Landmark drug scheme slashed
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) says it has been forced to slash a crucial plan to profile the illegal drug market and fight trafficking.
The AFP says the scheme will compare drugs from each state to find where they are smuggled from, learn how they are produced and help predict the spread of deadly concoctions.
Until now, the AFP's drug profiling efforts have been limited to heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine seized from international smugglers.
Under the new scheme, to be funded by the Federal Government, the AFP's drug profilers will have access to samples of drugs that have been solely the responsibility of state police.
Australia's governments last year gave preliminary approval for the plan to profile 9,000 drug samples annually from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, the ACT, South Australia and Western Australia.
But after more than four years of development, AFP drug profiling coordinator Ian Evans says the program has been stripped back because of budgetary constraints caused by the financial crisis.
Mr Evans has told the ABC the scheme will be six times smaller, with only 1,500 drug samples to be analysed from across Australia each year.
"Unfortunately in this environment, it is a considerable reduction in costs from the full model," he said.
He says the federal and state governments are close to approving the pared-down plan.
The revised program will also be centralised at one location, instead of being run from forensic drug labs across the country.
Mr Evans says it will require a new computer system to link state drug profiling laboratories.
A new era
Until then, Mr Evans says officers will struggle to understand trends in trafficking and drug manufacture.
He told a conference in Sydney today the new scheme, Building Illicit Drug Forensic Capacity Across Australia, would help police across the country coordinate their anti-drug efforts.
"We could advise state agencies to say, 'We've seen some links between a West Australian and a New South Wales seizure, and they could then be targeted for a tactical examination," he said.
"It would also identify new production techniques, precursors and regions of production [and] provide early warning signs to health and education groups about the emerging trends and specific dangers."
He says state-to-state drug comparisons have been rare because of the "operational backlogs and funding levels" of state police forces.
"The states have the capability and not the capacity," he said.
The AFP has been developing the scheme since the Attorney-General's Department ordered a review in mid-2005.
State ministers for health, police and education gave preliminary approval for the larger program in May last year, when they ordered the AFP and the federal Attorney-General's Department to develop a financial plan.
Mr Evans says the state and federal governments will consider expanding the scheme in the future.
The Federal Government has declined to comment.