Futures Centre: Introduction

Commissioner's foreword

In the nearly 40 years since the formation of the AFP, it has evolved from a small agency with a defined remit to a $1.4 billion enterprise with a broad range of responsibilities.

Over this time, the AFP has developed a history of success by rising to challenges and quickly responding to new threats to Australia and Australians. It is a strong heritage of which all AFP members and the Australian community should be proud.

Reflecting on the past few years alone, our achievements have included record drug interdictions, disrupting those intent on large-scale harm and destruction; protection of Australia’s children from exploitation; rapid expansion of our international operations; large-scale responses to disasters in Australia and around the world; deployments to conflict zones; significant fraud investigations; and the successful response to new roles in aviation and protection.

Throughout this, the AFP has found new ways to deliver new and improved outcomes – from moving beyond interdiction to broader disruption strategies, from identifying criminality to successfully undermining the financial motives and resourcing for such activity, and from reacting to crime offshore to building our partners’ capabilities and strengthening their policing regimes.

The AFP has proven itself as a key element of the Australian national security landscape, delivering quantifiable and substantial reductions in both the direct and indirect harms experienced by individual Australians and Australian society. When realised, these harms can have profound effects: they can undermine public confidence and have substantial economic implications, and may influence our social interactions and inclusiveness.

I think this work points to one key word, albeit with different connotations, that best encapsulates why the AFP must evolve and what it must be in the future – ‘dynamic’.

It is an assessment of what the AFP and its people, processes and technology must reflect if it is to maximise the value it provides to the community and governments in its continued efforts to reduce those harms.

Since the original tenets of modern policing were outlined by Sir Robert Peel almost 200 years ago, it would be fair to say that countless words have been written about the policing environment, what policing should be, how police services should be structured, and when and how they should change.

Notwithstanding previous specific and external reviews of the AFP and its elements, this website and the Future Directions Strategic Context Paper that preceded it are different in that it is the first time the AFP has taken such a comprehensive look at itself, its environment and its future.

I think this work points to one key word, albeit with different connotations, that best encapsulates why the AFP must evolve and what it must be in the future – ‘dynamic’. This word describes both the nature of our operating environment and why we must change. It reflects the posture we must take and how, as a critical national security agency, we must act in that environment.

It is fair to say that many of our stakeholders – with whom we engage on specific issues – were surprised by the true breadth and depth of the AFP’s operations and responsibilities span local, national and international policing, making the AFP unique among Australian law enforcement agencies.

Many of the true drivers of change in the crime environment at all of these levels have not changed since the earliest origins of policing. Criminals of all sorts will always look for ways to extract a reward through interactions between people or entities, willing or otherwise, known or otherwise. This reward can and always will take a multitude of forms – personal, ideological, financial, and so on.

…the dynamic environment will continue to challenge generalist policing and standards required of police.

The fundamental difference now is the rapid pace of technological, social, political and demographic change. It creates a truly dynamic operating environment in which the nature of interactions can change quickly and the opportunities for harm can proliferate and easily transfer from one jurisdiction to another. It can redefine the nature of the interaction, the extent of the rewards and the magnitude of the threat.

The AFP must respond to this environment by building ‘dynamic’ even further into its organisational DNA. This website is clear that we must embrace technology-driven transformation opportunities and find a way to resource and deliver innovations that can build our capacities and capabilities over time. This will be particularly critical to responding to the increasing opportunities and challenges of the ongoing datafication of our society and the policing environment.

The website is also clear that the dynamic environment will continue to challenge generalist policing and standards required of police. Policing will always be a core capability for the AFP, and we must provide the systems, technology and capabilities that can drive continuous improvement in uniform and national operations and allow for new and innovative investigative approaches.

However, there will be an increasing need for specialist skills and knowledge and we will need to work to build and maintain these over time, including with industry and our partners. The AFP can be justifiably proud of its technical and scientific capabilities, which will become increasingly important in a world dominated by technology. Conversely, in some cases traditional technical skills, such as surveillance and covert operations, may offer an advantage when technology challenges us. We must recognise that limitations in these specialised and technical capabilities will have implications for how quickly, efficiently and effectively we can deliver operational outcomes.

We must also work to develop a dynamic workforce that reflects the standards and values of the Australians we serve. This will involve an ongoing focus on cultural reform of the AFP, ensuring it is delivered by inclusive, respectful and constructive leadership. This is the cornerstone of the future AFP.

Lastly, it is clear that our role as Australia’s international policing agency will continue to be critical to remaining dynamic in an increasingly globalised environment. While technology will continue to deliver opportunities for closer international engagement, we will need to maintain a keen focus on shaping this capability through a world-class liaison officer network and key offshore deployments. These have and will increasingly deliver outstanding results for us and our stakeholders.

This website is not intended to provide all the answers to the dynamic AFP we must become. It is another step in a long-term reform journey reflecting my firm view that, while the AFP has proven adaptable and successful, the time has come for a transformation.

This journey commenced with the release of the Future Directions Strategic Context Paper and the capability-focused restructure of the AFP in mid-2015. Since then the work surrounding this paper has informed, and been informed by, the underpinning elements of a broader transformation of the AFP.

I have now established an Enterprise Transformation Office to deliver a formalised agenda for this work in consultation with our stakeholders. This will require ongoing discussion with government about the AFP’s role and priorities to ensure that the Australian people continue to get the best return from their investment in their national policing agency.

As a final note, I would like to acknowledge the large number of AFP employees and other stakeholders who have actively contributed to this process. This reflects well on the regard in which the AFP is held and underscores the depth of the commitment to ensuring this agency continues to be the best it can be.

Executive summary

A fundamental purpose of policing is the protection of human rights.

The AFP’s policing and law enforcement responsibilities range from countering international organised crime to community policing, and from deterring and prosecuting terrorists to international peacekeeping.

However, its resources are finite, so it must seek to understand the social, technological and economic environment in which criminals and police will be operating over the next five to 10 years if it is to define its mission properly.

Globalisation characterised by a high degree of interconnectedness involving the easy, rapid movement of people, goods and capital has shaped international society over the past 30 years. In the process, economic activity has moved well beyond single jurisdictions and value has shifted from physical to digital assets.

The technologies that made globalisation possible have allowed non-state actors, from ordinary citizens and small businesses to criminals and terrorists, to operate at a distance and across borders. They have provided criminals with much bigger pools of victims, allowing them to collaborate with anonymity online and to operate from foreign safe havens.

Despite the emerging resistance to globalisation in many parts of the developed and developing world, the technologies that made it possible cannot be uninvented and powerful new ones are appearing.

In Australia’s immediate neighbourhood, political and environmental stresses, including signs that some state actors and crime groups are aligning their strategies, will reinforce demands for policing development and humanitarian assistance in the Indo-Pacific region. All of these developments are shaping the policing environment for the AFP in challenging new ways.

As early adopters of technology operating in an ethically unconstrained environment, criminals (including terrorists) will use new technological capabilities to redesign crime to exploit political, social, economic and legislative vulnerabilities.

Cybercrime is facilitated by encryption, alternative banking platforms and virtual currencies. The vulnerability of newly connected devices in the rapidly expanding ‘internet of things’ (or IoT) will open up new criminal opportunities, while automated technologies such as robotics will make it possible to conduct personless crime from remote locations.

Other technologies have the potential to undermine the dependability of traditional forensic evidence, such as fingerprints, DNA and signatures. New forms of biological and chemical enhancement will permit the creation of stronger, faster and smarter offenders.

As more and more evidence resides offshore, these developments challenge the traditional single jurisdictional view of law enforcement and global legal frameworks, which are focused primarily on nation-states. In this new environment, the time frames for dealing with crimes will tighten and the complexity of investigations will increase.

The AFP will need more effective strategic planning, resource certainty and the capacity to allocate resources flexibly. It will need to become more technologically capable, drawing on new and more specialised skills and resources. It will be essential for the legislative framework under which the AFP works to keep pace with the rate of change.

Standard AFP investigations will increasingly draw upon multidisciplinary and multi-agency teams, comprising detectives and professional staff. This will require more intense interaction with industry and the research community and will be assisted by investment in technically focused capabilities that can be shared with the AFP’s state, territory and Commonwealth partners.

Prosecutorial action will remain a primary deterrent but, with so much criminal activity located offshore, prevention and harm-reduction strategies will become increasingly important. For this reason, new performance indicators that measure success qualitatively as well as quantitatively, based on the effective deterrence and disruption of crime, will be needed.

The AFP’s investigative activity will focus on protecting Australians and Australian interests from the impact of transnational serious and organised crime, terrorism and violent extremism.

As the principal international representative for Australian policing and law enforcement, the AFP will increase its effort to lead and coordinate multijurisdictional operational activity through its national and international offices.

It will need to provide deployable international policing capabilities that enable the Australian Government to deliver immediate stability operations, short-term emergency responses and long-term regional policing capacity development when required.

Irrespective of future advancements in technology, policing will continue to be a people-centred profession. The AFP will continue to recruit and develop a flexible and multi-skilled workforce, comprising individuals who are capable of critical thinking, reflection, analysis and independent judgement. In particular, it will need skilled and experienced investigative teams with higher levels of technical expertise, more of whom will be cyber specialists.

It will also need to provide the tools to support its people and a comprehensive skills and qualifications framework to train them. The AFP should assume a greater leadership role in the delivery of national investigative standards and training curricula for its Commonwealth law enforcement partners.

In a competitive employment market, in which new entrants will have different approaches to lifetime work patterns, recruitment will need to be geared towards multiple entries from apprentice to graduate pathways, and more flexible employment models will be required.

The AFP will need to be a valued employer, strongly committed to an ethical, values-driven culture that embraces diversity, inclusion and mutual respect.

Further reading: A New Beginning, Policing in Northern Ireland

Leading Policing in a Changing World

A Strategy for the AFP's Mission and Capability

The AFP's role and functions

The AFP has an extensive and growing range of local, national and international policing responsibilities: from crime reduction in the suburbs of Canberra to disaster relief in the Pacific Islands; from global cyber and terrorist threats to the protection of individual identity.

The AFP's functions include the provision of:

  • police services in relation to the laws and property of the Commonwealth (including Commonwealth places) and the safeguarding of Commonwealth interests
  • police services in relation to the Australian Capital Territory, the Jervis Bay Territory and Australia’s external territories (Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island)
  • protective and custodial functions as directed by the minister
  • police services and police support services to assist or cooperate with an Australian or foreign law enforcement agency, intelligence or security agency, or government regulatory agency
  • police services and police support services in relation to establishing, developing and monitoring peace, stability and security in foreign countries

The AFP's current strategic priorities, guided by the relevant minister, include leading or contributing to efforts to:

  • counter the threat of terrorism and violent extremism
  • prevent, deter, disrupt and investigate serious and organised crime activities
  • contribute to Australia's border management and security, particularly by protecting Australia from people smuggling
  • contribute to Australian international law enforcement interests
  • counter the threat of cybercrime
  • ensure aviation security
  • protect specified individuals, establishments and events at risk of security threats
  • disrupt the operation of criminal gangs and the proliferation of child exploitation material
  • disrupt the trafficking, distribution and sale of illicit drugs and reduce harm caused by illicit drugs
  • protect Commonwealth revenue
  • coordinate effectively with the Attorney-General's Department on law and justice aid issues
  • prevent Australia from being a safe haven for proceeds of crime, corruption and money laundering.

To respond to this broad array of responsibilities, the AFP has developed a professional workforce with an exceptionally diverse set of skills.

Who we are

  • 6540 staff comprising
    • 3383 police
    • 716 protective service officers
    • 2441 professional
  • 74% of staff say they expect to stay with the AFP for the next five years or more. The staff turnover rate is 2.6%.
  • The average age of AFP staff is 42 years

Above figures current as at 30 June, 2017


  • 1.8% of our staff identify as Indigenous
  • 35% of our staff are women
    • 22% sworn police
    • 15% protective service officers
    • 60% professional

Where we work internationally

  • 57 Australian locations (including territories)
  • 76 staff work in 28 countries in our international liaison network
  • 203 staff work in nine international missions in the Pacific, Timor-Leste and Cyprus

Purpose and structure of this website

Policing always reflects, intensely and immediately, the changes and pressures at work in the wider community in which it operates. If the AFP is to understand fully the nature of criminality and the developments that facilitate crime, and to respond effectively, it needs to understand what is driving change in society and how society perceives those changes.

It is never possible to predict the future with certainty, but it is nonetheless dangerous to avoid thinking about it. The purpose of this website is to examine some of the major global political, social and technological trends that will have an impact on the policing, law enforcement and other responsibilities of the AFP over the next five to 10 years.

Following on from the AFP’s 2015 Future Directions Strategic Context Paper, this website addresses the world in which the AFP will have to operate – a world affected by globalisation, changing technologies, population growth, migration, international conflict, failures of governance, violent extremism, climate change and a growing demand for resources.

  • Complex Challenges looks at the broad systemic and technological changes in the international environment and Australian society over the next five to 10 years that are likely to affect the AFP and to shape the requirements the government has of it.
  • Implications examines the implications of these developments for the demands likely to be placed on the AFP.
  • The Way Forward addresses what they mean for the AFP’s mission.


National Security Hotline

Read the AFP Annual Report 2018-19

The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation

Platypus Online: Read. Discover. Enjoy.