As prepared for delivery, September 24, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to join you here in Cairns this morning.
Sitting here on the beautiful Pacific Rim, we don’t have to look far to see the impact that globalization and rapid advances in technology have had on the world. In our own regional backyard, there are countless examples of how the world has changed rapidly over the past half-century or so, creating incredible opportunity for economic growth and unprecedented potential to connect—a net positive outcome for our countries and our people.
Today, I can message someone anywhere in the world securely and near-instantaneously. You can order a virtually anything you can think of from the other side of the globe and expect it on your doorstep next week. We can bring members of law enforcement from across the region together here to North Queensland to sit down and have these sorts of discussions face-to-face.
But there’s a flipside to the coin. As the ease of legitimate transnational movement has grown, so too has the opportunity for exploitation by malign forces. In particular, increasingly complex supply chains introduce new cracks for infiltration and corruption to sneak in, creating new avenues for illicit drugs and their precursors to find their way onto our shores and into our communities.
So the challenge for us—our detection and enforcement agencies—is to stay ahead of the game.
In 2016, one American died of a drug overdose every nine minutes. That same year in Australia, more than 1800 people died from drug abuse—the highest number on record. This is a critical issue for Americans, Australians and our friends throughout the region, and it’s not going away. Worldwide, we’ve seeing record seizures of methamphetamine, and yet still it continues to find its way into American communities—as sadly reflected by the consistent growth in deaths by overdose in recent years.
Opioid-related fatalities too are skyrocketing, reminding us to remain vigilant of emerging trends in substance abuse. Deaths in the U.S. connected to synthetic opioids like fentanyl increased around threefold between just 2015 and 2017, and whether they flow over to the U.S. or into Australia, the supply chains that transport deadly illicit substances and chemical precursors originate in the same hub. We all share this problem. It is without geopolitical confines and it grows daily. I know of no other way to tackle it than to work together.
We’ve already seen what we can achieve working in partnership. Just over the past 12 months, in separate operations, Australian officials used U.S. intelligence to seize 750kg of cocaine entering the country and cooperated on investigations that led to the seizures of more than AU$4 million, numerous weapons and a record 1.2 tons of methamphetamine. Such information sharing will receive a big boost later this year when Australia and New Zealand deploy the DEA’s DICE deconfliction tool.
Moreover, you should be familiar with what the ABC called the “Billion Dollar Bust”. This successful collaboration between Australian law enforcement and U.S. DEA brought down the syndicate headed by Altaf Khanani that laundered billions of dollars for the criminal underworld, drug cartels and terrorist organizations worldwide. And these are just a few examples.
Every success we have means fewer drugs on our streets and less money flowing into transnational crime organizations. I know our people achieve greater things when we’re working together, so I want to see that continue—through joint investigations and operations, intelligence analysis, and information sharing.
Ours is vital work, and I hope the discussions you have here today and tomorrow further our efforts to be proactive and forward-leaning. In the past, our alliance of Australians, Americans, and our friends and partners throughout the region has overcome just about every serious challenge we have faced. I am confident that by working closely together we are putting our alliance in action to keep our communities and our people safer from the scourge of illegal narcotics.