Australian Federal Police commissioner confirms he will step aside this year

By Stephen Easton

Monday July 15, 2019

Andrew Colvin.

Andrew Colvin is calling an end to his 30-year career with the Australian Federal Police when his contract is up on October 1.

The commissioner confirms he will not apply for an extension to his five-year term but this will not come as a surprise to the government. Colvin told Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson of his decision before the recent election, and informed Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton soon after the government was returned.

“This has been by far the hardest decision of my 30 years as a police officer, but I believe this is the right decision for me, for my family, and for the AFP,” he said in a statement today, which did not reveal what he plans to do next.

“The AFP is a great organisation and we do incredibly important work every day to keep Australia safe. It is with enormous pride that I have led the AFP for the past five years, a time during which we have achieved incredible success against a range of crimes both at home, and abroad.

“Rapidly changing crime types both in Australia and overseas have required the organisation to transform by adopting new technologies and shifting traditional thinking about how crime is combatted.”

Colvin commented on internal reform in the AFP during his time, and he will elaborate on this at the end of the month in an upcoming speech to the Institute of Public Administration Australia in Canberra. In a 2017 address to IPAA he focused on efforts to improve gender equity and LGBTI inclusion in an organisation where the merit principle is held sacred.

“This change will continue and we will see it through,” Colvin said at the time. “I make no apologies for the fact that it will upset some people. Real change hurts. Real change is not easy and there will be people who will be detractors.”

Colvin said today he was proud of how officers had supported other changes that aim to make sure the AFP is “future-ready” during his tenure.

“Five years ago, we embarked on significant reform for the AFP which we always knew would be challenging, but ultimately agency-defining. We took the time to consider what we do, but also how we do it. I want to say thank you to the AFP for embracing the changes I believe were so necessary in becoming the best organisation that we can be.

“I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been a part of this organisation for almost the entirety of my working life and to work alongside the most dedicated and professional men and women, committed to protecting the communities they serve.”

Another ongoing challenge has been improving mental health support and changing an entrenched culture where officers are reluctant to seek help, and the public announcement touched on this as well.

“We have a privileged role in society but it comes at a cost. While there is always more to be done, we have sought expert independent advice nationally and internationally, we have implemented a holistic AFP Health and Wellbeing Strategy, and we have taken a range of proactive steps to provide additional support where it is most needed. But this will continue to be one of our greatest challenges going forward.”

Colvin will be involved in a “transition plan” for the next federal police commissioner, according to the statement.

He joined the AFP in 1990, and has worked on investigations into serious and organised crime including drug smugglinge, money laundering, politically motivated crime and terrorist financing.

In the 2000s he coordinated terrorism responses, including Australia’s contribution to investigating several bombings that targeted Australians overseas. His part in the investigation of the Bali bombings of 2002 earned him an Order of Australia Medal the following year. An Australian Police Medal came five years later.

His path to the top included stints as the AFP’s chief of staff, the national manager of High-Tech Crime Operations and several roles at deputy-commissioner level.

Peter Dutton thanked Colvin “for his inspirational leadership, diligence and hard work” in a statement:

“Andrew Colvin has impressed all of us who have worked with him with his stewardship of the AFP in responding to rapidly changing crime types, both in Australia and internationally. In particular, his leadership in responding to serious terrorism plots – such as we saw in 2017 when an explosive device was prevented from being placed on an international aircraft at Sydney Airport – have improved the security of our nation. In addition, the significant work he has completed in an effort to dismantle Commonwealth fraud, combat criminal gangs and counter child exploitation has been instrumental in countless arrests and prosecutions.

“Andrew has played a significant role in responding to many of our nation’s major security issues in his 30-year career in law enforcement, this has included coordinating the AFP’s national and international response to terrorism events to the 2002 Bali bombings, 2003 Jakarta Marriot bombing and the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing.

“The Commissioner’s role is a demanding and relentless one and the success Andrew has enjoyed is a reflection of his lengthy experience as a police officer as much as his unquestionable qualities of integrity, intelligence and dedication to the men and women he leads.

“The job also comes with an enormous sacrifice made by Andrews’s family. I pay special tribute to Andrew’s wife Natalie and family who have supported Andrew through his career and acknowledge the time spent apart necessitated by a very demanding job.”

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