Topics: The state-of-the-art National Forensics Rapid Lab
SIMON WALSH: Well, welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the official opening of the AFP’s National Forensic Rapid Laboratory Transportable Facility. My name’s Dr Simon Walsh. I’m the national manager of the Operational Science and Technology Command within the AFP and people from within my command will be people who have implemented this facility and will be working in it day to day with our partners, the Australian Border Force, and Australia Post. I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land that we’re gathered on today ‑ the Dharawal and Eora People ‑ and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. Obviously, it’s a significant day for us and it’s signalled as such by the important guests that we have here to commemorate this event and open the facility. And I’d like to welcome the Minister for Home Affairs, the Right Honourable Karen Andrews MP, Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Reece Kershaw APM, the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force Michael Outram APM, and the Divisional General Manager for NSW, ACT and Queensland for Australia Post, Christian Jackson. And to begin proceedings, I’d like to invite the Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, to address the gathering. Thank you, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, thank you very much. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here today for the opening of the AFP Forensic Rapid Lab. This is all about making sure that we are keeping drugs off our streets, illicit weapons out of our community. The Morrison Government has always been tough on crime and this is further evidence that we are prepared to support our agencies to get on with the work that they need to do, once again to keep drugs off our streets and weapons out of our communities. So, I’ve had the opportunity this morning to have a look through the Rapid Lab that is here today. It will be based here in Sydney but it is transportable, it can be relocated to other sites as needed. But it is here because of the volumes of goods that are coming through this particular processing facility. Now, some of the statistics are really quite eye‑opening. About 80 per cent of Australia’s international mail is processed right here at this facility. That’s why we are basing this Transportable Lab here at this facility. I expect that they are going to be very busy here because the statistics over the last year. In 2021 alone, the Australian Border Force detected nearly 24,000 letters and packages that contained border‑controlled drugs. And last financial year, our agencies detected more than 1,000 firearms at the border. So, it’s so important that we stop these drugs and these illicit weapons before they get into our community. That’s exactly what this lab will do. It is a very important part of our agencies and the government’s efforts to make sure that we are stopping drugs from getting out onto the streets and stopping weapons from getting into our communities. Now, I’ll invite the AFP Commissioner, Reece Kershaw, to add to my comments in relation to operational matters.
REECE KERSHAW: Thank you, Minister. And it is, indeed, an exciting day for law enforcement in Australia. The facility behind me is another weapon in the AFP’s arsenal to take the fight against transnational crime and organised crime, who are preying on the vulnerable within our community. From within these facility’s walls, our world‑class Forensics Team will unleash advanced science and technological techniques on mail items containing illicit firearms and drugs to drive investigative and intelligence outcomes. The information gleaned will allow the AFP to build intelligence about individuals or syndicates, and we will share this evidence and intelligence with both domestic and overseas law enforcement partners to enable us to take action against those offenders who are targeting Australia and Australians. Suspect packages will be identified by the Australian Border Force and within this Clyde mail facility behind us and they will be referred to this new AFP Rapid Lab Facility. Up to four of our forensics officers will be based here in the lab and will test for illicit drugs to identify weapons or parts used in those weapons. And this close partnership ‑ between the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Border Force, Australia Post ‑ will ensure that this border will not be penetrated by those trying to exploit it. And it will enable the AFP and our partners to target and arrest those responsible, both here and offshore, and those intending to receive illicit commodities within the Australian environment. And today I want to send another message to all transnational serious organised crime groups and put them on notice: The official launch of this capability today is yet another example of how the AFP is staying a step ahead of organised crime. And if you’re going to import illicit firearms and drugs through the international mail system, expect a knock at your door from the AFP, either here or through our worldwide network. And, finally, a message to those who are ordering illicit guns and drugs on the dark net: Even if it is a couple of pills for your weekend activities, the AFP is watching and will continue to collect intelligence and forensic evidence that may be used to prosecute you. This will impact your future. And we do not apologise for stopping drugs reaching the communities of Australia and financing outlaw motorcycle gangs, cartels, triads and Italian organised crime. Thank you, and I’ll now pass to Commissioner Michael Outram of the Australian Border Force.
MICHAEL OUTRAM: Good morning, everybody, and thank you, Minister and Commissioner Kershaw. It’s a pleasure to be here today for the opening of the National Forensics Rapid Lab, and the AFP’s new Rapid Lab is world‑class, world‑leading, potentially unique. It significantly enhances the already robust layers of protection that Australian Border Force implements here at this facility and across the Australian border, which prevent a whole range of dangerous goods ‑ firearms and drugs included ‑ and substances from reaching our communities. Here at the international mail gateway in Clyde, we use a variety of contemporary screening methodologies, which incorporate X‑ray, trace detection, detector dogs, intelligence, and, of course, the knowledge and intuition of our Border Force officers who work here. Last year, the ABF inspected 35.4 million inbound goods, which was an 8% increase compared to the previous year. And of these goods, we detected 269,745 prohibited items, which was a 50% increase on the year before. So, our strike rate is significantly improving. But the reason I’m so pleased to be here today is because this new AFP state‑of‑the‑art facility here at Clyde will enable ABF officers to refer, in almost real time, any illicit good or substance to the AFP Rapid Lab for collection of biometric information and, most importantly, for immediate law enforcement action to occur. This real‑time assessment will be a force multiplier for collaboration between the ABF and the AFP to combat serious and organised crime groups who are exploiting our supply chains. The rapid results from this new facility will also allow us to share intelligence with our overseas partners to prevent further high‑risk consignments reaching Australia. And this prevents criminal groups from conducting illegal operations, of course, which is the outcome we seek to achieve. In hardening our border, our partnerships with industry are critical, and I’d like to acknowledge the tremendous partnership that we have built and enjoy here with Australia Post. Without their ongoing support an expertise, we would not have been able to achieve the significant results we have over many years, including here at Clyde. We know that organised crime groups use and infiltrate our supply chains to import illicit drugs, precursors, firearms and other illegal goods into Australia. These criminal syndicates threaten Australia’s prosperity, they threaten the safety of our community, and they compromise legitimate supply chain businesses. The National Forensic Rapid Lab will help build on our successes today and provides instant results from our detections, and further strengthening the collaboration, the strong collaboration between the ABF and the AFP in combatting organised crime groups. And I’d like to really congratulate the AFP team here on opening and building this facility. And I look forward to this new chapter in the ABF/AFP partnership to disrupt criminal activity at the border and to keep the Australian community safe. Thank you.
CHRISTIAN JACKSON: Hello, everybody. Australia Post is proud to be working closely with the Australian Government and law enforcement on this important initiative to help keep Australia safe. This new lab improves the way we detect and process items, reducing risk to our community by identifying more items in a more efficient way. The Rapid Lab will improve the detection and identification of illicit commodities in the international mail stream, such as where the drugs are being sent from, the methods, and any new substances. Thank you. Is there any questions that anyone has?
JOURNALIST: I have one, but it might be better [Indistinct] AFP or ABF. When we talk about instant results, has it been the case that tests have had to be done and maybe that’s taken a few days, and whoever’s expecting these parcels might have an idea that authorities are on to them?
REECE KERSHAW: Yeah. So, the reason, you know, it’s called “rapid” because of exactly that issue. So, we will be able to turn around that intelligence and that evidence quickly, and that’s the intent for this facility and that’s why it’s mobile and our people are based here. So, we’re looking forward to being able to take out more syndicates, both offshore, as I’ve said, and also here in Australia, and send a really strong message that, “I wouldn’t bother using the mail system to send firearms, drugs, anything illegal into this country. We’re going to come after you. It doesn’t matter the weight, it doesn’t matter the size, we’re going to come after you.” And whether it’s through us working with ABF, other agencies, Australia Post, state police, we’ll be sharing that intelligence in a real‑time way and actioning that.
JOURNALIST: But when we talk about “rapid”, if we’re saying that this will now take a couple of hours, what has it been previously? Has it been a couple of days?
REECE KERSHAW: Yeah, normally ‑ normally, you would be required to probably take it to our lab, which is ‑ obviously, you’ve got to transport that, you’ve got to go through that process. So, this just will streamline it and it will be seamless. And we know that also criminals monitor mail online as well, so they won’t know that we know, and that’s the way we’re going to keep it. And my message is: Just don’t do it.