Australia sets up anti-gang taskforce to crack down on organised crime

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia will set up an anti-gang taskforce based on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) model to combat "the gangs and guns on our streets", Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Sunday.

Ms Gillard said the A$64 million (S$81.1 million) taskforce will be made up of 70 police from national and state forces and include officers from the Australian Crime Commission, Customs and the tax department.

"These are new measures to try and make sure we are combating the gangs and guns on our streets," she told reporters in Sydney.

The prime minister announced the plan ahead of her five-day stay in western Sydney, scene of a recent spate of shootings.

Ms Gillard denied the taskforce was a ploy to win back voters in Sydney's western suburbs, formerly a stronghold of her Australian Labour Party but now under threat of swinging to the opposition before the Sept 14 elections.

"This is about a national plan and bringing new national resources to make a difference," she said.

The prime minister said gun crime had dropped in recent years, but there had been an increase in shootings in public places, with these rising from 73 in 2010 to some 130 in 2012 in the most populous state of New South Wales.

The new taskforce will directly investigate gang members and provide state and federal law enforcement agencies with intelligence on gangs across Australian states and overseas, she said.

It will also work with international law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency and Interpol.

Gillard said the taskforce was based on the FBI's "violent gang, safe street" model which she said had resulted in more than 55,000 arrests in the United States since 2001.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare also announced that a new national border targeting centre would be established to crack down on "high-risk international passengers and cargo".

"Money creates power in the criminal underworld and the more we do to help police seize the cash, seize the houses, seize the cars of these criminals, the more we can shift the balance of power on the street," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.