Lowy Institute Address
It is a privilege to be here today to share some of my insights and thoughts with you as I commence in a role that I am honoured, privileged but also very humbled to take on.
The AFP has a proud and unique place in Australian Law Enforcement. Not only the country’s youngest police agency, we also enjoy a unique remit to support national and international policing operations with a mix of diverse legislative frameworks, unique capabilities and a very broad international reach.
Much of what we do today is topical, even controversial, and this puts us at the center of the media cycle and public consciousness – I am sure some of the questions that will follow today will put me on the spot on those very issues.
We have faced and met many challenges in our 35 year history. We are now an integral partner in the Australian law enforcement landscape, and we have developed robust, intuitive and mutually beneficial relationships across the globe. To that end, I have the advantage that I take over as Commissioner of an organization that is respected, successful, valued and in very good shape – and I thank my predecessors for that.
But in my mind it is not enough to lead a police force that can simply do a good job today. Essential to my goals as Commissioner is the question of “how do I ensure the AFP is better placed five, 10 or 20 years from now". That is the challenge for all modern, resource-constrained, leaders - to lead your organisation to a place beyond where you inherited it.
So today is a little about where we are headed, not just what we do.
I am often asked, what are the AFP’s priorities?
I find that a difficult question to give a precise answer to. The truth is, they are many. I have a Ministerial Direction which tells me what the expectation of Government is for the AFP. It is, quite rightly, extensive and covers a great deal of responsibility.
Equally, I have said that my term as Commissioner will likely be dominated by National Security. This is an obvious result of the difficult environment we now face, but – just the same - I do not want the AFP to lurch so strongly towards national security that we forget some of our core, and traditional policing remits – transnational and organised crime for example.
This is a lesson we have learnt from the past.
If I wanted to complicate the answer I would present a case that places our efforts on organised crime, cyber, international capacity building and peace operations right alongside our counter terrorism and protection responsibilities and call them National Security - so the question is possibly moot anyway.
Everything we do is a priority - it is simply now a matter of how we move between those priorities according to the environment we face. That is the challenge of modern policing.
What matters more to me is not the priority question (maybe it is just too difficult to define) but a different set of questions; how do we retain our flexibility, our agility, our capabilities to respond to whatever challenge is next around the corner? What challenges may we face and what skills do we need to meet them? Is the AFP ready? What is our value add? Can we do business smarter?
No one can confidently tell me what the next challenge will be. This is not unique to policing, or the public sector – but is a daunting thought for a CEO of any industry.
As I said, my term as Commissioner will likely be dominated by national security, specifically counter terrorism, but what is the next event that will take terrorism of the front pages? Is it a large cyber attack, significant investment fraud, corruption, a natural disaster or a call for help from our neighbours? It’s a difficult question to answer. Had you asked me 12 months ago if could I see a situation where the AFP would deploy teams of unarmed men and women to the heart of an active conflict zone in eastern Ukraine – with no notice, no area familiarity, no established links or local partnerships – to identify and bring home the remains of Australian victims, and to investigate the shooting down of a passenger plane, I would probably have told you that even as a hypothetical exercise, it was a bridge too far. But we did it, and we did it very well.
And for the record, we still have members in the Ukraine and The Netherlands engaged on what will be a lengthy investigation.
Importantly - the question in my mind at the time of that deployment was not about how many police, but about the right police, with the right support, the right skills and the right capabilities.
Which gets me to my key theme.
Too often policing is judged by the numbers. Not just the numbers that make up crime statistics, or our key performance indicators, but also the number of personnel, the number of uniformed officers available, the number of sworn police an organsiation has. Our capacities (how many more police do I need) are so often prioritized over our capabilities (what skills do I need my police to have, or have access to). Both are important, but it is our capabilities that we should consider more deeply.
For over 35 years the AFP has succeeded on the abilities and adaptability of our members, and the support, sharing and successes of the relationships we have developed.
In order for our next 35 years to have a sense of purpose and direction, the AFP needs to understand, as well as it can, what its future state might look like.
Today’s demands on national law enforcement have changed considerably since 1979, and the AFP in particular has adapted to those changes as they have arisen, largely from within its existing operating frameworks.
For most of that 35 years the pace of change was manageable – we could keep up and adapt. But the nature of the threats facing the Australian community today have become more sophisticated and diverse and the pace of change is now exponential. The gap is widening.
Likewise our communities are changing. Social cohesion is increasingly more linked to technology than personal interaction. High density neighbourhoods where like-minded families and individuals live, work and play within a smaller footprint provides a different set of social values for police to manage. Lifestyles are not traditional – so neither must our policing.
It is no longer good enough for us to adapt our understanding of the environment, and the capabilities we need, based upon the last lesson we learnt. We must now constantly review and refresh our thinking of what capabilities our police need, and what skills are important to meet the emerging environment. We must pre-empt the challenges we face – if we do not, we run the risk of stagnating in our development and consigning ourselves to a responsive posture rather than being intuitive.
So, in order to deliver a ‘future capable’ AFP we need to understand what that future landscape might look like.
For that reason I have commissioned Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton, the AFP’s newly appointed Deputy Commissioner Capability, to develop an AFP Futures paper, owned by the AFP but delivered with the support of our key stakeholders and partners.
This futures paper will refresh our current thinking, build a capability roadmap by understanding our future demands and provide a sense of long-term direction and purpose for the AFP and our members. It will be the hook by which all future planning, both strategic and operational, will hang.
The futures paper will develop along three focal areas:
Protecting Australians – looking at prevention, disruption and community engagement,
Protecting Australia’s Interests –understanding where policing fits in the policy-making space and adding Government value, introducing strategies such as police-led diplomacy,
and finally, and important to me especially,
AFP Health – providing a clarity of mission, safety and sustainability of our own business models, and what the future AFP member needs to look like.
We will challenge the paradigms of traditional policing methods, explore opportunities to help shape the environment that we operate in and encourage unique combinations of specific skills, capabilities and systems that will support a more effective AFP. Working with a key stakeholder group, the paper should identify areas or themes for consideration that the AFP may not have otherwise considered.
The paper will ask direct questions about the role and functions of the AFP and the policy settings that currently shape the organization. It will shape our investment decisions, our workforce plan, and our capability plans well into the future. It will not be focused specifically on crimes, or crime types, but will look at the generic capabilities required – a crime neutral position if you like.
It will be the first step in understanding what the AFP of the future may look like, and will better inform the expectations placed upon the AFP in responding to that future environment. Importantly – it will inform what we should measure to ensure that our capabilities are best placed to detect, prevent and disrupt criminal activity.
So let us consider for a moment just two of those potential capabilities that will be looked at as we move forward.
On the one hand, there are our core and traditional policing capabilities. Those the public would most likely understand and relate to – the skills our officers have and the tools they use.
On the other hand, we should consider further that unique international remit that is so important to the AFP. How should we develop and deploy this most precious of commodities.
The common view when you align policing with capability is the trend to gravitate towards ‘things’ rather than ‘capabilities’.
Don’t get me wrong, police love their toys and our use of the most modern and technically-developed tools remains an important focus for the AFP, but it will be the softer skills of our officers that will define us.
To the modern and future police officer, capability extends beyond the computer they track data with, or the BearCat that dominates an inhospitable environment. We must become a developed package of elements that ensures the most effective means for supporting our business.
Ensuring this effective future force requires ensuring our core policing capabilities – the knowledge, skills, diversity, systems and technology – all support the officer’s objective.
To do that, the traditional skills of a sworn police officer need to be supplemented with a nuanced and professional set of skills tailored to the environment we face. What we need our police forces of the future to look like is highly unlikely to be what we have today.
While identifying specialized capability as a key to ensuring an effective future force does not in any way diminish the vital role of the sworn officer, it acknowledges that the sworn police officer should be viewed as the end user of the skills and technologies adapted for a specific purpose, and not merely a carbon copy of the police officer of the 70’s, 80’s or even five years ago.
Police agencies must develop and arm their officers with more than just their firearm, handcuffs and baton to be effective into the future.
The future AFP investigative “team” may well only contain a few investigators driving the proof of criminal behavior. I expect that it will include an expertise mix where the technical capability and skills are provided by specialists – cyber, technical, accountants, lawyers and alike. A harmony of policing expertise with professional know-how. In many ways the police officer will become the captain who marshals the knowledge and expertise of those best placed to not only understand the methods and techniques used by modern day criminals, but also understand the vulnerabilities that are being exploited and what we must do to address them.
Sure, these capabilities currently exist within most modern police forces around the world, but the move to a truly integrated workforce will lead to a more effective use of the resources we have available. We can no longer afford to view our workforces as a distinction between sworn and unsworn – it must be about our capabilities, the outcome, and the best way for it to be delivered. Police officers, and the execution of police powers will always be central to what we do, but from an AFP perspective at least, it is often only one part of the equation.
An obvious example that I am keen to explore is in technology and our understanding of the cyber environment - digital natives now dominate the emerging workforce. Not only do they understand the digital environment, they are intuitive enough to understand how it is manipulated, how it is exploited and what we must do to adapt. They bridge the gap between the current environment, and the skills of the traditional police officer. It is not a learned skill – it is natural to them and they are not intimidated by it.
So that is the human capability piece, and if the skills of our members (sworn or unsworn) are our bread and butter, then it is our international linkages that are the AFPs competitive advantage – our value add.
Of course, one area of AFP operations that was largely unpredictable 35 years ago - and has had to rapidly develop both in capacity and capability - is the reach and responsibility of our international network.
A target destination for transnational crime - due in part to our wealthy status, our use of technology and a relatively cashed up society - Australia’s efforts in the region, and globally, have continued to be pivotal to the success of the AFP and policing operations more broadly.
The AFP operates one of the world’s largest and most diverse law enforcement international networks. Regional instability, technological advances, innovative criminal syndicates and a widening of terrorist networks have combined with a globalised world to see the AFP’s international footprint expand, become more sophisticated and more reliant on relationships than ever before.
The AFP has an international reach that includes almost 100 liaison officers based in 29 countries around the world, and the International Deployment Group, more regionally-based with around 300 members offshore at any one time.
For many years now we have built our efforts around a strategy of taking the fight against crime in Australia offshore – often to the very places it originates or transits.
It is easy to explain these efforts as targeting the criminal enterprise at its origin – a successful method for combatting crime. But a broader view of our efforts sees the AFP target crime in a more holistic manner – attacking the criminal environment. In other words, target hardening environments that may support these criminal enterprises.
We are responsible for significant capacity development projects and are one of Australia largest delivers of foreign aid – on the surface an odd role for law enforcement – but in reality it builds perfectly on the strategy to strengthen Australia from crime by helping our neighbours develop their own capabilities, safety and security.
The bilateral and multilateral sharing of information, evidence, technology and capability through our international presence assists us to deliver on our promise of leading disruption and prosecution efforts. Of the 2000 AFP investigations that are currently ongoing, over 60 per cent have a direct link or association with international law enforcement or transnational crime. The AFP is now an equal-share partner in international law enforcement efforts and is responsible for developing and – through the network – delivering information, evidence, technology and capability of our own that is world leading.
It has worked, and we will keep doing it, but where should this capability evolve and how can we derive the maximum benefit from this rare commodity? Well, this is an answer that the futures paper will need to consider and respond to, but there are simple things we can start to consider in anticipation.
Police-led diplomacy is a concept that utilises law enforcement links more broadly to build upon, and find common bilateral and diplomatic ground when more traditional exchanges present barriers. What country doesn’t want to cooperate on combating terrorism, organised crime, child sex tourism, cybercrime and alike. The work of the AFP and Indonesian National Police in the years after the Bali bombings of 2002 was – in many analysts’ minds – a high point of the broader bi-lateral relationships between our two countries.
Underscoring these efforts, police-led diplomacy – building those broader and deeper relationships - ultimately works to prevent a criminal’s ability to hide in the gaps created between jurisdictions. These relationships have to deliver more than simply a good exchange of intelligence. They must also evolve beyond strong operational cooperation, even beyond the strong operational collaboration that we are currently seeing.
If we are to build upon this base that we have, and evolve our international capabilities along the lines of police-led diplomacy, then we will open up the opportunity to truly make a difference to the impact of crime on Australia by harmonising laws, and working with our partners on better policy formulation, better legislation, stronger rule of law frameworks, and greater understanding of both the criminal cycle and the root causes of crime.
Australian efforts in the Solomon Islands, Timor Leste and more recently PNG have been challenging, at times frustrating, but have ultimately led to better relationships between our countries, better law and governance arrangements in these countries – places where heath, education and investment initiatives can thrive, but from where we see less impact of crime on Australia emanating.
Of course, this isn’t just the remit of the AFP. It involves a WoG approach - something Australia is very good at – but we have the relationship and history to make it a possibility. The more we do this, the more the net will tighten, and the less reach transnational crime will have to Australia.
As Commissioner I cannot hope to achieve this vision unless we continue to perform the tasks expected of us today to an exceptionally high standard. Any police force must be judged by its performance in the here and now, and we will continue to do this, but we will do so with an eye towards the future also. I do not want us to stagnate, nor do I want the AFP to be satisfied with the status quo. To do so would only limit our ability to continue to perform in the future.
We have a unique opportunity to show leadership at the national and international levels. Far from being an agency vested with responsibility toenforce and implement the policies and laws determined by someone else, I envisage an AFP actively engaged in influencing our environment and our future.
To do so, we must first shift the emphasis away from capacities alone, and focus equally – if not more – on our capabilities. A Futures paper is the first step
The AFP has a bright future. We are, and will be even more so, one of the most exciting and rewarding employers across any industry, with employees who are valued, skilled, diverse and very focused on the national interest and national priorities. It will be challenging, it will be ambitious and it will be complex – but that is what should be expected of our key national agencies of government and its leaders.
Before I finish, I am sure that there is a desire to hear me speak on the AFP’s role in the Bali 9 investigation.
It was not my intention to speak today on the Bali 9, but I recognise that this will be expected given current events.
I would firstly like to say that I understand this is an extremely difficult time for Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran; my thoughts are with them and with their friends and family.
For many months, the AFP has been doing what it can to support whole of government diplomatic efforts. Today, I would like to again add our voice to the Australian Government’s pleas for mercy.
I would also like to say that I understand the Australian public’s right to better understand the AFP’s work and its role back in 2005 during the Bali Nine investigation.
It is our hope that the Indonesian Government will reconsider its decision to proceed with the executions. As the Foreign Minister has previously said - their rehabilitation is a great testament to the success of the Indonesian Government’s prison rehabilitation programs.
I understand the Australian public’s right to better understand the AFP’s work and its role back in 2005 during the Bali Nine investigation.
However, I would also like to say that much of the information that has been circulating in recent weeks doesn’t accurately reflect our role and work in 2005, and ignores the findings of several reviews and judicial hearings that have since scrutinised the AFP’s actions.
AFP has at all times been transparent and accountable in relation to this matter. I will discuss this in greater detail in due course, but while government efforts are continuing to help Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran, now is not the right time for the AFP to discuss this matter in detail.
Commissioner Andrew Colvin