The Australian Federal Police will receive $321.4 million in this year’s federal budget to go on a big recruitment drive for anti-terrorism specialists, such as bomb squad technicians, tactical response officers, forensic scientists and negotiators.
The cash splash has been described by Justice Minister Michael Keenan as the “largest single domestic policing funding boost in a decade”, and is more than double the $153.6 million the AFP and the Australian Crime Commission received in last year’s budget, to be rolled out over five years, to boost security arrangements.
“We are living in a very difficult national security environment and we’re also living in an environment where organised criminals, particularly those involved in the drug trade, continue to enhance the sophistication of their operations,” Mr Keenan told the ABC.
“And we need the AFP to be a high-tech organisation, with the skills sets available to it to meet these threats.”
“We know crime is changing”, AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin said at a press conference to announce the funding held at the Majura Forensics Complex in the ACT. “It’s changing at an incredible rate, particularly for the work of the Australian Federal Police. My front-line officers, those in uniform, those investigators around the country and internationally, need to know that they have the most modern, capable police force behind them to help them in terms of the investigations and the critical work they do.
Be it in organised crime, be it in terrorism, be it in cyber-crime. We deal with some of the most complex protracted investigations that this country has and we need to know we have the capabilities to support those front-line officers and that is exactly what this announcement today is about.
It’s about ensuring the future of the AFP is reliant on those specialist capabilities, our forensic capabilities, our technical capabilities, our specialist core capabilities that support front-line police.”
So this is a very welcomed injection into the AFP. I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful statement about the support for the organisation, but also a wonderful opportunity for the AFP to make sure that we can deliver the AFP of the future; a ten-year commitment to look at the future of the organisation, to make sure we can deliver on our vision to make sure that we can support the community in the critical work that we do, particularly around terrorism and organised crime.
Last year, in a response to senate estimates, the AFP said it was “stretched” to fight terrorism: “The AFP’s capacity to respond to increased volumes of activities and threat means that resources are stretched. The AFP will continue to prioritise work and cases based on the risks and threats to Australian interests.”
On February 28, NSW electrician Haisem Zahab was arrested at his property in Young in NSW’s south-west, for allegedly attempting to research and design a laser warning device and missiles for IS over the internet.
The 42-year-old had been under investigation for 18 months as part of the Australian Federal Police’s Operation Marksburg.
Up to 400 federal and Victorian police were used on Operation Kasselholm, which culminated in a series of raids in Melbourne’s north-west just before Christmas 2016, aimed at foiling a plan to attack Federation Square, Flinders Street Station and St Paul’s Cathedral. Seven people were arrested and four were charged.
While some of the high-tech recruits will focus on combating the threat from terrorism, others are likely to focus on the AFP’s work battling the international crime syndicates and drug importers linked to local gangs.
Last month, the AFP announced they had seized $903 kilograms of ice in a warehouse in Melbourne, a record haul of the drug, hidden between the timber slats of floorboards imported from China.
It’s believed a Chinese organised crime syndicate was behind the importation and it was likely bound for crime syndicates for distribution across the country.
“We didn’t get to that warehouse by mistake,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan said at the time, noting the AFP worked with Victoria Police.
“It’s good work, not good luck.”