National DNA program launched to solve long-term cold cases

The Morrison Government is investing nearly $3.6 million in seized proceeds of crime to establish a national DNA program within the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to document and solve long term unidentified human remains cases.

The Program will be led by one of the country’s leading unidentified human remains experts and coordinated out of the world-class AFP Forensic Complex in Canberra.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said the initiative – titled the ‘National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons’ – will provide long-awaited answers to families of missing persons, as well as the police officers who have searched tirelessly on their behalf.

“There are thousands of Australians in our community who live with the constant uncertainty of whether their missing loved one will return home,” Mr Dutton said.

“This program is all about using modern, previously unavailable forensic techniques to recover and profile DNA from old and degraded human remains to solve some of Australia’s longest running mysteries.

“With more than 500 sets of untested unidentified human remains, this investment gives hope to those with questions that have simply never been answered.” 

This $3.594 million initiative is being funded under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth), which sees money removed from the hands of criminals and reinvested in improving lives across Australia.

“This announcement is a clear example of how we are taking that criminal profit and reinvesting it into our community to have a real human impact. It is just one of the many law enforcement initiatives the Coalition is funding from proceeds of crime,” said Mr Dutton.

About 38,000 Australians are reported missing each year, with three in five missing person reports relating to a child or young person under the age of 18. Fortunately, most of those missing people are located alive within days of the report being made. About 2600 of those reported missing have never been located. DNA testing is currently the only solution for determining if any of Australia’s long-term missing children and adults are represented amongst the untested human remains.

The program will be directed by Associate Professor Jodie Ward, a forensic DNA identification specialist from the University of Technology’s Centre for Forensic Science and the AFP’s National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC).

In 2015, Dr Ward was awarded a 2015 Churchill Fellowship to learn from world-leading authorities in the DNA-led identification of missing persons.​

One of the first steps in the program will be for every State and Territory jurisdiction to audit its active unidentified human remains and long-term missing persons cases and enter metadata into the National Missing Persons and Victim System (NMPVS).

Anyone with information relating to a missing person is urged to contact their local police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. ​

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