Corruption in Australia’s law enforcement agencies is booming, with the Federal Government’s independent watchdog reporting a record high number of investigations last year and warning that more undercover agents are needed to detect officers breaking the law.
Australia’s Integrity Commissioner Michael Griffin has told the Government that the fight against corruption and organised crime within the country’s security agencies is becoming more difficult as well-trained law enforcement officers use their skills to “hide tracks and avoid detection”.
Last year, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity launched 244 new corruption investigations — an historic high — with its total workload nudging almost 500 inquiries.
The Government faces pressure to establish a new Federal anti-corruption commission, which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last month he was “carefully considering”.
In his annual report to the Government, Mr Griffin says his agency is also dealing with more complex investigations, having conducted over four times as many hearings, ordered three times as many phone taps, and sought over five times as many surveillance device warrants last year compared with 2015-16.
To deal with the threat within agencies, which includes the Australian Federal Police and Border Force, the corruption watchdog is increasingly using undercover agents to try to ping corrupt officers.
Last year, 14 “assumed identity authorisations” were adopted, up from nine the year before and none for the three years before. “ACLEI’s investigations are increasing in complexity, requiring an increase in covert capabilities deployed … such as telecommunication interception, surveillance devices and assumed identities,” he says.
The report says the increased number of investigations of corruption issues reflected “an increase in the quality of information received as well as an increased capacity to assess the merit of notifications and referrals”.
About half of the corruption issues investigated by ACLEI related to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, followed by the AFP.
Corruption-enabled border crime dominates its investigations, including the importation of illegal drugs, visa fraud and attempts to gain commercial advantage through the circumvention of Australia’s biosecurity processes.
In a separate submission to Parliament’s law enforcement committee, which is looking at the effect of new and emerging technology in the sector, Mr Griffin says his agency has shifted its strategy to physical surveillance and “human” intelligence techniques, given the way encryption is being used by criminal groups to avoid detection.
“These strategies can be more labour intensive and costly alternatives,” he said.