The Annual "Port2Port" Rally had been a fixture of the South Pacific yachting calendar for years. For scores of international yachties, including many families, this race from Port Vila in Vanuatu to Bundaberg in Queensland would provide a pleasant opportunity to sail to Australia in mid-Spring.

But for a Central American drug cartel, the rally had, on at least two occasions, provided opportunity to tranship to Australia vast loads of cocaine, including 700 kilograms interdicted by the Australian Federal Police from one of the yachts in the 2011 rally.  

Inadequate resources and a lack of law enforcement capacity conspire to make parts of the Asia-Pacific particularly vulnerable to penetration by organised crime. In turn, illicit funds flowing from transnational crime fuel corruption and undermine the rule of law.  This vicious circle serves to consolidate the presence of criminal networks on the region.  

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), organised crime brings in a staggering $100 billion a year in East Asia and the Pacific, dwarfing all but the largest licit businesses.  And like legitimate corporations, transnational criminal networks thrive on diversification, their activities ranging from the production and trafficking of illicit drugs, counterfeit goods and fraudulent medicines to the trade in illegal wildlife and human trafficking.

Globalisation and freer markets have been a boon for Australia and the rest of the world but improvements in transport and communication as well as increased cross-border flows of people, capital, goods and services have their dark side too, whether it's cocaine transhipped through the Pacific from South America to Australia or girls from Cambodian villages sold into sexual slavery in Thailand or further afield. 

If Australia is to be safe and secure from globalised crime, and if we are to live in a peaceful region where illicit gains don't compromise personal safety, corrode society and stunt economic growth, combating transnational crime in the Asia-Pacific has to be integral to our foreign policy. 

We are already pursuing transnational crime as part of our development policy.  Earlier this year, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced fraud control and anti-corruption strategies as one of the ten strategic targets of Australia's development policy.  

Ultimately, it is only cooperation with our international partners that will bring success.  Our approach will draw on the four priorities identified by UNODC to counter the illicit economy in our region.

First, we need more and better information-gathering and data analysis, which will help us to understand the causes, nature and extent of crime in our region and, therefore, develop more effective responses. This is especially important for Pacific countries, many of which have low capacity to deal with transnational crime. 

Secondly, we need to put in place a uniform transnational crime regulatory framework.   Australia actively encourages all nations to ratify and implement a range of international instruments such as the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime and the UN Convention Against Corruption and over the last two years ten countries in the Asia-Pacific, including most recently Tonga, Thailand and Kiribati, have acceded to these UN Conventions.

Thirdly, we need to implement robust initiatives to combat transnational crime. Already, UNODC is operating a larger Border Liaison Network across countries in South East Asia to prevent different forms of illegal trafficking. In addition, the AFP's International Liaison Officer Network and International Deployment Group have significantly strengthened the investigation, detection and enforcement of crime in the region. And Australia's Pacific Patrol Boat (PPB) Program, a $2 billion phase of which was announced on June 17, provides vessels and training and maintenance support to Pacific nations to strengthen their response to maritime-based criminal activities.  

Finally, we need to encourage closer partnerships between governments, public and private sector institutions and regional and global agencies and organisations, particularly in the Pacific, which will help to build a regional anti-crime response. 

Using the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime or the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism as a platform, we will be encouraging our Asia-Pacific neighbours to incorporate local initiatives into multilateral and regional anti-crime strategies. Australia is working with UNDOC to build the necessary regional architecture.

Securing a regional approach against crime networks is essential to safeguarding Australia against international organised crime.  Ultimately, only a united international response will ever succeed against this transnational problem.


Senator Brett Mason is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Jeremy Douglas is the Regional Representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and former UNODC Representative for Pakistan.


Media enquiries

  • Assistant Minister's office: (02) 6277 4607
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555