AFP Futures Launch

The AFP Commissioner speaking at a lecturn


This week, on Monday in fact, we marked 100 years since the first Commonwealth Police Force was established in 1917.

Hopefully some of you will be aware, over the last few weeks we have taken the opportunity to pause and remember the events of November 1917, in the small rural Queensland town of Warwick, that led to then Prime Minister Billy Hughes to grow so incensed at what he saw as seditious behaviours that he moved immediately to create his own police force to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth at the time.

We have spoken about that event a lot lately, so I will not recount the story here, but to say that while it was comical (in hindsight) it occurred at a time of deep social divides in Australia. At the centre of that divide was – of course – the war time conscription debate.

Apart from celebrating a great milestone though, it has given us pause to reflect on what has constituted Commonwealth Policing over that 100 years. And any analysis of 100 years of Commonwealth Police leaves you with one consistent defining characteristic – Change.

Not only has the AFP been preceded by no less than 12 different organisations and many Commissioners, but our role and remit has always evolved to meet the political, social and even economic conditions of our country. Almost every decade has seen significant changes to what we do, and virtually all of the factors have been external.

In the immediate aftermath of creating the first Commonwealth Police in 1917 our focus was on the reporting and surveillance of subversive activities – initially in Queensland – and in that incredible hot spot for seditious behaviour – Warwick!

The 1920s was about providing a policing service to the newly created national capital in Canberra and keeping the peace on Australia's waterfront. It was the Commonwealth Police (known at the time as the Peace officer Guard) who were tasked to keep the wharves operating – an economic imperative for a fledgling Commonwealth.

In the lead up to – and during World War II – the Commonwealth policing role was about providing security and policing to arms factories, munition sites and other restricted locations around the country.

In the 1950s, the Cold War period had its effect as federal officers provided security and investigative services connected to nuclear tests in Australia and the associated investigations into possible acts of subversion.

The 60s and 70s in Australia had a social change theme and the rise of public protests, along with the emergence of organised crime and the international drug trade, which saw us focus in another new area.

But by far the clearest example that many of us here may remember, was the impact of the 1978 bombing of the Sydney Hilton Hotel when a bomb concealed in a kerbside garbage bin detonated. Two council workers and a NSW police officer were killed outside the venue accommodating all the Prime Ministers attending a Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional meeting.

Following a review of national defence and policing arrangements, the AFP came into being in October 1979 as a consolidation of the then Commonwealth Police, Australian Capital Territory Police and the Australian Narcotics Bureau.

And as we roll forward 38 years, the AFP history has once again been dominated by changes in function, focus and responsibility – core amongst that 38 years though, has been national security as an enduring theme – probably never more so than after September 11, 2001 when the world changed, and the AFP was once again asked to make a new and significant contribution to keeping Australia safe.

Our history has not been like most police forces – we have adapted and evolved to meet ambiguous circumstances and we have changed in form, structure and function many times over that 100 years.

But we can no longer simply evolve. Events around us are changing quicker than ever before and the pace of societal transformation is greater than our ability to simply evolve to meet the challenges.

And while many of the true drivers of crime have not changed since the earliest origins of policing, what has changed is the environment.

The cyber world has brought with it the challenge of encryption, the removal of geographical boundaries and a pace of criminality not previously imagined. Criminals have more reach, to more potential victims, with more anonymity and geographic protections.

The increase of terrorism has provided us with ideological motivations to comprehend, disparate offenders to identify and devastating outcomes that are our absolute priority to prevent. It has taken crime fighting to a very public and a very global space.

At the same time, crime fighting has become increasingly protracted and complex. Foreign Bribery investigations, as just one recent example, present a significant challenge to our resourcing with an average 7 year duration from the beginning of an investigation to its conclusion. And that is not to mention the challenges that accompany international evidence collection, or the intricate criminal asset proceedings that often follow these investigations and last many years themselves.

In the shadow of a century of commonwealth policing, these are relatively new challenges for law enforcement. They are disruptive factors – led often by disruptive technologies – they are impacting the way we act and the environment we police. Change is exponential.

Criminals - those who spend time and money investing in technology, exploring our borderless landscape for vulnerabilities and recruiting the best brains in the business - keep a close watch on how we respond. They have become the innovators and we, the slow adapters. They are happy to see us keep on doing more of the same – It helps them succeed.

And so we needed to lift the gaze of the AFP. We needed to challenge our thinking and re-imagine who we are, and who we are partnering with. The time is running out where we can allow change to be evolutionary. We needed to try and get ahead of the game – and that is what we have done.

Tonight I am pleased to officially launch 'Policing for a Safer Australia - Our Strategy for Future Capability.'

It has been developed to provide the guiding principles for our necessary transformation. It does not attempt to define future crime– to do so would be a guarantee to fail - but it seeks to comprehend the factors that will influence the AFP as we move forward. It does not intend to provide all the answers to the dynamic AFP we must become because it simply cannot - the science of prediction is not exact. So in this sense, what the strategy 'is not' is as important as what it 'is'.

It focuses on capability and provides an assessment of what the AFP, its people, processes and technology must reflect if it is to maximize the value we provide to the community and our varied and diverse stakeholders.

The AFP is a unique agency in the Australian law enforcement landscape and the true breadth and depth of our operations and remit are not always widely understood. We have responsibility for local, national and international policing making our span of operations both broad and complex.

In fact the breadth of our responsibilities have often meant that to survive in a world where the demands on us have been so high, and resources constrained, we have built natural defenses to our operation that to many, made us seen impenetrable.

So in developing our Futures strategy we had to first lower the walls to 'Fortress AFP' and invite some new, alternative friends to the party. We looked to the people whose job it is to scan the horizon and predict the future global environment.

And it wasn't until we engaged with forward leaning thought leaders like those from Future Crunch (who have joined us tonight) that we started to really get a handle on the things we should be considering in charting our course. We of course knew our business better than anyone else, but as much as that had been a strength, it was also our weakness when it came to understanding how we may do things differently in the future.

It's difficult for police to admit that we don't know everything - after all, a civil society is based on the premise that we do. But I am firm in my belief that to really broaden our view we need to get comfortable with discomfort.

It's uncomfortable seeking feedback.

It is uncomfortable hearing the truth.

It can be uncomfortable realising the scope and size of the challenges ahead.

And it is uncomfortable taking risks and betting on something less tangible than the ground we can currently feel beneath our feet.

But in looking at what's probable, we soon become able to think about just what is possible and this is where we will start breaking the mould. And because I am time-limited here tonight, I won't take you through it in chapter and verse (I want you to consider it for yourselves)

But while the findings may seem obvious to the casual observer, to an organization draped in decades of tradition and customs, the simple process of imagining transformation has been a challenge, but the result is a framework around which we will define and develop the AFP of the future.

Taking a critical look at our future has helped us to redefine the galvanizing aspects that run through all parts of the AFP. That's why we have redefined our vision – Policing for A Safer Australia – that is what we do, regardless of where in the AFP you work. It all contributes to a safer Australia.

And in doing so, we have also redefined our fundamental operating model, and will now deliver against four strategic capabilities, shifting our gaze from an equation based on the number of police we have, to a focus on what we can actually achieve.

We police along four strategic capability threads.

Policing - where we protect life and property, prevent crime, detect and apprehend offenders, maintain order and we help those in need of assistance.

Law Enforcement - where we undertake criminal investigations and operational response elements focused on – amongst other things - organised crime and gangs, cybercrime and cyber safety, child protection, countering terrorism and violent extremism and the recovery of the proceeds of crime.

People and Asset Protection - providing protection services for senior politicians, visiting dignitaries and diplomats, witnesses and sites of critical importance – and more recently protection of our own officers and sites.

And finally, International Engagement where we provide international policing cooperation, liaison, international stabilisation missions, capacity-building and policing assistance aligned with Australia's national interests.

These are the core components of our future that will define us and that we must focus upon.

So that is the 'What' of our future – a key question is the 'How.'

We must place a greater emphasis on technology if we are to stay in the game. Technological advances when coupled with globalisation have removed jurisdictional borders and have created fertile ground for criminal enterprise through increased anonymity and larger pools of victims.

We need to conquer the fear and embrace technology as an enabler, not just as an impediment. We need to use the system to beat the system and we need to look to people outside ourselves who already have some of these answers.

We need to be a more technically proficient and technically comfortable police force. The men and women of the AFP need to be backed up by the very best tools and technical capabilities possible.

In the future, the AFP should not just be known for the competence, integrity and success of its members, but be earmarked as one of – if not the most – technically proficient law enforcement agency in Australia and possibly (why not) internationally.

To achieve that, and to be able to manage the complexities of the criminal world we are encountering, we need to change up who we have working with us.

We need to recruit differently and develop a flexible, collaborative and multi-skilled workforce comprised of ethically driven individuals who are capable of critical thinking, reflection, analysis and independent judgement. I have them now, but I need more.

Lawyers, accountants, language specialists, engineers, cyber and digital natives, professional intelligence officers – the list could go on. As I said, I have many of them now and they do an amazing job – but we will need more of them in the future.

We need them to innovate and we need them to be dynamic. The police officer of the future will still need all of the core policing tradecraft skills they have today – but as I have said before – I want to know that when one of our police officers knocks on a (figurative) door, they can be confident that behind them stands all of the capabilities they need to manage whatever is on the other side.

I cannot replace the skills of a police officer – nor would I ever want to. Policing is fundamental to our business – but I must supplement them with the modern skills needed to deal with the complexity and changing nature of tomorrow's criminal environment.

So the future of our workforce is clear – it will be multidisciplinary and it will revolve around our capabilities, and our partnerships. The AFP will deliver the outcome, but we may not deliver each and every aspect – this will require fine-tuned collaboration with partner law enforcement agencies, but also with the private sector. We have to think differently about our traditional models of delivery.

And, this leads us to redefining what 'success' looks like to a modern law enforcement agency such as ours. Prosecutorial action will always be the at the core of police work, and still remains the most effective disruption of crime – but equally we need to pivot more towardsharm reduction strategies, disruption and prevention as core measures of our success. We are already doing this for terrorism (and in some ways in cyber), but must become more comfortable doing this across all crime types. Our aim must include efforts to do whatever we can to shut down criminality before it reaches our geographical borders or even our virtual borders.

There will always be more crime than any policing agency can manage – so it makes sense that we focus our finite resources to the areas where they will have the most impact. This may seem logical, but it is a break with the traditional way we think about tackling crime.

Managing this demand will test traditional models of accepting and triaging referrals, and forces us to ask ourselves what the impact of our efforts will be, not just how many arrests can be made, or how many drugs we have seized or cash recovered. Did it fundamentally change the criminal environment, make it harder for the next crime group to follow? Has it closed a vulnerability that was being exploited? Can someone else deliver that same effect, or better, by us partnering with them?

And while we are thinking about partnerships, one message from our partners has been clear. The AFP occupies a unique and at times privileged place within the Australian policing and law enforcement context. Because we operate at the local, national and international levels, we will often have access to information, capabilities, even legislation, that means we need to be prepared to step up and show national leadership.

Now.... It is important that this is understood the way we see it. This is not about the AFP taking the lead with every effort we make – no, this is an equal partnership we have. But it is about recognizing that at the National level we are best placed to ensure that the combined efforts of all partners are pointed in the right direction and used to the best effect. At a minimum we need to be that crucial interface between national security and domestic policing issues.

That extends to the international environment as well. The AFP has always relied heavily on its international relationships, and we have had a long and enduring relationship with key partners across the world. Our reputation is strong. But the future operating environment demands we do more in this space, and we are. It is expensive fighting crime offshore, but it is critical to our vision of policing for a safer Australia.

Subtly, over the past few years, we have transitioned much of our international work away from well-established liaison functions into a more proactive operational effort. Joint taskforces across South East Asia on a range of crime types are pushing the limits of established conventions about international cooperation, and bringing a far more operational delivery edge to our work off shore. Our partners appreciate the direction we have taken, and these combined efforts have had remarkable results – results you will not always hear about as we will always respect our hosts, but results that are positive for all countries involved.

So that is a little of where we are headed. That is what a look at our future has told us.

To get there, we need to truly transform ourselves.

This is not change as usual.

While the phrase transformation is often overused, I mean it in its truest sense. We've set up a transformation program tasked with making our business better. We will come out the other side of this with a marked change in our form and in our nature, to set ourselves up for the next 100 years. And more importantly, a greater ability to keep Australia safe.

So that's why, as we acknowledge 100 years of Commonwealth policing, we are also looking forward at the next century.

Before I finish I want to say a particular thank you to our partners –for the patience you have shown – and the advice you have given - as we have worked our way through this Futures Strategy – but also for the work you do with us each and every day.

It is an unarguable fact – the AFP does nothing alone. Some of our partners are government, others are private sector, and amongst all of them the community is our greatest partner and asset.

As we approach Christmas, I know that my members are tired. It takes energy to change and it takes resilience and courage to explore the things we can be better at – our journey of culture and inclusion was our first frontier and it has been at the forefront of our transformation so far.

2017 has been an incredible year for the AFP. We have had enormous operational success, we have worked hard and strived for continual improvement, we have challenged the status quo and we have not been content to rest on our achievements. Change is a constant and if we stand still – we are effectively going backwards.

So, with all of that in mind, 2018 is set to be a milestone year for the future AFP – it is where the rubber will hit the road on our transformation, and where the cornerstones of the future AFP will be laid.

Thank you

Commissioner Andrew Colvin

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