Researching Transnational Crime: The Australian Institute of Criminology

By Makkai, Toni | Global Governance, April-June 2006 | Go to article overview

Researching Transnational Crime: The Australian Institute of Criminology


Makkai, Toni, Global Governance


The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), an independent national agency established in 1972, reports to the Australian minister for justice and customs as well as to an independent board of management. It was created by the Australian government to (1) undertake research on crime and justice that seeks to inform government policy; and (2) actively disseminate information across a broad range of key stakeholders, ranging from the minister to the general public. It is a highly focused agency with some forty staff, of which about twenty-two are active researchers. Another twelve people are engaged in information and dissemination activities. The AIC also provides secretariat services to the Criminology Research Council, which funds a wide range of research in crime and justice areas conducted by academics and consultants throughout Australia. Because the AIC has a key role in dissemination to policymakers and practitioners, it draws on the research work funded by the council and other work undertaken by academics that is deemed to be of policy relevance to its key stakeholders.

Transnational Crime Research

The changing trends in organized criminal activity in Australia during the past two decades have typically mirrored the patterns of development seen in Europe and North America. Globalization of the world economy has had many positive effects on nation-states, but it is also evident that globalization has enhanced, unintentionally, the capacity of individuals to organize themselves to conduct crimes across borders--that is, transnational crime--on a scale not seen before.

The AIC has been attentive to transnational crime for over three decades. In more recent times, it has coordinated its focus on this issue with the establishment of a specific research program--the Global, Economic and Electronic Crime program--in response to the growing demands from the Australian government and law enforcement for a greater understanding of transnational crime and possible policy and practitioner responses. The main focus of the program is to provide information on and analysis of the causes, extent, prevention, and control of transnational criminal activity. It has a strong focus on economic crime, high-tech crime, and sophisticated criminal activity. (1) An important aspect of the work is the identification of emerging criminal threats and response strategies. In the late 1990s, the AIC began to systematically publish on the impact of globalization on crime--how globalization would provide new opportunities for crime, pose new challenges for law enforcement agencies, and have implications for policing Australia's border. (2)

Although forms of transnational crime existed before globalization, what is new is the scale and sophistication of organized criminal networks. (3) The study of transnational crime presents particular challenges for criminologists. Comparable ongoing statistical collections as exist for conventional crime, such as property and violence, are not available for transnational crimes; nor is there an extensive academic research base upon which to draw. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of human trafficking. Despite significant media interest, pressure from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and anecdotal stories of large-scale trafficking, the reliability and validity of the evidence base has been questioned by the AIC and others. (4) As a result, the US State Department has been steadily revising its estimates of the number of women and children being trafficked into the United States downward, from a high of 45,000-50,000 in 2001 to 14,500-17,500 in 2004. (5)

In addition, the lack of statistical databases from administrative sources such as police, courts, and corrections or large-scale surveys like the International Crime Victims Surveys, which have been conducted since the 1980s in a range of countries, requires both innovation in methods and comparative research skills by transnational crime researchers. …

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