Arrests and seizures show Australian police are cracking down, rather than a sign of growing demand, say analysts It has been a catastrophic couple of months for drug smugglers in Australia, with barely a week going by without news of traffickers being caught red-handed trying to import large amounts of heroin, cocaine or Ecstasy. Three weeks ago, police seized more than five million Ecstasy tablets worth A$250 million ($1.5 billion) hidden inside a shipping container in Melbourne after it arrived from northern Europe. It was one of the world's biggest hauls. Earlier in April, customs officials found 370,000 Ecstasy tablets, worth A$18 million in Australia's pubs and nightclubs, hidden in barbecues in a container unloaded at Botany Bay in Sydney. Nine young Australians are in custody in Bali for allegedly trying to smuggle 8kg of heroin on board a flight to Sydney, and on Thursday a Bolivian man pleaded guilty in a court in Western Australia to attempting to smuggle A$45 million worth of cocaine from Brazil. Australia, it would appear, is becoming a nation with a severe drug habit. But analysts say the arrests and seizures are evidence of police stepping up the war on traffickers, rather than an explosion in demand for illegal narcotics. Aside from Ecstasy, which has been growing in popularity, drug use in Australia is declining, according to Gino Vumbaca, of the National Council on Drugs, an advisory body to the government. 'On the one hand, the supply of drugs has been reduced - these big hauls have a massive impact on the market,' he said. 'But we also have historically low levels of unemployment. If people are working and feel reasonably well-off, the chances of them indulging in problem drugs such as heroin are much less.' A report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last month found that the number of people who had used an illicit drug had fallen from more than 20 per cent in 1998 to 15 per cent in 2004. The authorities have been so successful at stemming the illegal trafficking of heroin that there is now a heroin 'drought' on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne. While there were 1,000 drug overdose fatalities in Australia in 1998, last year there were only 300. One of the biggest coups came last year when special forces commandos captured a North Korean-registered freighter, the Pong Su, which had allegedly dropped off A$80 million worth of heroin on the coast of Victoria. In June another blow was struck when police in Fiji smashed a massive methamphetamine-producing factory, allegedly bankrolled with money from Hong Kong and involving several Hong Kong citizens. An unprecedented level of co-operation with police forces in Asia has also helped Australian authorities mount dramatic stings and curb the flow of heroin, most of which comes from Burma. 'Part of the success can be attributed to improved intelligence sharing with our counterparts in Southeast Asia,' said Kevin Kitson, director of intelligence at the Australian Crime Commission. 'The increase in X-raying of containers at Australian ports has also been a big deterrent.' In the 2003-4 financial year, police arrested 79,000 people for drug offences and seized 11 tonnes of drugs, compared with 75,000 arrests and nine tonnes the previous year. Having reduced the heroin trade, police and customs are turning their attention increasingly towards Ecstasy, 80 per cent of which is believed to be manufactured in Belgium and the Netherlands.