The ACC can draw on coercive powers which enable it to obtain information that cannot be accessed through traditional policing methods. Coercive powers can only be applied where the ACC Board approves their use. They can also only be used by Examiners who are statutory appointed officers independent of the ACC.
Coercive powers are similar to those of a Royal Commission and, amongst other things, allow an Examiner to:
- summons any witness to appear before an Examiner
- require that witness to give evidence of their knowledge of matters concerning the criminal activities involving themselves and others upon whom an investigation or intelligence operation is focused, and/or
- require the person to provide documents or other things to the Examiner.
To ensure the appropriate use of these coercive powers they:
- can only be used to investigate relevant criminal activity
- are approved by the ACC Board, who consider the effectiveness of less intrusive investigation methods before authorising a determination with access to coercive powers
- are subject to significant government oversight.
Also, there are strict provisions governing how the ACC may make use of any information gathered through the use of coercive powers. These provisions provide protection to people and organisations involved. In addition, examinations are conducted in private to:
- protect the integrity of the special ACC operation or investigation
- preserve the safety or reputation of a person or entity affected by the operation or investigation
- guard against the risk of prejudice to the fair trial of a person who has been or may be charged with an offence.
The use of coercive powers is an effective tool for gaining a strategic understanding of serious and organised crime. The following case study is an example of how the use of coercive powers can contribute to disrupting organised crime.
Schumacher, an ACC-led Task Force, was established in December 2003 as a coordinated response to the activities of separate, but closely connected, criminal groups operating across four different states. The task force used coercive powers and the combined capabilities of participating agencies to gather sufficient evidence to disrupt the criminal activities of nominated groups and their associates.
The task force identified characteristics of the groups under investigation, leading to a greater understanding of criminal networks and their operations in Australia and links overseas.
These investigations lead to the November 2004 seizure of over 800 000 ecstasy tablets worth approximately $40 million that were harboured in a shipping container in Sydney. The seizure, and subsequent arrests in late 2004 and early 2005, had a significant impact on the supply of narcotics, especially in Western Australia. The people charged had a significant role in criminal activities, and these charges had a considerable impact on the threat posed by this established criminal network. To date 24 persons have been convicted under Schumacher.