In 2019–20, we delivered outstanding operational results in policing for a safer Australia, but we have changed as an organisation. The year brought challenges of every shape and form, from bushfires to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were tested and we demonstrated our resilience, our responsiveness and our agility. I am proud of our operational successes, of our people and of the agency we have become.
In October 2019, we celebrated our 40th anniversary as the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and I look back on our rich history with pride. I would like to acknowledge the seven previous Commissioners who led the organisation before me and who each contributed to and shaped the journey of the AFP—Sir Colin Woods KCVO CBE QPM, Major General Ronald Grey AO DSO, Peter McAulay AO QPM, Michael Palmer AO APM, Mick Keelty AO APM, Tony Negus APM and Andrew Colvin APM OAM.
When I commenced as the eighth AFP Commissioner on 2 October 2019, I laid out my 100-day plan of action to shape an organisation fit for purpose into the future. Ultimately, our goal is a disciplined police force delivering maximum impact on the criminal environment. To achieve this, we focused our efforts on three emerging priorities that retain their significance today: supporting the front line; reducing red tape; and enhancing partnerships. We have made significant progress in all three areas.
Supporting the front line: much has been achieved to ensure our people are able to do their jobs effectively and to deliver maximum impact on the criminal environment. The independent Review into the AFP’s Response to and Management of Sensitive Investigations was delivered by Mr John Lawler AM APM, and a structure and operating model review was undertaken by Ernst & Young, resulting in the establishment of the Sensitive Investigations Oversight Board and a regional command structure for the organisation.
We have defined our organisational identity across national and international policing and investigations, community policing and specialist protective services. Our investigations focus on combating five serious threats: terrorism and foreign interference; child exploitation; transnational, serious and organised crime; cybercrime; and fraud and corruption. We have had outstanding operational results: in December 2019 the AFP and partners made Australia’s largest ever onshore methamphetamine seizure (1.6 tonnes), preventing $414 million worth of harm to the community (including Case study: Operation Circinus intercepts major drug importations through Melbourne ports ); and in November 2019 the AFP coordinated a global week of action in 16 countries, consisting of 85 search warrants, 13 arrests and the seizure of 434 items as part of a cybercrime operation (Case study: IM-RAT malware distribution disrupted under Operation Cepheus). Of particular concern, the past financial year saw an increase of more than 80 per cent in the number of charges and individuals charged by the AFP with child exploitation offences. This damning statistic is apart from the AFP’s efforts in leading the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation and supporting our international partners, including our support to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center, which has arrested 53 suspects and rescued 194 child victims since February 2019 (Case study: International disruption—online child sexual exploitation).
These successes are the result of our partnerships and, most importantly, our people. We are supporting our people throughout their careers and into their retirement. We have become the first Australian policing jurisdiction to establish a Reserve Force and have commenced work to establish an AFP Former and Retired Members’ Network.
Reducing red tape: we are streamlining our administrative processes so we can keep our focus on operational priorities. The new Strategy and Performance Board monitors agency performance and enhances oversight of AFP governance arrangements, resulting in better decision-making.
We have continued our important offshore police-to-police relationships, where close cooperation continues to deliver operational outcomes, as well as supporting Australia’s broader diplomatic efforts. In December 2019 an AFP team deployed to New Zealand to assist with disaster victim identification and family investigative liaison officer efforts following the White Island volcano disaster. Every dollar the AFP invests in its international operations offshore has returned $46 in value—in reduced costs to policing back in Australia and reduced harm to the Australian community.
I am very proud of the organisation we have become. We have shown our resilience and responsiveness, and our operational results speak for themselves. But we have more work to do, and we will continue to evolve. I look forward to leading the AFP through 2020 and beyond, embedding our new identity and keeping Australia and Australians safe, with the confidence of the community and our partners. We are proactively positioning ourselves to outsmart serious crime, and striving to always be one step ahead.