A shared perception has emerged of a form of criminality that is so diverse, lethal and sophisticated that it cannot be depicted using the standard activity-based classifiers of crime (as in theft, murder and so on) but requires, instead, the broader generic term “organised crime”. Although little consensus has emerged yet as to the character of this purported threat, the term creates a distinction between crime that is “organised” and crime that is “conventional”—the emphasis is on the nature of the groups and their approaches to crime rather than their enterprises or activities per se.
The purpose of this paper is to summarise current policy debates on organised crime. Particular attention is paid to the conceptualisation of organised crime, and the contrast between early criminal organisations and newer manifestations, especially the “discovery” of transnational crime. The meaning of organised crime from an Australian perspective is also considered, and suggestions for an Australian-focused research agenda are given.