The unspoken threat that’s hurting Australians

Why do we romanticise organised crime?

John Coyne

Government and governance, Law, National security | Australia

10 July 2019

Despite the deep economic and social wounds that organised crime has inflicted on Australia, the country’s people seem oblivious to the seriousness of the threat, John Coyne writes.

In 2017, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s (ACIC) estimated that the annual cost of organised crime to Australia had doubled since the last report – from approximately $15 billion to $36 billion a year.

$36 billion is a lot of money to lose, but there has been no public outcry about the issue. For perspective, organised crime is costing Australia the equivalent of 13 same-sex marriage plebiscites a week, or a major infrastructure project for any one of our cities each month.

Despite these eye-watering sums, there has been no media analysis demanding the Australian Federal Police crackdown on organised crime, much of which are executed from organised crime syndicates located in Myanmar or China, and linked with bikies in Australia.

More on this: Australia has a drug problem - John Coyne

When terrorists attack, the world draws a collective breath. Shortly after, we expect – then demand – that our government takes action. And before you know it, countries are cooperating, policymakers are reacting, and agencies are collaborating all in the name of defeating terror.

Undoubtedly, public expectations drive the kind of cooperation that’s seen 16 terror plots disrupted in Australia since 2014.

Strangely, however, most Australians don’t appear to be concerned by the threat of organised crime in their own communities. Nor do they seem interested in holding crime groups accountable for the damage they’re doing to the country’s regional security, community safety, and family wellbeing.

More on this: Transnational, serious, and organised crime: Fighting a losing battle

Australians seem oblivious to the fact that their country’s organised crime threats continue to globalise their syndicate structures and supply chains. This evolution is giving criminals access to fee-for-service criminal facilitators who add new levels of operational complexity, especially through money laundering and technology. But most people can’t see the economic impact, so it’s okay.

They’re also unbothered by the reality that today’s oversupplied and fragmented illicit drug supply chains appear increasingly immune to the impacts of large seizures.

In 2019, it’s likely that law enforcement’s conventional strategies will have even less success in disrupting supplies. Arrests and seizures won’t achieve the type of deterrence or disruption effects that reduce the flow of drugs. But people aren’t calling for a change in thinking.

More on this: What Australia's waste water reveals about the country's drug problem

Instead, they’re nonchalant about the fact that, despite record drug busts across Asia, it appears that organised crime groups in the Mekong subregion – which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand – have been able to maintain an uninterrupted illicit drug supply chain across the region and beyond. The fact that the region might just slip into a drug addiction epidemic barely rates a comment.

For those that notice, the presence of bikies and other organised crime syndicates in Thailand and Indonesia – some of the most popular holiday destinations amongst Australians – is even a cause for excitement.

The human cost of illicit drug use in Australia – whether from heroin overdoses in the 1990s or, more recently, from methamphetamine, also known as ‘ice’, or MDMA, the main ingredient in ecstasy – makes the headlines because it personalises the issue. In contrast, organised crime has been romanticised in popular culture.

Australia needs to shake itself out of this malaise. It needs to increase public discussion around organised crime by first recognising the deep economic and social wounds it’s inflicted on the nation.

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