– Controversy over the Australian Crime Commission report on organised crime and drugs in sport has highlighted the downgrading of the ACC from a royal commission-style investigative body to a mere crime intelligence agency. The change in direction by the ACC in recent years explains the lack of pursuable evidence or likelihood of prosecution as a result of its report.
As Victoria’s Chief Commissioner of Police, Ken Lay, has stated publicly – after examining both the published and confidential versions of the report – no information had been found on which to base a criminal investigation.
That is not surprising in light of explanations given by the chief executive officer of the ACC, John Lawler, under grilling before a Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee hearing in Canberra.
Confronted by Liberal senator George Brandis about the use of terms “suspected” and “possibility” in the report, Mr Lawler replied: “With all due respect, Senator, what we have here is an intelligence report about risks and vulnerabilities. The whole point of intelligence is that it is not evidence.”
He went on to acknowledge the new limited focus of the ACC, saying it was not ultimately going to settle these matters and that they were now to be handled by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA).
In fact, it was ASADA that had supplied information to the ACC in the first place just over a year ago regarding fears over availability of performance and image-enhancing drugs for doping in Australian sport. In turn, the ACC instigated its Project Aperio, an intelligence-gathering exercise rather than an investigation, which resulted in the now-disputed report.
Significantly, as a footnote to its “Overview” at the front of its report the ACC proclaims: “The ACC has collaborated with ASADA throughout this project and references to the ACC in this report should be understood to imply and reflect the outcomes of this collaboration. As the appropriate regulatory agency, ASADA will conduct its own investigation of matters raised by this project.”
In response to queries since the report was released, ASADA has had to admit that no Australian Football League or National Rugby League clubs have returned any positive drug tests for performance-enhancing drugs.
Likewise obviously no intelligence assembled by the ACC justified any investigatory follow-up by any national or state law enforcement agency nor prompted the ACC to use its telephone interception powers to nab anybody before the public forewarning implicit in the public release of its report.
In comparison, Australia’s other such agency, the NSW Crime Commission, has dealt at times with organised crime in sport, resulting in proper investigations and the convictions, the latest relating to betting on a Cowboys versus Bulldogs game in the NRL in 2010.
In the national interest, an independent inquiry needs to be held into the role and priorities of the Australian Crime Commission to restore its capacity in the fight against organised crime.
behind the downgrading lies a history of intense lobbying by what has been referred to as “Canberra’s white shirt brigade”, a clerical coalition of careerists among the Australian Federal Police and other public servants based in Canberra.
They have combined forces since the National Crime Authority was replaced in 2003 to have the ACC neutered to stop it carrying out investigations separate to the AFP or state police forces.
Over the years, various police efforts to tackle organised crime have been negated by bribery and corruption. In this case, a situation has been created that benefits organised crime – but with ostensibly honest careerists prepared to accept that in the interests of their own advancement.
The key lobby group is the Australian Federal Police Association, which cultivates fellow public servants in Canberra, as well as politicians from both sides of politics.
Not surprisingly, any questioning of what the AFPA has been up to regarding the ACC has tended to fall on deaf ears in Canberra.
When John Lawler was appointed head of the ACC in 2009, the AFPA boasted that “we believe that the ACC direction will change to that of supporting police agencies rather than competing against them”. Not long after Lawler took over, the ACC’s description of itself on its own website switched from a “criminal intelligence and investigative body” to “Australia’s national criminal intelligence agency”. On the site, Lawler states that “everything we do is either with or for one of our partner agencies. The ACC should never be in competition with anyone except organised crime.”
Organised crime has been the winner, with the ACC’s arrest rate dropping to just 97 in 2011-12. That compares with 294 for 2004-05 and is nearly half the average for the 10 years since it took over from the NCA. More significantly, it is less than 25% of the average arrest rate for the NCA.
Just as interesting is the fact that, when it took over from the NCA, its staff included 133 police on secondment. That is now down to 25. Yet its overall staff numbers have risen from 478 to 598 – most of them bureaucratic and academic, reflected in the nature of several of their publicly released reports.
In particular, the ACC website promotes a series titled Horizons. One report warned of a threat to Australia from organised crime relating to high petrol prices, another relating to a global food shortage and another relating to a health pandemic.
An ACC outline states that the reports are “futures-based unclassified intelligence reports that focus on possible exploitation by organised crime of vulnerabilities associated with people, market, scarce commodities and technology”. And it emphasises: “These reports are based on possibilities not probabilities and are entirely drawn on open-source information.”
Much like the just-released report on organised crime and drugs in sport – Bob Bottom