The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) released the Organised Crime in Australia 2017 (OCA 2017) report, exploring organised crime threats affecting Australia.
One key topic explored is Australia’s illicit drug market, in which transnational organised crime organisations play a fundamental role in the manufacture, cultivation, importation and distribution within Australia.
The internet and darknet have enabled the rapid expansion of the global drug market, with users able to access drugs, information about availability and purity of new drugs, and manufacturing manuals online.
Cannabis remains the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia, however the ACIC states that the methylamphetamine market poses the highest level of risk to the Australian community.
Key illicit drugs manufactured, supplied and used in Australia
Wastewater analysis confirms methylamphetamine (particularly crystal methylamphetamine, also known as ice) as the most highly-consumed illicit drug throughout Australia, with usage and distribution growing rapidly over the last seven years.
In addition to importing, manufacturing and distributing methylamphetamine in Australia, organised crime organisations are also seeking access to legitimate industry to enhance or conceal their activities. According to the OCA 2017 report, ‘the transport sector, licensed premises, the security industry and the chemical industry are targets for infiltration and exploitation by participants in the methylamphetamine market.’
Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia, and is primarily cultivated domestically.
Organised criminal organisations are increasingly using cannabis cultivation as part of their business model, generating funds to reinvest into other criminal activities including the importation of methylamphetamine.
The majority of the world’s cocaine is produced in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. Cocaine is imported into Australia by a diverse range of transnational organised crime groups.
In Australia, cocaine use tends to be concentrated in the eastern seaboard. Recently, sewage examinations conducted by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) found significant levels of cocaine in public plumbing beneath Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, and in response the ACIC have announced plans to start roadside cocaine testing by the end of 2017, starting in Bondi.
Commonly known as ‘ecstasy’, not all drugs sold as ecstasy in Australia actually contain MDMA. Wastewater analysis indicates that MDMA consumption levels are relatively low across Australia.
The majority of heroin in Australia originates from South-East Asia, with additional supply from South-West Asia. A range of organised crime groups are involved in importing and supplying heroin in Australia, although there has been a general decrease in the use of heroin in Australia since the early 2000s.
Tryptamines are ‘hallucinogenic substances that act on the central nervous system, distorting mood, thought and perception’. In Australia, the most commonly used tryptamines are lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin-containing mushrooms (‘magic mushrooms’) and dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
New Psychoactive Substances
New psychoactive substances (NPS) are synthetically created substances that have similar effects to illicit drugs, and have increased in supply and popularity in recent years. The darknet is commonly used as a medium for sales of NPS, as well as for information sharing and social commentary on these substances.
Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs
Serious and organised crime groups are also involved in the importation, manufacture and supply of performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) in Australia, a rapidly growing market.
One of the key drivers of the market is a strong youth culture that is focused on achieving a muscular and athletic physical appearance, particularly prevalent among young men. The use of PIEDs has also been associated with violent behaviour, particularly among young men using PIEDs in conjunction with alcohol and/or other illicit drugs.
How is Australia responding to the threats?
The ACIC’s National Organised Crime Response Plan 2015–2018 details some of the key initiatives to combat the threats of organised crime in relation to Australia’s illicit drug market:
National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (NWDMP) – funding was allocated in 2016 to implement this program, which will analyse wastewater over a three-year period to provide a measure of the demand for a range of licit and illicit drugs. Results of the NWDMP will inform governments and effectively direct resources to priority areas.
National Ice Taskforce—established by the Australian Government in April 2015. Taskforce findings informed the development of the National Ice Action Strategy 2015, endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in December 2015. The strategy aims to reduce the prevalence of ice use and resulting harms in the Australian community.
Transnational organised crime groups continue to play a fundamental role in the production, importation and distribution of illicit drugs within Australia, while taking advantage of technological developments and utilising professional facilitators to expand their operations and remain undetected by law enforcement agencies.