This week Queenslanders passed a significant milestone in our vaccine rollout – eighty per cent of us have now had a first dose! This is a significant achievement, and while more remains to be done, it’s an important step back to life as we knew it.
I know many Gold Coasters are looking forward to eased border restrictions. Of course the Gold Coast is a border community, but we’re also a hospitable community, famed for the welcome we give to visitors from near and far. The last two years have been painful for many; separated from our friends and family; our customers and employees; our visitors and tourists – but rising vaccination rates are the light at the end of that long tunnel.
While our hotels, shop fronts and stores are busy preparing to welcome these groups once more, our police and law enforcement agencies are just as busy, preparing to welcome those who will require a different reception. I’m talking about those who would take advantage of our hospitality – who would hide among us – seeking to bring across our borders dangerous and illicit substances that bring harm to us, and to our way of life. They are the drug smugglers, the gang members, and the organised criminals looking to peddle their illegal wares once more.
Sadly, in the many conversations I’ve had with the heads of Australia’s Federal Police and Border Force, I’ve been warned repeatedly that with eased border restrictions, we’re likely to see increased illicit drug importation attempts. I don’t say this to scare, but rather to reassure our community that the Morrison Government is taking the threat seriously – and is acting now to make sure our police and law enforcement agencies are prepared.
Under the Morrison Government, the AFP’s total funding has increased to $1.7 billion, while the last Federal Budget saw the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission receive an almost $52 million boost to combat serious, organised crime – think international crime syndicates and mafia gangs.
Our strong support for law enforcement agencies has resulted in significant increases in drug seizures and arrests. Nationally, the weight of all illicit drugs seized increased by 45 per cent last financial year – to a staggering 38.5 tonnes, which is a 314 per cent increase in the weight of all illicit drugs seized nationally over the last decade. The estimated street value of these illicit narcotics was almost $10 billion.
Here on the Gold Coast, five local men fronted Court this week, charged with illicit drug trafficking and possession, and proceeds of crime offences. As part of a multi-agency operation, the AFP seized more than $1 million in cash, illicit drugs, and luxury items. Another Gold Coast man with alleged links to the Hells Angels Outlaw Motorcycle Gang was also arrested this week, and firearms and illicit drugs worth over $3 million were seized from a building in Brisbane.
This follows the arrest of a woman in September, charged with importing 14kg of methamphetamine from Mexico to the Coast Coast, and the arrest of two people in Benowa that same month, charged with attempting to import more than 10kg of methamphetamine, with an estimated street value of $1.36million.
Our police, law enforcement, and border agencies are hard at work protecting our community, and they’re getting some amazing results in the process. But we can’t be blind to the fact that the threat of illicit drug importation is very real, and will increase. That’s why I recently convened a national meeting of Australian Ministers with responsibility for policing, to enhance cooperation and keep Australians safe as we emerge from the pandemic. By preparing now, we’ll be ready when border restrictions come down.
Reopening our international and state borders will be fantastic for local tourism and hospitality operators, who so desperately need patrons and tourists through their doors; at the same time, Gold Coasters can rest assured the Morrison Government is preparing now for the full range of threats our communities will face, and will continue our track record of giving police and law enforcement agencies the powers and resources they need to keep our streets drug-free.