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Australia 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Sydney

East Asia & Pacific > Australia; East Asia & Pacific > Australia > Sydney

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Consulate Sydney 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 SYDNEY 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. There have been incidents involving assault, drug use, and crimes of opportunity in/around the central business district/night club precinct after midnight. In general, the rate of crime is comparable with most major U.S. cities.

Physical assaults are not common, but they tend to occur with greater frequency outside of city centers. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the personal crime most likely to be experienced by Australians was face-to-face threats of assault, followed by physical assault. New South Wales Police Force (NSWPF) received reports of 31,442 non-domestic violent assaults, 29,244 domestic violence-related assaults, 4,959 sexual assaults, and 6,850 acts of indecency and sexual offences in 2015-2016. These numbers were relatively consistent with the 2014-15 reporting year. NSWPF also reported 1,375 robberies without a weapon (down 17.3%), 158 robberies with a firearm (down 27.9%), and 809 robberies with a weapon other than a firearm (down 21%).

During the same reporting period, there were 13,118 reports of motor vehicle theft (down 11.1%) and 40,346 reports of theft from a motor vehicle, which remained relatively consistent when compared to 2015. Also reported were 63,015 acts of malicious damage to property and 5,332 acts of arson, both of which experienced little change from 2015.

New South Wales recorded 62 homicides in 2016 and 32 attempted murders, most of which occurred in the greater Sydney area. Australia has extremely restrictive firearms legislation, and the purchase, licensing, and storage of firearms is very limited compared to the U.S. Although firearms are sometimes used in crimes, they are the exception rather than the rule and are more common for crimes carried out by organized criminal elements (Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs), Middle Eastern gangs, drug trafficking groups).

Cybersecurity Issues

Cyber criminals gain access to networks primarily through spear phishing, which continues to be the most commonly reported cyber security incident. The theft/breach of confidential information and/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 secure and may be vulnerable to cyberattacks. Travelers should avoid conducting sensitive transactions when using unsecured/public 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. Travelers should be prepared to submit to random breathalyzer testing. Drunk driving checks are conducted frequently, with varied times and locations. When stopped by the Police Random Breath Testing Units, a sample of your breath will be tested to determine the Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA); additionally, a saliva swab may be taken to determine if you are Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of an illicit drug. 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, travelers are encouraged to stop and provide assistance to an injured person. Each party must provide his/her name, address, and registration details to each other. This includes the owner of damaged property and injured persons (or a third-party representing them). All motor vehicle accidents in New South Wales must be reported to police within 24 hours either in-person at a police station, by telephone at 131444 (Police Assistance Line), or online.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation, including the use of taxis, is generally reliable and safe but can be difficult during periods of high demand. Travelers should be mindful that many taxi services record video of passengers during their trips; video recording typically begins as soon as the front and/or rear passenger door is opened. Ride sharing services (Uber) have become a viable use of transportation in/around the major cities in New South Wales and are generally considered safe.

New South Wales has a small-scale light rail in the Chinatown area; Sydney/NSW has an underground and over-ground train network.

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. Sydney has a large internationally-certified commercial airport (Kingsford Smith, SYD) that offers both domestic and international flights.

Terrorism Threat

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

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Between September 2014 and January 2017, there were four terrorist attacks and 12 disrupted plots in Australia, which 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 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, 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 1 800 1234 00 and should report life-threatening situations to the police at 000.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Incidents involving political violence directed against the U.S. government and private interests occur relatively infrequently. In 2016, U.S. Consulates in Melbourne and Perth experienced an increase in protest activities. Protest actions included a ‘sit-in’ in 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 that engage in protests on a variety of topics. 

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.

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 situations that present the possibility of confrontation with protestors should be avoided. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

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

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Travelers are encouraged to follow the directions of Australian emergency authorities and to carefully review travel plans and have contingencies for bush fires and flooding.

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

  • In December 2015, Victoria had large bushfires that destroyed a large number of homes and continued to burn into January 2016.
  • Western Australia suffered massive losses in January 2016, with bushfires claiming lives and destroying entire towns.

Anyone planning on residing in Australia should devise a bushfire plan of action. NSW has a website that provides information on the locations of bushfires.

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).

Australia’s national critical infrastructure protection arrangements are coordinated by the National Counter-Terrorism Committee (NCTC), a national body comprised 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 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.

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 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 (PII)  is stored and 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, as a developed country, faces many of the same drug issues as the U.S. These include 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. Users of this drug are believed to be responsible for an increase in burglaries and assaults across Australia.

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research 2014-15 report indicated that cocaine arrests increased by more than 50% in two years, a trend that appears to apply almost exclusively to Sydney. There were 1,814 arrests in the 2015-16 reporting period for use and possession of cocaine. By contrast, NSWPF reported 9,951 arrests for possession and the use of amphetamines, up 11.5% from the previous reporting period.   

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping offences reported in New South Wales are usually domestic and/or sexual and are not linked to extortion or terrorism. Recent studies revealed that females accounted for a slightly larger proportion of all kidnapping/abduction victims (57% or 344 victims) and that nearly one in three victims of kidnapping/abduction (32% or 191 victims) was aged 14 years or under. Authorities noted that the most common location for a kidnapping/abduction to occur is on a street/footpath (43% or 258 victims). All incidents or allegations of kidnappings or unlawful detainment should be reported to authorities immediately.

Police Response

Australian police organizations are well trained and professional. Emergency response teams are generally well-equipped and can mobilize/respond to any incident with short notice.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Complaints regarding NSW Police must be lodged directly with the NSW Police. A complaint can be lodged by completing an online form, visiting or calling any NSW police station, or by contacting the NSW police Internal Affairs Section.

Crime Victim Assistance

Triple zero (000) should be dialed in the event of any emergency. As this number is a call center, callers should be prepared to provide basic information (location, services needed). 

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

Police/Security Agencies

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

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. 

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

The Royal Prince Alfred

Missenden Road

Camperdown, NSW 2050

Tel: +61 2 9515 6111 

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

Available Air Ambulance Services

NSW Ambulance Service Aeromedical Division provides high quality clinical care and health to persons residing in and visiting New South Wales. 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 the extension of the general hospital ward, Intensive Care Unit, Coronary Care Unit, labor ward, Nursery etc. Requests for any ambulance services can be made by calling 000.

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.

Persons injured in a motor vehicle accident in some states of Australia may be covered by compulsory third-party insurance as part of the standard motor vehicle registration. This insurance covers compensation for injuries only, 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.

Travelers should review their insurance policies and consider travelers insurance. Travelers are not covered by Medicare.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Sydney Country Council meets bi-annually. Please contact OSAC’s East Asia and Pacific team with any questions.

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Consulate General

19 Martin Place

Sydney, NSW 2000

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

Embassy Contact Numbers

Regional Security Officer: +61-(0)2-9373-9191

Consular Affairs: +61-(0)2-9373-9200 (business); +61-(0)2-4422-2201 (after-hours emergency)

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

Nearby Posts

Embassy Canberra: https://au.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/canberra/

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

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

Additional Resources

Australia Country Information Sheet