A new force protecting Australia's borders
Friday, 09 May 2014
Address to the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney
Today I am announcing sweeping new changes to how we protect and manage our borders, building on our success to date in stopping the boats.
These reforms will both enhance our national security and create an even stronger national economy.
Our border is not just a line on a map. Our border is a national asset. It holds economic, social and strategic value for our nation.
Our borders define a space within which, as sovereign nation states, we can apply the rule of law, operate our democracy, conduct our commerce, foster free markets, establish property rights, create the space for civil society, enable expression of culture and provide for the freedom and liberties of all of our citizens.
Our border creates the space for us to be who we are and to become everything we can be as a nation.
Border security is the platform upon which we enable the seamless flow of people and goods legitimately across our borders that is critical to Australia's success as an open trading economy and that has arguably made us the world's most successful immigration nation.
Maintaining our border as a secure platform for legitimate trade, travel and migration is what border protection is all about.
Protecting our borders requires a range of functions to manage the flow of people and goods across a border continuum, not just a border entry point.
An end to end approach to process is needed with actions occurring pre–border (offshore) where authority for entry is sought, at the border where verification of that authority and other checks such as identity occur and post border (onshore) where compliance with the entry authority is enforced.
These functions range from seeking to shape the offshore environment that can give to rise to border risks through prevention and disruption activities, international cooperation, intelligence gathering and analysis, through to operations on the border including inspections, identity checks and maritime patrols and enforcement and compliance activities on shore.
Like national defence, protecting Australia's borders is core business for any national government and has always been afforded a top priority by the Coalition.
Under the Abbott Government, immigration and customs have been combined into a single Cabinet portfolio that has permanent status on the National Security Committee of Cabinet.
We are a national security portfolio, with a strong focus on law enforcement that delivers a significant economic dividend to the nation.
Our most immediate border task upon coming to government has been to stop the boats.
Prior to the election, many said the Coalition's border policies would not work and could not work. They said the boats couldn't be stopped, the push factors were too strong, it would never be safe, the smugglers would always find a way around it. They were wrong. Our policies are clearly working.
We are doing what we said we would do and we are getting the results we said we would. The boats are stopping.
Operation Sovereign Borders was established, bringing together 15 different agencies under a central operational command, ably led by Lt General Campbell, to direct and drive the implementation of our plans.
We are turning back boats where it is safe to do so. By placing safety at the top of our operational requirements, we have established safe and lawful operational procedures, consistent with our international obligations and domestic laws and ensured a safe platform for return on each occasion.
Asylum claims for illegal maritime arrivals are being processing off shore by the Papua New Guinean and Nauruan Governments at processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island, where I can confirm that refugee status determinations have now been handed down at Manus Island and are imminent on Nauru.
We have had to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in additional facilities and services, ignored by the previous government, to expand and bring these facilities up to standard, especially for families and children, and with particular reference to health and security. We have radically changed the contracting arrangements and replaced the contracted service providers put in place by Labor.
We are denying permanent visas to those who had already arrived illegally by boat and are part of the backlog of almost 30 000 legacy cases, that were not resolved by the previous government, who had not progressed processing of claims for people arriving as far back as August 2012.
We are engaging comprehensively in our region – with both source and transit countries. We have committed over $100 million in regional collaboration initiatives, including law enforcement collaboration, immigration systems and gifting patrol vessels, that have one simple objective – deterrence. We have been implementing the regional deterrence framework that I announced and outlined in Opposition in this very room.
This is now the fifth consecutive month during which there has not been a single successful maritime people smuggling venture to Australia.
A year ago this would have been unthinkable, which was true under the previous government. Their last two immigration Ministers, at their best, could not stretch this achievement to a full calendar week – even months after the introduction of their PNG announcement.
Immediately after the introduction of our turn back policy in late December, the way to Australia was closed and it has remained closed.
This is not to say that from time to time some may try. Try they will and have, but they have also failed and will continue to fail, so long as we keep the policies and the resolve that has delivered us this success.
The smugglers are telling their prospective customers to wait for a change of policy. Any change in any of these areas, creates a product for the people smugglers to sell. There will be no such change.
Our success to date has delivered significant dividends, in both humanitarian and economic terms.
People are no longer dying at sea. There were almost 1200 deaths at sea following the Labor Government decision to abolish the successful border protection policies of the Howard Government.
20 000 additional places within our refugee and humanitarian programme for special humanitarian visas have been freed up over this year and the next four years, by ensuring their places are not taken by those who came illegally by boat. More than 15 000 people were denied these places under the previous government as their permanent visas were given to those who came by boat.
This is the humanitarian dividend of the Coalition's stronger border policies.
In the budget there will be $2.5 billion in savings following the collapse in illegal boat arrivals to Australia as a result of our policies. This is in stark contrast to the cumulative budget blowouts over the forward estimates under the previous government of more than $11.5 billion.
In addition we will close a further 6 detention centres, opened by Labor as result of their border failures. This will save a further $280 million over the budget and forward estimates. This is in addition to the closure of the four other centres we have already announced.
We will be closing centres at Berrimah in Darwin, Darwin Airport Lodge, Inverbrackie, Aqua and Lilac compounds at Christmas Island and Curtin in Western Australia. All of these centres were reopened by Labor as part of a border failure led detention centre revolution. I will be shutting these centres down over the next twelve months.
This is the fiscal dividend of the Coalition's stronger border protection policies.
But there must and will be another dividend – a reform dividend – reforming not just how we continue to protect against the threat of people smuggling in the future, after Operation Sovereign Borders is stood down – so the boats don't come back – but to sustainably address our many other border threats and challenges into the future.
Border protection does not start and stop with stopping the boats.
Organised criminals will pedal anything from which they can profit – people, drugs, guns or other illicit substances. And not everyone who comes and goes through our airports every day visits with benign intent.
We also know that the sophistication of criminal activity, particularly trans–national organised activity, continues to evolve. It is placing pressure across our borders and is searching for a weak point through which to pass.
The threat of transnational crime is real, and growing.
The Australian Crime Commission, in its Organised Crime Threat Assessment, has found that globalisation has been embraced and is being exploited by transnational organised criminal groups, which are increasingly able to capitalise on the way in which globalisation is greatly expanding international communication, cross–border linkages, trade, travel, investment and financial flows.
Dr David Kilcullen, a leading Australian counter–insurgency expert and practitioner recently outlined the four powerful mega–trends that are the driving forces behind the expansion of transnational crime; global population growth, urbanisation, coastal settlement and global connectivity – all prevalent in South–East Asia.
Just as we offer economic opportunity to legitimate traders, investors and the communities we service across the region, we also create opportunity for those who would seek it for their own criminal gain.
Criminals use the same fibre, the same ships, the same mail, the same containers, the same ports, the same roads, the same internet as legitimate traders.
The internet enables global networking, and has been the primary technological driver behind the significant increases in legitimate trade that have emerged over the last decade. This development has enabled the establishment of global 'virtual black markets' for illegal and illicit goods such as drugs, firearms, identity documents and child exploitation material. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, for instance, is seeing an alarming rise in what are termed 'scatter importations' of drugs, ordered through online forums and delivered unwittingly by legitimate distributors such as air express couriers and Australia Post.
And where high–tech crime options fail, traditional cash movements are employed.
We witnessed this in January when the Australian Crime Commission, together with the Australian Federal Police, unveiled a year–long covert money laundering investigation—Project Eligo—following a record $5.7 million cash grab in Sydney.
Supply of illicit goods, and more specifically illicit drugs, is growing to meet an ever increasing demand from a using population in Australia prepared to pay higher and higher prices.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the annual prevalence rate for cocaine use in Australia for the population aged 14 years or older more than doubled from 1 per cent in 2004 to 2.1 per cent of the adult population in 2010; that figure is higher than the European average and exceeds the corresponding prevalence rates in the United States.
The UNODC World Drug Report states that rising levels of heroin seizures in several countries in South–East Asia and Oceania supports the assumption of a growing opiate flow through these regions to known consumer markets, such as China and Australia.
The Australian Crime Commission's Illicit Drug Data Report showed a commensurate increase in seizures both at the border and within our borders.
Rising seizure rates do not necessarily mean success, they can simply reflect the increase in the trade. The real benchmark is are we really hurting the crooks? Or are we just a minor irritant or a manageable logistical risk for their business model?
Transnational criminals are in the border busting business. It is their job to violate our borders to conduct their trade. It is our job to put them out of this business, and at the very least make it as difficult as possible.
Australia's border protection agencies are not just about fighting crime, they are also the facilitators of Australia's economic gateways.
We are in the middle of a significant period of global trade growth. The volume of passenger movements and commercial transactions completed across borders is increasing exponentially, as is the complexity of these interactions and systems.
As global supply chains diversify, we are also facing a situation where many imports are incorporated into value–added goods and re–exported to customers across our region and the world.
In just four years we are facing forecast growth of 85 per cent in air cargo consignments, 20 per cent in sea cargo consignments and a 25 per cent lift in international travellers.
Australia's border protection agencies must facilitate the legitimate movement of people, travelling from an ever increasing range of origin countries, growth promoted to a significant extent by the expanding number of low–cost airlines now operating in our region.
The Coalition Government recently concluded two significant free trade agreements with Japan and Korea, of tremendous importance to our nation and the region, and is actively working on another with China.
To facilitate the expansion of trade that these agreements support, our border processing capabilities must be as efficient and transparent as possible.
A better border protection operational model will ensure that Australia's border systems support, not inhibit, our economic growth by ensuring the swift facilitation of legitimate trade and highest possible detection and interception rates of illegitimate activity.
We need to be competitive at the border, just as we need to be in the workplace. Our management of the border must contribute to the national productivity task.
The conclusion is that strong borders are vital to both delivering economic benefit and challenging the threat of transnational crime.
The Abbott Government has already made a start by integrating immigration and customs into a single portfolio and honouring our election commitment of an initial $88 million in additional funding to expand our intelligence capability and increase front line screening of high–risk cargo.
But there is far more to be done.
Over $700 million has been stripped out of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service over prior years and over the forward estimates by the previous government. We must reverse this trend, and in next week's budget, we will start doing just that.
However, the National Commission of Audit rightly reminds us in very stark terms that no matter what public policy goal we are seeking to advance, our fiscal circumstances dictate that we need to do so in a way that respects the taxpayer. This is the approach we will be taking.
We have to strive for the most efficient and effective ways to get the job done, the smartest business models, supported by good technology and good people with a sharp focus on results.
We will reverse the erosion of our border resources by reinvesting the fiscal dividend of our successful border protection policies and further reforms back into border protection, and back into a more integrated, effective and efficient border protection operation.
That is why I am pleased to announce today that on July 1, 2015 we will establish the Australian Border Force, a single frontline operational border agency, to enforce our customs and immigration laws and protect our border, as supported by the Commission of Audit.
The Australian Border Force will be established as part of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and bring together the people, capability and systems from across my portfolio that protect the border and facilitate the lawful passage of people and goods.
The ABF will be led by a Commissioner, whose role will be enshrined in law and will report directly to me as Minister.
The Commissioner will have the same standing as other heads of key national security related agencies, such as the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, the Chief of the Defence Force and the Director General of ASIO.
Like these other such agency heads, the ABF Commissioner will sit alongside Departmental Secretaries, and for the purposes of the Financial Management and Accountability Act and other administrative issues, there will be a reporting link to the Secretary of my Department, to ensure clear accountabilities are in place.
Placement of the ABF within the department will ensure that the focus of the agency will be on border operations. Corporate services and policy functions can be more appropriately, efficiently and cost effectively provided by the department, removing unnecessary duplication and providing savings that can be transferred from the back office to the front line.
The Commissioner of the ABF will not be an administrator, they will be our most senior border law enforcement officer, leading a professional team of highly trained and experienced officers tasked with using their powers under our customs and immigration laws to protect and manage our borders.
The ABF will encompass not only those people who staff the air and sea borders at airports and ports, but also those involved in investigations, compliance and enforcement in relation to illicit goods and illegal visitors. This includes management of detention facilities and removal activities. It also includes those who serve beyond our borders, working in operational roles with our regional partners.
Visa and trade service functions will be conducted within the department to ensure minimum disruption to these important activities and to ensure they continue to receive a high priority from senior departmental management. Under Labor's border failures, border protection swamped the department, negatively affecting almost every aspect of their operations. Consideration will be given at a later stage as to whether visa and customs services operational functions, would be better placed in the ABF.
The creation of the Australian Border Force is about strengthening our borders. It is a reform measure, not simply a savings measure.
The hundreds of millions in savings that will be achieved in the creation of the agency will all be re–invested back into the agency. This will be supplemented by further investment from the fiscal dividend of our stronger border protection policies that are stopping the boats and saving the budget.
The measures to support the new agency will also result in improved revenue outcomes for the government. Our customs officers are the second largest revenue collectors in the Commonwealth. Improved resources, more integrated processes and better intelligence will result in being able to crack down more successfully on revenue evasion. These proceeds will go back to Treasury to address the broader budget challenge.
This is the reform dividend of stopping the boats.
Establishing a single border agency is not new. It has been a theme of global border reform for decades, in particular in the United States through the Homeland Security Department and a series of reforms at the UK Home Office.
In bringing together this reform we have studied their failures and their successes. The model proposed is a hybrid of the current UK Home Office model, that has also evolved from their experience in dealing with these issues.
We have learned and applied the lessons of their reform processes. For me this goes back to visits I undertook in Opposition both to the UK and the USA. This reform has been in the Coalition policy gestation process for several years. We believed it was important to further test and improve the proposal in government, with the benefit of the Operation Sovereign Borders experience.
These lessons have highlighted the need to adopt a measured pace of implementation and to properly conceive the scope of the organisation and to provide the capability to incorporate additional functions at a later time.
We have avoided establishing a stand alone agency, instead incorporating the ABF into the department, as a stand alone model denies administrative efficiencies and savings while also isolating the agency from its broader strategic policy environment that is appropriately driven at the departmental level.
There must also be clear lines of authority and accountability for operations, administration and governance. Above all the person tasked with running the show must be able to get on and do their job, without being caught in a web of endless bureaucracy. They have to be able to take decisions and act. This has been a key factor in the success of Operation Sovereign Borders.
The reform can also not be driven by the savings agenda. Savings will be realised but design and implementation decisions must be assessed by asking a simple question, does this make our borders stronger?
The Australian Border Force will be established in two initial stages.
In 2014/15 we will begin implementing a series of reforms and capability improvements to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. These will include continuing with initial reforms commenced by the previous government on anti–corruption.
However, I note that the measures announced and funded by the previous government will account for less than 10% by value of the reform programme that will be included in next week's budget.
Having established a strong platform within the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, it will then cease to exist on July 1 2015 and be superseded by the Australian Border Force.
Reform measures and investments will then continue to be rolled out within the Australian Border Force across the full spectrum of its operations.
These reforms are focussed on employing an intelligence led, mobile, technology enabled force, operating under a Strategic Border Command, ensuring our assets and resources are deployed to greatest effect.
The combination of enforcement resources from both immigration and customs, together with retraining, will enable us to boost our ground capacity over time. However, the immediate priority, given the budget constraints, will be to tool the agency up to work smarter and more effectively.
The investment will directly target and improve our capability to handle growing trade and travel.
A trusted trader model will be funded to foster legitimate activity and make it easier for the trading community to deal with government and transact the border.
We will implement a system to allow digital processing of forms, further reducing the paperwork and red–tape burden on business—a key aim of the government's deregulation agenda.
And we will replace an ageing traveller processing system.
Our enforcement capability will be boosted, funding the establishment of a Strategic Border Command to monitor our border environment in real time.
The Strategic Border Command will support effective decision–making, resource allocation and respond to border incidents as needed.
Disciplined, uniformed Border Force officers, some armed, will carry out these tasks and will be supported by mobile and other portable technology which will enhance their ability to clear cargo, remotely access data and information, and wirelessly report back to Strategic Border Command.
It will also streamline the deployment of officers, allowing for real–time re–tasking of officers so they can be directed to areas and task of greatest priority.
We will acquire six fast inshore patrol craft designed to support tactical response operations and routine maritime patrol activities in rivers, bays, coastal and island locations.
Our vast coastline, with its thousands of islands, requires specialist patrolling capability, including shallow–draught patrol vessels that can access bays, estuaries and rivers and the treacherous reefs of our borders.
Three of these vessels will be deployed in the Torres Strait, which I visited last week, a region of strategic significance for border control, to support local patrol activities and joint operations with our friends in PNG.
Such patrols not only provide the necessary physical deterrent, but are important enforcement and intelligence gathering operations.
The acquisition will supplement the current replacement programme of the ageing Bay class long range, offshore patrol fleet with Cape class patrol vessels.
It will deliver a flexible, capable patrol fleet to the Australian Border Force.
Intelligence and systems improvement will also be delivered. This will support the new National Border Targeting Centre, which will be established within Customs and Border Protection from 1 July this year.
It will bring together the range of agencies contributing to our border security, into a next generation profiling and targeting environment.
The use of 'big data' analytics, to target organised criminal activity threatening our border will become increasingly common—legally and lawfully bringing together information from both domestic and international law enforcement partners.
More than 85 per cent of Customs and Border Protection detections at the border come from intelligence.
The enforcement, intelligence and systems capabilities of the Australian Border Force will be co–ordinated from a new Headquarters to be established in Canberra.
The Headquarters will also be home to Strategic Border Command and the National Border Targeting Centre, which will complement and work hand in glove with Border Protection Command, which will continue to protect our interests in the maritime domain.
To ensure we have the trained, professional and committed officers we need, we will establish an Australian Border Force college.
The College will deliver the professional, technical and operational training border force officers will need in the border environment of the future.
For staff, it will deliver the same support and opportunities possible in our other federal law enforcement agencies, establishing a much overdue parity, and creating exciting new professional development pathways for those who have made protecting our borders their career.
The new arrangements will improve intelligence and enable increased ICT capability, and automate high volume transactional functions to deliver further savings.
Further details will be provided in next week's budget, but I am confident we have the right mix of investment and savings to protect our national interest.
The changes will not just occur within the Border Force. Changes will also occur within the host department.
Departmental staff working in immigration compliance, enforcement, detention services and other operational functions, not including visa services, will make their way into the ABF. Policy, strategy, planning, trade facilitation and customs services officers from the ACBPS will come into the department.
This will combine staff with significant experience in dealing with border movements of both goods and people. Their learnings in how to manage the border from these two perspectives can now be combined, providing a far more comprehensive picture and understanding of our border.
We will realise a department of state that is now truly focused on border policy and strategy in an integrated and holistic way, rather than in the traditional silos of immigration and customs.
It will also enable bringing together an integrated international engagement strategy within the department, that can maximise our effectiveness in working with our regional partners, that under Operation Sovereign Borders has proved to be a key element in our success.
This reform will ensure an even greater dividend from those posted in our overseas missions in customs and immigration roles.
It will also enable us to pursue our regional cooperation in the broader context of transnational crime and even counter terrorism, rather than keeping once again to the demarcation between people and goods.
Regional engagement is a key part of our border protection strategy. Stronger regional borders means stronger domestic borders. These reforms will provide a far more effective way to achieve this goal.
The department will also face the challenge of ensuring its corporate and administrative service functions and systems are scaled to integrate and host the new arrangements. Their success will in large part condition the broader success of this initiative.
This is an ambitious move.
The changes I have announced today are about one thing; our nation's interest.
Stronger, well managed borders facilitate, rather than impede, legitimate trade, travel and migration. Facilitation and stronger borders are not mutually exclusive, they are mutually reinforcing.
In closing, I wish to acknowledge the work of the officers and staff in both existing organisations, under the strong leadership of Department Secretary Martin Bowles and CEO Michael Pezzullo, and their executive teams.
Developing and implementing these types of reforms require a selfless commitment and professionalism and the vision to see the benefits and embrace the change for the broader public good. These attributes have been on copious display. It is these same qualities that will now be critical across these organisations as we now implement these reforms. I know I will not be disappointed.
In recent years both organisations have displayed extraordinary loyalty and dedication to their tasks, carrying out their duties with great professionalism and compassion, under extremely stressful and challenging conditions – not of their own making – consistent with their institutional tradition.
The customs and trade facilitation function has existed in various guises since Federation, and has served the nation well over more than 110 years.
Those who have served within the various customs departments over the years, deserve our thanks and praise.
I also recognise the proud history of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, dating back to its establishment after the Second World War.
It has played – and continues to play – a key role in nation–building, managing an orderly migration programme which has delivered a vibrant, confident nation.
Since 1945, we have opened our arms as a nation to more than seven million migrants, of whom more than 800 000 were refugees.
More than four and a half million people have taken up the opportunity to become Australian citizens since the Nationality and Citizenship Act was passed in 1948.
Our country, our nation and our communities are immeasurably richer because of this.
The combination of the functions of these two key agencies will be a powerful multiplier in our efforts to both protect our borders and deliver the strong, prosperous and generous society all Australians want.
The new agency I have announced today will be at the forefront in delivering the solemn promise of our government: to secure and protect our borders; to deliver certainty and prosperity to our nation and her people.
The Abbott Government has taken this promise seriously, fundamentally believing that secure borders are a national asset, possessing real economic, social and strategic value.
We've taken on this task with determination and drive and there will be further reform to address other areas of our operations, particularly visa services and visa reform, that are not the topic of today's announcement.
We are resolved to make policy decisions that will support, not hinder, the magnificent efforts of the thousands of men and women who protect our borders on a daily basis from the significant and increasing threat posed by those who would seek to do us harm, threaten our sovereignty and undermine our way of life.
I am sure there will be those who will once again say that what I have announced today cannot be done, just as they did when we outlined our policies to stop the boats. Once again we will demonstrate our resolve and commitment by just getting on with the job. Once again Australia will be better off for our efforts.
Thank you for your attention.
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Last update: Friday, 09 May 2014 at 17:57 AEST