In 2019–20, the ACIC fully met eight performance criteria and partially met one. This is a particularly pleasing result given the significant impact of COVID-19 on our work and demonstrates that we are achieving our purpose to discover, understand and respond to current and emerging crime, and to connect police and law enforcement to information through our national systems.
Overall stakeholder satisfaction with the ACIC’s performance in meeting their needs was 7.0 out of 10. This reflects an increase of 1 percentage point from 2019 levels (6.9 out of 10), 4 percentage points from 2018 levels (6.6 out of 10) and 2 percentage points from 2017 levels (6.8 out of 10).
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
The ACIC was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with staff being forced to commence working from home in a very short space of time. Our IT service area was able to have ACIC staff working remotely within days, allowing our work to continue relatively unimpeded.
We responded to the call to release staff to work in areas of government with frontline needs and also increased our strategic intelligence capability to deliver timely insights into areas of the government response that were open to criminal exploitation. We collected and released 87 tactical intelligence reports relating to COVID-19 and 33 analytical assessments of the impact of COVID-19 on serious and organised crime.
The Feature: Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic provides a detailed overview of the work we have done to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is likely that this work will continue while the pandemic continues.
COVID-19 has forced the cessation of some activities—such as large group information-sharing sessions and training—and where possible we have transitioned to online or virtual delivery. It has also had a significant negative impact on our revenue received from the National Police Checking Service (NPCS).
NPCS revenue is used to pay for the delivery and operation of current national policing information systems and services, and the delivery of new systems and services for the law enforcement community. The number of nationally coordinated criminal history checks conducted through ACIC systems rose by 0.1 per cent this year, with check volumes and revenue reducing significantly from March 2020.
As a consequence, we have had and will continue to have detailed discussions with the ACIC Board about priority investments in national policing information systems going forward. The National Criminal Intelligence System (NCIS) and the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS) NextGen remain priority projects.
Criminal intelligence delivery
We met our performance metrics in relation to the discovery of crime threats and vulnerabilities that were previously unknown. We doubled our discovery of previously unknown criminals and continued our efforts to identify and designate criminal enterprises at the Australian Priority Organisation Target (APOT) level. The bar for entry to the APOT list is getting higher as we refine our approach to ensure that we are focusing only on the most significant threats facing Australia. For this reason, we are adding only small numbers to the APOT list each year, but this does not reflect poor performance: it is in fact right where it should be.
We have generated strategic intelligence insights across the ACIC Board’s priority crime areas, and stakeholder feedback in relation to our intelligence work has been particularly pleasing. It reflects a deliberate decision that we have taken to focus on our niche role in supporting partners operationally and using insights gained from operational activities to generate strategic intelligence insights. As a consequence, we are receiving less criticism from partners about overstepping our role. The main feedback we now receive is that partners want more intelligence products than we produce. This can be difficult to address as the number of products is directly related to our capacity to collect and analyse information.
Our National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program continues to deliver monitoring and reporting of drug consumption across Australia. This program is internationally recognised as being world’s best practice. We have delivered 10 reports and have received funding to deliver an additional 11 reports over the next four years. We leveraged our wastewater program and funded the University of Queensland and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to determine whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus could be detected in wastewater. The virus was detected and the results were widely reported internationally and to Australian Government and state and territory stakeholders.
A further benefit of the longitudinal data we are collecting through the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program was our comparison of consumption data obtained through wastewater analysis and data from our Illicit Drug Data Report to determine whether significant seizures of illicit drugs can have an impact on the consumption of illicit drugs. The two markets selected for initial analysis were the methylamphetamine and cocaine markets. In both cases it was revealed that large seizures can have a tangible short-term impact by reducing consumption in the jurisdiction where the seizure occurred, and sometimes in other jurisdictions, for several months. Police partners are actively using the information and insights we are generating to support their local investigative strategies.
In December 2019, we worked closely with the Department of Home Affairs to progress amendments to the ACC Act to streamline the process by which the ACIC Board authorises the ACIC to undertake special operations or investigations in relation to serious and organised crime. The amendments also confirmed the validity of existing special operation and special investigation determinations, ensuring that the ACIC could continue to effectively fulfil its statutory functions and actively contribute to a safer and more secure Australia. This provides a strong basis for us to continue to deliver our purpose and meet our performance metrics.
National policing information systems and services
We met board-agreed benchmarks for availability across all of our national policing information systems and services and continued to implement system improvements as needed. Our stakeholder survey results demonstrate that the police partners are satisfied with our information systems and find them useful.
We remain disappointed by the low stakeholder survey results for our ability to develop and deliver enhancements to policing information systems and the extent to which the systems meet the needs of stakeholder organisations. The ACIC created business hubs to address gaps in how we engage with and deliver services to internal and external stakeholders, clients and partners. These were established during 2019–20 and we expect that they will support engagement with stakeholders in the development and delivery of information systems that meet stakeholder needs.
During 2019–20, significant work occurred to progress the NCIS program. NCIS will be a whole-of-government capability which will give Australia’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies the first truly national and unified picture of criminal activity. It will improve community safety by providing frontline law enforcement with a secure and trusted information-sharing platform, enabling jurisdictions to share criminal information and intelligence. NCIS will improve the law enforcement and intelligence community’s ability to work together across jurisdictions to achieve common outcomes. The NCIS program will deliver core capability by December 2020.
National Police Checking Service
We continue to facilitate the NPCS, although the volume of checks submitted has been impacted by the reduction in employment across Australia as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19.
In reviewing the timeframes for processing checks, we are disappointed that the service levels agreed with our police partners for standard and urgent checks are not being met. This is a measure that we share with our police partners; it reflects the occasions (approximately 30 per cent of checks) on which a potential match is referred to relevant jurisdictions for confirmation and a result is returned, which can in some cases be a fairly complicated process.
Overall, we assess that we met our purpose with demonstrated achievement of the majority of our performance measures. We are implementing ways to enhance the NPCS and improve delivery to meet current and future needs; this includes implementing critical updates and enhancements to the NPCS Support System and assessing the feasibility of the ACIC’s undertaking matching and vetting functions for the delivery of checks.