The Australian Federal Police have unveiled a controversial push into “police-led diplomacy” overseas, despite criticism of its role in the arrest of the Bali Nine almost a decade ago.
As preparations continue for the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, new AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin has ordered a review which will explore an expanded role for the force overseas.
Mr Colvin said in speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney that there was a “great desire” from the public to hear him speak about the Bali Nine.
“I understand that this is an extremely difficult time for the family, friends, and for Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran. You would not be human if you did not feel for their situation that they are in,” he said.
“For many months, the AFP has been doing what it can to support the whole of government diplomatic efforts and today I would again like to add our voice to the Australian government’s plea for mercy.”
Mr Colvin said the rehabilitation of Chan and Sukumaran was a testament to programs in the Indonesian prison system, and that recent reporting did not accurately reflect the AFP’s role and the 2005 investigation that led to the arrest of the Bali Nine.
“So, at the right time, I will discuss this in a lot more detail and I take the questions that the public obviously wish to ask.”
After the speech, a journalist asked whether the AFP had blood on its hands and whether the Commissioner had personal misgivings about the Bali Nine case.
Mr Colvin replied: “Put simply, do we have blood on our hands? No … Was this part of a conspiracy for greater cooperation that I’ve seen written about? No. And I find those comments misinformed and misguided.”
“As I said, though, now is not the time for us to go into a long defence or an explanation of our role.”
The main aim of the speech was to explain the need for a future paper on the role and capabilities of the AFP, which will be done by assistant commissioner Graham Ashton.
Mr Colvin argued the AFP faced more sophisticated and more diverse threats and had to adapt to deal with changing technology and communities.
He flagged that AFP investigative team of the future might only have may a few sworn officers overseeing with specialist in cybercrime, accountants, lawyers and even psychologists.
The Commissioner argued that the AFP’s “competitive advantage” was its international linkages, with almost 100 liaison officers in 29 countries around the world and some 300 other officers working overseas at any given time.
The AFP now had 2000 investigations afoot and more than 60 per cent involved international law enforcement agencies or transaction crime.
“Police-led diplomacy is a concept that utilises law enforcement links more broadly to build upon and finds common bilateral and multilateral ground, and diplomatic ground, when more traditional exchanges often present barriers,” he said.
“What country doesn’t want to cooperate on terrorism? What country doesn’t want to cooperate on organised crime? On child sex tourism, on cyber crime and the like.”
Mr Colvin said the cooperation between the AFP and the Indonesian national police after the 2002 terrorist bombings was a “high point in the broader bilateral relationship between our two countries”.
He envisaged making an impact on crime by “harmonising the laws, by working with our partners on better policy, by improving legislation, by improving rule of law frameworks and a greater understanding of the criminal cycle and the root causes of crime”.
Mr Colvin revealed that he had written to his Indonesian counterpart asking for the government to consider clemency and “to look at the facts and the circumstances”.
He said it was often forgotten former Commissioner Mick Keelty and another senior officer had given evidence on behalf of some of the Bali Nine.
“We do have good relationships … and we do have influence. Where possible, we are using that influence through those softer diplomacy skills to try and bring about a different outcome.”
Mr Colvin took over as AFP commissioner last year. He succeeded Tony Negus who was appointed by the Abbott government as Australia’s high commissioner to Canada.