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Australia 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Canberra

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

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.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

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

Review OSAC’s Australia 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.

Crime Threats

There is minimal risk from crime in Canberra. Property crimes, such as burglary, breaking and entering, and theft, occur throughout Australia and are among the crimes most likely to be encountered by Australians and foreigners alike. Physical assaults are relatively uncommon, but occur with greater frequency in specific locales, predominantly outside of the city center. Crime in the central business district includes illegal recreational drug use and associated behavior, particularly after midnight.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017-18 National Crime Victimization Survey, the personal and household crime most frequently experienced by Australians was face-to-face threatened assault (2.6%), followed by physical assault (2.4%), non-face-to-face threatened  assault (0.8%), and robbery (0.3%); the latter two categories are down from 2016-2017. Bureau of Statistics reporting from June 2018 indicates a nationwide increase in reported sexual assaults, though burglaries and murders are trending lower.   

According to the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) experienced approximately 32,000 criminal offenses in 2018. This marks a decline from the approximately 35,000 offenses recorded in 2017. (Note: the population of the ACT is approximately 415,000.) Offenses in 2018 included 2,776 assaults, 291 robberies, and 2,312 burglaries.

Overall, 2018 witnessed a very slight increase in crimes against persons. Canberra recorded six homicides in 2018; seven homicides occurred in 2017. The rate of vehicle thefts remained nearly unchanged from 2017. Most vehicles stolen in the ACT are not taken for financial advantage. With introduction of alarm systems and vehicle immobilizers, most stolen vehicles follow a home burglary (thanks to stolen keys).

Australia has extremely restrictive firearms legislation. The purchase, licensing, and storage of firearms is very limited compared to U.S. standards. Firearms use in crimes is rare, though organized criminal elements (including so-called “Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs” and drug trafficking groups) sometimes use guns.    

Skimming of debit/credit cards does occur at points of sale and in taxis, though the rate of incidence is relatively low. Cover ATM keypads when entering your PIN. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

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.

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 spear phishing, which continues to be the most commonly reported cybersecurity incident. Free Wi-Fi hot spots and Internet cafes are commonly available. However, most networks are not secure and may be vulnerable to cyberattack. Avoid conducting sensitive or financial transactions on unsecured networks.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

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

Police frequently conduct roadside alcohol and illegal drug tests; these are not optional, according to Australian law. A driver is in violation of the law if driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05% or greater. This level is lower than that of many U.S. states. Consume no 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 the ACT to police within 24 hours; this can be done 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 of Australia may have coverage through compulsory third-party insurance as part of the standard motor vehicle registration. This insurance only covers compensation for injuries, and does not include damage to property or medical costs. In the event of an accident involving an unlicensed vehicle, the driver and owner may be financially liable for damages paid to the injured person.

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

Buses, taxis, and car services are generally efficient and safe. 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. Canberra Airport (CBR) is a major commercial airport shared with the Royal Australian Air Force.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Canberra. There have been seven terrorist attacks and at least 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 against mass gatherings continue to be of high concern to law enforcement. The majority of recent terrorism-related incidents have involved young, homegrown Australian extremists influenced and inspired online.

In January 2019, several diplomatic missions in Australia received suspicious packages; some included threatening letters and material purported to be hazardous. Among the missions receiving these packages was the U.S. Consulate in Melbourne. 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.

Anti-U.S./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 the display of 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 whose members protest a variety of topics. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is minimal risk from political violence in Canberra. Incidents of civil unrest are relatively uncommon. Occasionally, organized protests occur at and around various government and diplomatic facilities; these are typically peaceful. Visitors should be aware that the potential for violence during protests does exist; avoid confrontation with protestors. Australian policing authorities are well-trained and equipped to manage such events. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

There have been a number of anti-Muslim demonstrations in major Australian cities following high-profile international attacks involving ISIS. These have been adequately controlled by police.

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-May. In addition to claiming lives, bushfires can result in major property damage. Western Australia State suffered massive loses in 2016 bushfires, claiming two lives and damaging entire towns. In 2015, Victoria State experienced 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. Review travel plans, develop contingencies for bushfires and flooding, and follow the directions of authorities.

Critical Infrastructure

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. 

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 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

The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (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 been reported, 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 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; 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.

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 ACT Policing Annual Report for 2017/2018 indicated that there were more than 1,500 drug seizures and 841 total drug offenses recorded. While these figures are proportionally much lower than other Australian states, they reflects a stark increase over the 2016/2016 reporting period.

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.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Lodge complaints of any nature regarding ACT policing directly with the Australian Federal Police by completing a form online, calling or visiting any AFP police station, or contacting the AFP Professional Standards Office.

Crime Victim Assistance

Dial 000 for police, medical, or fire emergency assistance. Individuals who dial 000 should be prepared to provide basic information such as the location and the services needed.

Victim Support ACT can help victims of crime cope with the impact of criminal incidents and can assist them in understanding 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.

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. Contact Australian Border Force at 1800 009 623 to report suspicious behavior or online.

Medical Emergencies

Excellent medical care is available in Australia. Ambulance services with certified emergency medical technicians are 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

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance webpage.

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 southeastern New South Wales. 

Insurance Guidance

Australia has a strong insurance culture, with residents 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. This system does not cover travelers, who should consider obtaining full travelers insurance.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The U.S. Consulates in Perth and Sydney have active Country Councils. Interested private-sector security managers should 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, Moonah Place, Canberra, ACT 2600

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

Embassy Contact Numbers

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

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

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

Nearby Posts: Consulate Melbourne, Consulate Perth, Consulate Sydney

Additional Resources

Australia Country Information Sheet