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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
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Australia 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Sydney

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate in Sydney. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Eastern Australia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Australia country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Australia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Sydney as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Property crimes, such as burglary, breaking and entering, and theft, occur throughout Australia and are among the crimes most likely for Australians and foreigners to encounter. In general, the rate of crime is comparable with most major U.S. metropolitan areas.

In general, Sydney is a very safe city in which to visit or live. As with any major city, there can be issues surrounding assaults, drug use, and crimes of opportunity in and around the central business district / nightclub precinct after midnight. Consider personal safety and exercise heightened situational awareness in these areas, especially after dark.

Physical assaults are not common, but occur with greater frequency in specific locales, predominantly outside of city centers. The New South Wales (NSW) Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research published the following statistics covering the period for 2018.

New South Wales Police Force (NSWPF) reported 31,698 non-domestic violent assaults, 29,572 domestic violence-related assaults and 2,458 assaults on police. Additionally, there were 5,816 sexual assaults and 7,867 acts of indecency / sexual offenses reported. NSWPF also reported 1,492 robberies without a weapon, 156 robberies with a firearm, and 837 robberies with a weapon that was not a firearm.

There were 13,061 motor vehicle thefts reported in NSW, as well as 38,083 thefts from motor vehicles (a decrease from the previous reporting cycle). The NSWPF reported 58,442 acts of malicious damage to property and 5,332 acts of arson (decreased from the past year). The report suggests that, in general, major offense categories remain stable or are decreasing. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

For 2018, NSW recorded 69 homicides and 19 attempted murders, most of which occurred in the Greater Sydney area. Australia has extremely restrictive firearms legislation. The purchase, licensing, and storage of firearms is very limited compared to the U.S. Although criminals sometimes use firearms in crimes, their use is the exception rather than the rule. Firearm use occurs most commonly in crimes involving organized criminal elements such as Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Middle Eastern ethnic-based gangs, and drug trafficking groups.

In Queensland (home to Brisbane and Gold Coast), an estimated 4.9% of residents (194,600) experienced physical and/or threatened assault in 2018-2019, similar to the rate in 2017-18 (5.5%), according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018-2019 National Crime Victimization Survey. An estimated 2.4% of persons (93,000) experienced physical assault, similar to the rate in 2017-18 (3.1%). Of these, 45% (41,700) experienced a single incident, and 60% (56,100) had their most recent incident reported to police. An estimated 3.1% of persons (120,700) experienced threatened assault, similar to the rate in 2017-18 (2.8%). This included 2.8% (108,800) who experienced face-to-face threatened assault, and 1.3% (50,200) who experienced non face-to-face threatened assault, which was higher than the rate in 2017-18 (0.7%).

An estimated 2.4% of households (46,500) experienced a break-in, similar to the rate in 2017-18 (2.5%). An estimated 2.5% of households (47,500) experienced an attempted break-in, which was unchanged from 2017-18 (2.5%), and higher than the national rate in 2018-19 (1.9%).

An estimated 1.9% of households (36,700) experienced theft from a motor vehicle, which was similar to the rate in 2017-18 (2.0%), and lower than the national rate in 2018-19 (2.5%).

An estimated 4.3% of households (82,400) experienced malicious property damage, similar to the rate in 2017-18 (4.4%).

Skimming of debit/credit cards at points of purchase and in taxis does occur, though the rate of incidence is relatively low. Travelers should cover ATM keypads when entering their PIN. Monitor the SCAM Watch website, maintained by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, for the latest information on how to recognize, avoid, and report scams. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit,

Cybersecurity Issues

The theft or breach of confidential information and intellectual property remains the business community’s greatest cybersecurity concern. Cyber criminals gain access to networks primarily through targeted emails or spear phishing, which continues to be the most commonly reported cybersecurity incident. Free Wi-Fi hot spots and Internet cafes are common; however, most networks are not secure and may be vulnerable to cyberattack. Avoid conducting sensitive or financial transactions when using unsecured networks. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Authorities strictly enforce speed limits via cameras and police patrols. Holiday weekends typically see a rise in roadside fatalities, as many drive long distances to popular beach destinations.

Police conduct roadside alcohol and illegal drug tests frequently; they are not optional according to Australian law. Be prepared to submit to random breathalyzer testing. A driver is in violation of the law if driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05% or greater – a level lower than that of many U.S. states. At the checkpoints, police from Random Breath Testing Units test a sample of your breath to determine the Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA), and may additionally take a saliva swab to determine if you are driving under the Influence (DUI) of an illicit drug. Avoid consuming alcohol before driving.

In the event of a motor vehicle accident, stop and give assistance to injured persons. Each party must provide their name, address, and registration details to the other parties involved. This includes the owner of property damaged or injured person (or a person representing them).

Report all motor vehicle accidents in New South Wales to police within 24 hours, either in person at a police station or by calling 131444 (Police Assistance Line). Compulsory third-party insurance may cover persons injured in a motor vehicle accident in some states of Australia. This insurance covers compensation for injuries only, and does not include damage to property or medical costs. If an accident involving an unlicensed vehicle occurs, the driver and owner may be financially liable for the damages paid to the injured person.

Traffic operates on the left side of the road, and all vehicles use right-hand drive. Seat belt use by drivers and all passengers is mandatory, and fines apply for not wearing them. Motorcyclists must wear helmets. Texting or holding your phone while driving is against the law in Australia, but you can use a hands-free system to communicate while driving. Roads and streets are frequently narrower and less graded than U.S. highways. Outside major metropolitan areas, most highways are two-lane roads with significant distances between destinations. If driving in rural areas, be alert to free-roaming animals, such as kangaroos, and "road-trains" (several semi-truck trailers connected together). Passing road-trains is dangerous; pull over to allow on-coming road-trains to pass to avoid being sideswiped. Exercise common-sense when driving in the outback.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Greater Sydney has an extensive underground and aboveground train network, a large bus network, a small-scale light rail project underway in the Chinatown area of downtown Sydney, and regular ferry services to points around the Harbor. These public transportation options are generally efficient, reliable, and safe. Services run more frequently during peak demand periods, including weekday rush hour periods.

Taxi and ride-share services are also reliable and safe, but may be difficult to find during periods of high demand. Be mindful that many taxi services video passengers during the trip; recording starts as soon as the front or rear passenger door opens.

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Australian international and domestic airports meet International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards. The Australian Federal Police oversee security at all international airports. Australian international and domestic airports meet International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Standards. Sydney has a large internationally certified commercial airport (Kingsford Smith, SYD) offering domestic and international flights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Sydney as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There have been seven terrorist attacks and 15 disrupted plots in Australia since 2014. ISIS leadership has repeatedly identified Australia as a desirable target. The potential return of dozens of Australian foreign fighters continues to pose a long-term risk, while homegrown extremists with basic, readily available weapons may be the greatest near-term threat. Active shooter incidents and vehicle attacks at mass gatherings continue to be of high concern to law enforcement. Most recent terrorism-related incidents have involved young, homegrown Australian extremists influenced and inspired online.

In January 2019, several diplomatic missions in Australia (including the U.S. Consulate in Melbourne) received suspicious packages; some included threatening letters and material purported to be hazardous. Australian authorities promptly and effectively responded to this event, and soon thereafter arrested a man believed to be responsible. None of the items sent were hazardous to the health of the public.

In response to potential threats, Australian authorities have updated the National Terrorism Threat Advisory system to inform Australians about the likelihood of a terrorist attack, and to enable authorities, businesses, and individuals to take appropriate safety and security measures. The new system includes five tiers, ranging from “Not Expected” to “Certain.” The current terrorism threat advisory level is “Probable,” signifying that while there is no information regarding a specific, credible plot, individuals or groups have developed both the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia.

Individuals who see suspicious or unusual activity should contact Australia’s National Security Hotline at 1800 1234 00. Report life-threatening situations to the police at 000.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Sydney as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Incidents of civil unrest are relatively uncommon. Occasionally, organized protests in and around various government and diplomatic enclaves occur; however, these are typically peaceful. The potential for violence during protests does exist; avoid any situations that could result in a confrontation with protestors. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Anti-U.S. Sentiment

Incidents of political violence directed against the U.S. are relatively infrequent. Assorted protest actions included a sit-in within the building lobby and the display of placards. Most protests near U.S. diplomatic facilities continue to be peaceful. Visits by high-level U.S. dignitaries will occasionally attract various organizations to whose members protest a variety of topics.

The New South Wales Government must grant protestors the permission to demonstrate. The police monitor and respond to threats and violent protests in an adequate and expedient manner, and are well trained to deal with anti-Western sentiment.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

There have been a number of anti-Muslim demonstrations in major Australian cities following high-profile international attacks involving ISIS. Australian policing authorities are capable of managing such events.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Australia can experience extreme weather conditions during the warmer months, creating the potential for large-scale wildfires. Bushfire season is October through May; however, the 2019-2020 NSW bushfire season has been unprecedented, having started in July 2019 and burned approximately 6.2% of NSW landmass as of February 2020. In addition to claiming lives, bushfires can result in major property damage.

Anyone planning to live in Australia should devise a bushfire plan of action. NSW has a website that provides information on the locations of bushfires. Review travel plans, develop contingencies for bush fires and flooding, and follow the directions of Australian authorities during an emergency. Review OSAC’s report Fire Safety Abroad.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

Critical infrastructure is relatively stable and secure. Major attacks on critical infrastructure are rare. The most likely threat remains natural disasters (e.g., cyclones, bushfires, and flooding). The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) has responsibility to provide intelligence and threat assessments to relevant Commonwealth Government departments, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and State and Territory police.

The National Counter-Terrorism Committee (NCTC, a national body including representatives from the Commonwealth, State, and Territory governments) coordinates Australia’s national critical infrastructure protection arrangements. Australia relies heavily on intelligence and information sharing for critical infrastructure protection.

State and Territory police meet with owners and operators of critical infrastructure, in accordance with jurisdictional arrangements, to provide context to the national and localized security threat. Police communicate directly with the owners and operators of critical infrastructure if there is an imminent, specific threat, and will coordinate the operational response. Police also gather and disseminate intelligence to relevant agencies as required.

Economic Concerns

ASIO has emphasized that the private sector is not immune from the clandestine or deceptive activity of foreign governments. ASIO works closely with private-sector organizations to counter such threats.

Several economic espionage incidents have occurred, particularly those targeting the natural resource sectors. Economic espionage has occurred through cyberattacks originating from overseas countries.

Australia has strong counterfeiting and piracy legislation protecting patents, trademarks, and designs. Intellectual property owners must enforce their own rights through private proceedings. Organizations should also ensure they do not accidentally infringe on the intellectual property of others.

Privacy Concerns

The Australian Privacy Act 1988 is similar in content to that of the U.S Privacy Act of 1974; it places strict controls on the storage and release of information. Be mindful of where you store personally identifiable information, and who has access to it. Private and public organizations must have the consent of an individual before conducting any background investigations. A failure to obtain an individual’s consent can result in serious prosecution.

Personal Identity Concerns

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI+ events in Australia. Australian federal law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Australia defines marriage as “the union between two people.” Australia grants temporary and permanent visas to same-sex partners of Australian citizens. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Australia enforces laws prohibiting discrimination regarding access to premises, facilities, and accommodation. Many of the downtown areas of Australian cities were built in the 1800s. These areas often have narrow sidewalks crowded with pedestrians and tourists. Generally, most public transit, parking, streets, and buildings are accessible to disabled travelers. Tourist spots at the beach or in the Australian outback can have varying degrees of accessibility. Many accommodations and venues provide accessibility information on their websites. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Australia has a number of drug-related issues, including a growing drug-user population, international drug importation, local clandestine laboratories, and an increasing number of individuals arrested for drug trafficking. Cannabis is the most widely abused drug in Australia. Australia is also experiencing an increased use of illegal prescription drugs, performance-enhancing drugs, and synthetic drugs (e.g., Kronic and Spice). Cocaine remains popular. The use of the synthetic drug ICE, a crystalline form of methamphetamine, is growing at an alarming rate. ICE users may be responsible for an increase in burglaries and assaults across Australia.

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) notes that more Australians are consuming pure ecstasy in the form of crystals and capsules, and that cocaine use is at its highest recorded level. There were 2,334 arrests from January to September 2018 for the use or possession of cocaine (up 33.6%). By contrast, NSWPF reported 7,003 arrests for possession and the use of amphetamines, which remained consistent with the previous reporting cycle. 

Kidnapping Threat

From January to September 2018, the NSW Police reported 186 kidnappings recorded in New South Wales. These offenses are usually domestic and/or sexual in nature, and do not involve extortion or terrorism. Report all incidents or allegations of kidnappings or unlawful detainment to authorities immediately. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics

Police Response

The emergency line in Australia is 000 for police, medical, or fire emergency assistance. Callers should be prepared to provide basic information such as the location and the services needed. Australian police organizations are well trained and professional. They have well-equipped emergency response teams that can mobilize and respond to any incident with short notice.

Lodge complaints of any nature regarding NSW Policing directly with the NSW Police by completing an online form, visiting/calling any NSW police station, or contacting the NSW police Internal Affairs Section.

Victim Services NSW can help victims of crime cope with the impact of criminal incidents, and can assist them in accessing their rights and entitlements. Victim Services NSW provides support, counseling, and other services, as well as information, advocacy, and assistance with the criminal justice system, an individual’s rights, and entitlements. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

The Australian Border Force is the Australian federal agency responsible for managing border security and integrity. It facilitates the movement of legitimate international travelers and goods, while protecting the safety, security, and commercial interests of Australians. Contact Australian Border Force at 1800 009 623 or online to report suspicious behavior.

Medical Emergencies

Australia has a high level of professional emergency medical services. By dialing 000, any person can obtain emergency medical assistance throughout most of Australia. Ambulance service staffed by certified emergency medical technicians is the standard throughout most of Australia. To find hospitals, visit www.myhospitals.gov.au.

The following contact numbers may also be of assistance.

Health Direct Australia – 1800 022 222 (for general medical advice)

Poisons Information Centre – 13 11 26

Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Consulate Medical Assistance webpage.

NSW Ambulance Service Aeromedical Division provides high-quality clinical care. The Air Ambulance Service can provide long distance transport while ensuring the continuation of the patient’s medical and nursing care between referring and receiving hospitals. The aircraft becomes an extension of the general hospital ward, Intensive Care Unit, Coronary Care Unit, labor ward, Nursery etc. Make requests for any ambulance services by dialing the emergency service telephone number 000.

Australia has a strong insurance culture, with citizens typically buying home insurance, motor vehicle insurance, and medical travel insurance. The primary body for the insurance industry is the Insurance Council of Australia. Australia’s Medicare system provides a subsidized health fund for Australian citizens and residents. Travelers are not covered; obtain full travel insurance. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Air pollution is a significant problem during certain months in Australia due to bush fires. Air quality varies considerably and fluctuates with the seasons. It is typically at its worst in the bush fire season. People at the greatest risk from particle pollution exposure include Infants, children, and teens; people over 65 years of age; people with lung disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema; people with heart disease or diabetes; and people who work or are active outdoors.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Australia.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is an active OSAC Country Council in Sydney. Eligible private-sector security professionals interested in participating in the Country Council or connecting with the Regional Security Officer should contact OSAC’s Asia-Pacific Team.

U.S. Consulate Contact Information

19 Martin Place, Sydney, NSW 2000

Hours: Monday-Friday, 0800-1700 (excluding U.S. and Australian holidays)

Website: https://au.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/sydney/

Embassy Operator: +61-(0)2-9373-9200

Emergency calls after normal business hours: +61-(0)2-4422-2201

Other Diplomatic Posts in Australia:

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:






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