I am pleased to submit the 2019–20 annual report on the operation of the National Witness Protection Program under the provisions of the Witness Protection Act 1994 (Cth).
The report sets out the provisions of the legislation and relevant activity for the reporting period. The costs of the program are shown in the appendix to this report.
This report has been prepared to provide as much detail as possible without prejudicing the effectiveness of the security of the National Witness Protection Program.
The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Home Affairs
7 October 2020
The Witness Protection Act 1994 (Cth) (the Act) provides the statutory basis for the National Witness Protection Program (NWPP). It commenced operation on 18 April 1995. The Act enables protection and assistance to be provided to witnesses who are assessed as being under significant threat.
General operations of the NWPP
The NWPP provides an environment in which participants are able to give evidence in criminal trials that involve a significant degree of criminality at both the Commonwealth and state levels without fear of retribution. The majority of participants in the NWPP have been accepted into the program because of their involvement as witnesses in prosecutions relating to serious criminal matters.
In the year ending 30 June 2020, the NWPP managed 27 witness protection operations, providing protection and assistance to 56 people.
Two assessments continued from the previous year and seven assessments were commenced for inclusion into the NWPP, resulting in two people being included in the NWPP and four people declining to continue the assessment process. One operation was concluded and one person voluntarily withdrew from the NWPP, resulting in the departure of two participants from the NWPP.
The Commissioner made no disclosures under section 27 of the Act during the reporting period.
Integrity and accountability of the NWPP
Safeguards in the Act help to ensure that the integrity and accountability of the NWPP are maintained. AFP employees deployed to witness protection either hold or occupy designated positions that have national security clearance of Negative Vetting level 2.
NWPP employees are subject to AFP anti-corruption strategies, which include drug testing in accordance with section 40M of the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 (Cth).
The NWPP is subject to the AFP governance instrument framework, which includes auditing of financial and performance management processes and compliance with the Act.
Complaints and reviews of decisions
The protection of information relating to participants in the NWPP is of paramount concern. Therefore, decisions made under the Act are not subject to the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Cth).
AFP employees who administer the NWPP are subject to the same obligations as other members of the AFP. If a complaint is received, it will be dealt with in accordance with the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 (Cth). Complaints against officers may also be the subject of investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman under the Ombudsman Act 1976 (Cth).
In 2019–20, there were no Commonwealth Ombudsman investigations relating to the NWPP.
In 2019–20, the AFP Commissioner was not required to review any decisions made by a Deputy Commissioner to remove a person from the program involuntarily.
Performance and effectiveness of the NWPP
Section 28 of the Act protects participants’ identities during court proceedings. The court can hold parts of the proceedings in private or it can make suppression orders on the publication of the evidence. Two suppression orders were required during the reporting period.
Amendment to the Act and related matters
There were no legislative amendments to the Act during the reporting period.
Complementary witness protection legislation
The purpose of section 24 of the Act is to protect the integrity of key Commonwealth documents that are needed in order for witnesses to establish new identities. All jurisdictions have enacted complementary legislation, which has been declared ‘complementary witness protection law’ under section 3 of the Act. Signed section 24 arrangements are in place in all jurisdictions except Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
The NWPP is administered and operated by the AFP. Basic administration costs and the base salaries of AFP employees involved in witness protection activities are met from within the AFP budget.
By arrangement with the AFP, other agencies which have witnesses in the NWPP are responsible for costs, including those related to the security and subsistence needs of their witness and any operational expenses that the NWPP incurs. The AFP is responsible for costs of AFP-sponsored witnesses in the NWPP.
A table of costs for the NWPP for the previous 10 financial years is in the appendix to this report. The figures do not include the salaries and overhead costs of administering the NWPP. Figures provided are correct as at 30 June 2020.
Table AA1 National Witness Protection Program expenditure, 2019–20
AFP expenditure on NWPP
Less amounts recovered
Total AFP expenditure on NWPP
Table AA2 Total expenditure (before costs were recovered) in previous years
1 July 2018 – 30 June 2019
1 July 2017 – 30 June 2018
1 July 2016 – 30 June 2017
1 July 2015 – 30 June 2016
1 July 2014 – 30 June 2015
1 July 2013 – 30 June 2014
1 July 2012 – 30 June 2013
1 July 2011 – 30 June 2012
1 July 2010 – 30 June 2011
1 July 2009 – 30 June 2010