My answer, which I argue in a new paper released today (available here), is an unequivocal yes.
As far as I can see, the Commonwealth’s role in law enforcement is only going to become deeper and, indeed, broader over time. That’s already seen in the way 70% of our primary organised crime targets live overseas. But the speed, depth and reach of change is being driven by the internet in particular, and the way criminals now use it.
Also, there’s been significant change in the Commonwealth’s law-enforcement system over time, and there’s more to come: the Australian Border Force—as a law-enforcement agency in its own right; the National Commission of Audit’s recommendation to merge (in whole or in part) the CrimTrac Agency and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) with the Australian Crime Commission; and ongoing questions about whether the Australian Institute of Criminology should stand alone. Regardless of outcomes, those individual structural changes will reshape the Commonwealth’s system for law enforcement over the next few years. But there’s no sign that the system itself will be subjected to examination.
Added to this is the funding concertina that our law enforcement agencies live in. For the next few years, the general trend for Commonwealth law enforcement will be downwards if estimates are accurate: and agencies rightly plan that way. But in the time since last year’s budget, we’ve seen over $630m added to the law enforcement agencies—which has made some recent planning and decisions redundant.
And lastly, all agencies are grappling with challenges in developing and retaining staff with the skills to conduct modern police work, of integrating technology into their organisations, and in information sharing.
A major policy statement is needed now because it would explain what the Australian Government intends to do in the law enforcement space in the future, and how it will work with the other jurisdictions to achieve those aims. A law enforcement white paper process, which would help inform the Federation White Paper that’s now under development, would be a good way to assemble the arguments and allow the federal cabinet to decide on what role it’ll take in this central policy area. It would also provide the clear policy lead for all federal law enforcement and related agencies to do their own forward planning, based on the understanding that they’re contributing to Cabinet’s aims and working as part of an interdependent system.
David Connery is a senior analyst at ASPI. Read the Special Report: A long time coming: the case for a white paper on Commonwealth law enforcement policy. Image courtesy of Flickr user Stéfan.