International Criminal Law and Australian Foreign Policy

The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper

Released on 23 November 2017 on behalf of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Ministers Julie Bishop (Foreign Affairs) and Steven Ciobo (Trade, Tourism and Investment), the Foreign Policy White Paper considers Australia’s present position in relation to international engagement. The paper also presents a strategic framework for maximising the nation’s international influence and securing the nation’s future foreign interests. The 2017 White Paper represents the first governmental publication of this kind in 14 years.

‘Opportunity, security and strength’ are the key themes identified in the paper which openly concedes that both regionally and globally, Australia faces a period of increased uncertainty, risk and complexity. Factors which are identified as risks to Australian interests include terrorism and violent extremism, human trafficking, cybercrime, foreign political interference and transnational organised crime.

The impacts of such practices are notably severe and have wide-ranging effects on Australian society. The White Paper highlights the negative impact of transnational crime specifically. These include:

  • undermining political process;
  • weakened security;
  • harm and exploitation of individuals;
  • increased corruption;
  • inhibiting economic development; and
  • impeding effective governance.


Globalisation and technology: Drivers of change

Despite great change in Australia’s political, social and economic environment, terrorism, drug trafficking, people smuggling, illegal immigration and money laundering are elements of international crime which have remained constant since the preceding foreign policy White Paper was released in 2003. The means by which such crimes are conducted however has shifted, becoming undoubtedly more complex and global. The 2017 paper identifies that 70 per cent of Australia’s serious criminal threats now have an international dimension.

Advancement in technology is rightly identified in the 2017 White Paper as a significant opportunity to improve the nation’s productivity, prosperity and economic growth. Technological developments have an equally significant impact on the way criminal enterprise is conducted. It is predicted that in the next decade the use of ‘darknets’ to access illegal drugs, weapons and other illicit services will increase. The increased prevalence of cryptocurrencies and encrypted communication mediums also presents a novel challenge for law enforcement agencies. Such agencies are increasingly forced to combat criminal factions who use such tools to communicate and transact across borders with increased anonymity.

Comparably, while increased migration, global travel and trade is identified as a cornerstone of Australia’s future economic growth, comparatively pervious borders present increased opportunities for criminals to conceal illicit goods and exploit the jurisdictional limits of law enforcement agencies.

In addition to the increased complexity of established international criminal practices, new threats to Australian society are emerging. Cybercrime is one such area of notable governmental concern, with traditional forms of crime and cybercrime becoming increasingly indistinct. The prevalence of globally networked information systems is an accepted vulnerability which can be exploited by state and non-state actors to target Australian individuals, businesses and government agencies. The activities of Russian cyber actors during the 2016 US presidential election presents a contemporary warning of the potential for cyber-criminals to manipulate and disrupt both commercial and government activity in Australia.


Foreign policy: What is Australia’s approach?

In acknowledging that organised crime does not remain static, the methods in which law enforcement agencies operate both domestically and internationally is forced to continuously adapt. To this end, the Australian government’s ability to combat transnational crime rests on increased collaboration between domestic agencies as well as effective cooperation between international government partners. Internally, it is suggested that sophisticated intelligence and surveillance systems will be deployed to disrupt and interdict transnational criminal enterprise. This investment is to be coupled with increased cooperation with regional and international partners to ensure Australia has access to the intelligence, information and capabilities required to respond to increased globalisation and technological advancement, which have become established features of transnational crime.

Australia aims to increase bilateral and regional law and justice, diplomatic engagement and border protection to assist in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of transnational organised crime. Vital to this objective is a stated ambition to increase cooperation with regional states including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Specific examples of such cooperation include the Pacific Police Development Program and the Jakarta

Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation. Australia intends to continue its leadership in promoting global standards in combating money laundering, terrorism financing and corruption. In the advancement of this agenda, Australia’s continued involvement in the United Nations Convention against Corruption and Office on Drugs and Crime is considered vital.



The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper showcases the Australia Government’s recognition of the prevalence, complexity and damage caused by international crime. In order to combat threats associated with increased globalisation and technological advancement, Australia will implement a framework of increased bilateral cooperation and diplomatic engagement with international law enforcement partners.



Nyman Gibson Miralis provides expert advice and representation in international and transnational criminal law cases. Our expertise includes dealing with the laws and processes surrounding anti-money laundering, bribery and corruption, extradition and mutual legal assistance, cybercrime, INTERPOL, international asset forfeiture and national security breaches.

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