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Australia 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Canberra

East Asia & Pacific > Australia; East Asia & Pacific > Australia > Canberra

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Canberra does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED CANBERRA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS.

Please review OSAC’s Australia-specific webpage proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

Property crimes (burglary, breaking/entering, theft) occur throughout Australia and are among the crimes most likely to be encountered by Australians and foreign residents alike. In general, the rate of crime is comparable with most major U.S. metropolitan areas. 

Physical assaults are not common, but they occur with greater frequency in specific locales, predominantly outside city centers. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that Australians were more likely to experience face-to-face threatened assault than any of the other selected personal crime types. Physical assault was the second most frequent personal crime type experienced in 2015-16. Australian Federal Police, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Policing had over 20,000 incidents reported in 2016, including 2,458 assault offenses, 143 robberies (87 armed with gun/knife) and 2,574 burglaries (commercial or domestic). Overall, 2016 experienced a 22.2% increase in crimes against persons.

There can be issues surrounding assaults, drug use, and crimes of opportunity in/around the central business district/night club precinct after midnight.

There were 1,016 vehicle thefts reported in 2016. Most vehicles stolen in the ACT are not taken for financial advantage. With introduction of alarm systems and vehicle immobilizers, more vehicles are stolen as a result of a home burglary where keys are taken.

Canberra recorded three homicides in 2016 with a 100% clearance rate compared to seven in 2015. Australia has extremely restrictive firearms legislation, and the purchase, licensing, and storage of firearms is very limited compared to U.S. standards. Although firearms are sometimes used in crimes, they are the exception and are more common for crimes carried out by organized criminal elements (Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs) and drug trafficking groups.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cyber criminals gain access to networks primarily through spear phishing, which continues to be the number one reported cyber security incident. The theft or breach of confidential information or intellectual property remains the business community’s greatest cyber security concern. Free Wi-Fi hot spots and Internet cafes are commonly available; however, the networks provided are not considered to be secure and may be vulnerable to cyberattacks. Travelers should also avoid conducting sensitive and/or financial transactions when utilizing unsecured public/unsecured networks.

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 PINs.

Travelers should monitor the SCAM Watch website, maintained by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), for the latest information on how to recognize, avoid, and report scams.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Speed limits are strictly enforced via cameras and police traffic patrols. Holiday weekends typically see a rise in roadside fatalities, as most Australians drive long distances to popular beach destinations. Drunk driving checks are conducted frequently. Travelers should 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.

In the event of a motor vehicle accident, you should stop and give assistance to injured persons. Each party must provide name, address, registration details, and the vehicle owner’s name and address to the other party involved. This includes the owner of property damaged or injured person (or a person representing them). All motor vehicle accidents in the ACT must be reported to police with 24 hours in person at a police station, by phone at 131444 (Police Attendance Line), or online. Persons injured in a motor vehicle accident in some states may be covered by compulsory third party insurance as part of the standard motor vehicle registration. This insurance covers compensation for injuries but not damage to property or medical costs. If a crash occurs involving an unlicensed vehicle, the driver and owner may be financially liable for the damages paid to the injured person.

Public Transportation Conditions

Buses, taxis, and car services are efficient and safe. Travelers should be mindful that many taxi services video record passengers during the trip. 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Australian international and domestic airports meet International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards. All international airports are policed by the Australian Federal Police. The ACT has a commercial airport (CBR), which is shared with the Royal Australian Air Force. CBR offers both domestic and international flights.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED CANBERRA AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There have been four terrorist attacks and 12 disrupted plots in Australia since September 2014. Australia has been identified repeatedly by ISIS leadership as a desirable target. The potential return of dozens of Australian foreign fighters continues to pose a long-term risk, while homegrown extremists targeting host-nation security forces with basic, readily available weapons may be the greatest near-term threat. Active shooter incidents continue to be of high concern to Australian law enforcement. The majority of recent terrorism-related incidents appear to have been perpetrated by young, homegrown Australians who have been influenced or inspired by ISIS.

In response to potential threats, Australian authorities updated the National Terrorism Threat Advisory system to better inform Australians about the likelihood of a terrorist attack and to enable authorities, businesses, and individuals to take safety and security measures. The 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/groups have 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 and should report life-threatening situations to the police by calling 000.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Incidents of political violence directed against the U.S. are relatively infrequent. In 2016, U.S. Consulates in Melbourne and Perth experienced an increase in protest activities. Assorted protest actions included a ‘sit-in’ within the building lobby and displaying signs/placards. The majority of protests near U.S. diplomatic facilities continue to be peaceful. Visits by high level U.S. dignitaries will occasionally attract various organizations to engage in protests on a variety of topics. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED CANBERRA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Civil Unrest

Incidents of civil unrest are relatively uncommon. Occasionally, there are organized protests in/around various government and diplomatic enclaves; however, these are typically peaceful. Visitors should be aware that the potential for violence during protests does exist and that they should avoid confrontation with protestors. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

With recent terrorist attacks worldwide involving ISIS, there have been a number of anti-Muslim demonstrations in major Australian cities that have been adequately controlled by police.

In September 2012, police responded to a violent demonstration on the streets outside the U.S. Consulate General in Sydney. This protest followed demonstrations across the Middle East in response to an anti-Islam video shown on YouTube. The police regained control of the protestors and prevent access/damage to the Consulate.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Australia can experience extreme weather conditions during the warmer months, creating the potential for large-scale fires. Bushfire season (October-May), in addition to claiming lives, can result in millions of dollars in property damage.

  • Western Australia has suffered massive loses in January 2016 bushfires, claiming two lives and damaging entire towns.
  • In December 2015, Victoria had large bushfires that destroyed a large number of homes.

Anyone planning on residing in Australia should devise a bushfire plan of action. The ACT has a website that provides information on the locations of bushfires. We encourage Americans to follow the directions of Australian emergency authorities, to carefully review travel plans, and have contingencies for bush fires and flooding.

Critical Infrastructure

Critical infrastructure is relatively stable and secure compared to most countries. Major attacks on critical infrastructure are rare. The most likely threat remains natural disaster (cyclones, bushfires, 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), State, and Territory police. 

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

State and Territory police meet with owners/operators of critical infrastructure, in accordance with jurisdictional arrangements, to provide information on the national and localized security threat context. Police will communicate directly with owners/operators of critical infrastructure where 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

The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) has emphasized that businesses are not immune from foreign government clandestine or deceptive activity. ASIO works closely with businesses to counter these types of threats.

Several economic espionage incidents have been reported, particularly 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 are responsible for enforcing 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 and places strict controls on the storage and release of information. Travelers should be mindful of where personal identification information is stored or who has access to it.

Private and public organizations must have the consent of the individual for the conduct of any background investigations. A failure to obtain an individual’s consent can result in serious prosecution. The Australian Privacy Act of 1988 requirements apply when seeking to release details to third parties.

Drug-related Crimes

Australia has an ever-growing drug user population, international drug importation issues, local clandestine laboratory problems, and an increasing number of individuals arrested for drug trafficking. Cannabis is the most widely abused drug in Australia. Australia is also seeing an increased use of illegal prescription drugs, performance enhancing drugs, and synthetic drugs (Kronic, Spice). Cocaine is a very popular drug among wealthy citizens. The use of the synthetic drug Ice, a crystalline form of the drug methamphetamine, is growing at an alarming rate in rural and urban areas. The users of Ice are believed to be responsible for an increase in burglaries and assaults across Australia.

The ACT Policing Annual Report for 2015/2016 indicated that there were 648 drug offenses recorded. That figure is proportionally much lower than other Australian states and reflects a 7.5% decrease over 2014/2015. The most common type of drug seized was cannabis.   

Kidnapping Threat

There were nine kidnapping offenses reported in the ACT during the reporting period with a 100% recovery rate. These are usually domestic/sexual-related and are not linked to extortion or terrorism.

Police Response

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. Callers dialing the 000 emergency number should be prepared to provide basic information (location, services needed). 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Complaints of any nature regarding ACT policing must be lodged directly with the Australian Federal Police (AFP). A complaint can be lodged by completing an online form, visiting, or calling any AFP police station, or contacting the AFP Professional Standards Office.

Crime Victim Assistance

Police/Medical/Fire Emergency: 000

Victim Support ACT can help victims of crime cope with the impact of criminal incidents and can assist them to access their rights and entitlements. Victim Support ACT provides support, counselling, and other services, as well as information, advocacy, and assistance with the criminal justice system and rights/entitlements. Additional information can be found at Victim Support website

Police/Security Agencies

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

Medical Emergencies

Australia generally has a high level of professional emergency medical services. Emergency medical assistance can be obtained throughout most of Australia by dialing 000. Ambulance service staffed by certified emergency medical technicians is the standard throughout most of Australia.

Medical emergencies: 000

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

Poisons Information Centre: 13 11 26

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Canberra Hospital

Yamba Drive,

GARRAN ACT 2605

Tel: +61 2 6244 2222 

To find hospitals in other locations visit: http://www.myhospitals.gov.au.

Available Air Ambulance Services

ACT Ambulance Service conducts the day-to-day management of the Snowy Hydro SouthCare helicopter. Snowy Hydro SouthCare is a joint initiative of the governments of New South Wales and the ACT and provides aeromedical rescue and retrieval services to the ACT and south-eastern New South Wales. 

Insurance Guidance

Australia has a strong insurance culture with citizens typically buying home insurance, motor vehicle insurance, and medical/health 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 should review their insurance policies and consider travelers insurance. Travelers are not covered by Medicare.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Australia.

OSAC Country Council Information

U.S. Consulates Perth and Sydney have active Country Councils. Please contact OSAC’s East Asia and Pacific team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Canberra

21 Moonah Place

Canberra, ACT 2600

Hours: Mon-Fri, 0800-1700 (excluding U.S. and Australian holidays)

Embassy Contact Numbers

Regional Security Officer: +61-(0)2-6214-5897

Embassy Operator: +61-(0)2-6214-5600 (Mon-Fri 0800 to 1700)

Marine Post One:+61-(0)2-6214-5900

Consular Affairs: +61-(0)2-9373-5810

Website: https://au.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts

Consulate Melbourne: https://au.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/melbourne/

Consulate Perth: https://au.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/perth/

Consulate Sydney: https://au.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/sydney/

Additional Resources

Australia Country Information Sheet