safety, and financial security. Approximately 70 percent of serious and organised crime threats have offshore ties, costing Australia an estimated $60 billion annually. TSOC groups engage in drug trafficking, contributing to drug-related violence and fatalities, while also using proceeds of crime to fund other serious crimes such as terrorism and human trafficking.
Terrorism remains a persistent threat, with both religiously and ideologically motivated extremism posing risks to community safety. The online environment amplifies the reach of extremist propaganda, influencing vulnerable individuals including youth. Australia is experiencing an increase in young people being investigated by the AFP, with the youngest being 13 years of age.
Fraud and corruption
Fraud and corruption present ongoing challenges, with sophisticated scams targeting individuals and government institutions alike. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated fraud, with fraudulent schemes exploiting relief funds, and identity theft, on the rise. Government officials remain appealing targets for corruption as those both offshore and onshore seek to benefit from government information.
Espionage and foreign interference
Espionage and foreign interference pose serious threats to Australia’s sovereignty and national security, with hostile foreign actors targeting various sectors and institutions. Cultural and linguistically diverse communities are particularly vulnerable to surveillance and intimidation by state actors or their proxies. There has been an observed shift towards cyber-enabled espionage and foreign interference.
Protection and aviation
Protection of Australian High Office Holders, Parliamentarians and Commonwealth Establishments is a key role of the AFP in safeguarding Australians and Australia’s democracy. The AFP also continues to prioritise national security at designated airports.
Human exploitation, encompassing crimes such as child exploitation, modern slavery, and people smuggling, remains a pressing concern, exacerbated by factors such as unstable governments, low employment options, increasing cost of living, and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cybercrime poses a significant risk to Australia’s economy and privacy, with cyber-attacks targeting critical infrastructure and individuals on the rise. Ransomware attacks and malicious cyber activities continue to evolve in frequency, scale, sophistication, and impact. Over $33 billion was reported as lost from cybercrime in 2020-21, and this is only expected to increase. Cybercrime is increasingly being professionalised, with skilled actors performing cybercrime as a service or creating malware packages for purchase by other criminals.
What is the AFP doing to counter these threats?
The AFP recognises the importance of partnerships in combatting the identified criminal threats. The AFP collaborates closely with a range of partners, including law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies, intelligence services, the private sector, and the community, to address these challenges effectively.
By adopting a multifaceted approach that includes prevention, detection, disruption, investigation, and prosecution, these partnerships target serious criminals and safeguard Australian interests.
Internationally, the AFP supports regional law enforcement partners, sharing intelligence and enhancing policing services to strengthen resilience against transnational crime. These collaborative efforts uphold the rule of law, enhance Australia’s reputation as a trusted partner, and protect vulnerable populations at home and abroad.
The AFP has shed light on the diverse and evolving criminal landscape facing Australia. From transnational organised crime to terrorism, fraud, cybercrime, and human exploitation, these threats pose significant challenges to public safety and national security. Through strategic partnerships with various stakeholders, both domestically and internationally, the AFP is working to address these threats and safeguard Australian interests.