Defence & Security / Other

Examining Australia’s border protection strategy

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In the lead up to National Security Summit 2016 we interviewed Department of Immigration and Border Protection Secretary, Michael Pezzullo, who shed light on the department’s most pressing concerns and current strategy.

What are the key operational challenges you are currently facing?

Escalating volumes of people and goods are moving across international borders, borne from increasing global connectivity.

In 2015–16, the Department processed record numbers of sea and air travellers, as well as inspections of air and sea cargo.

However, globalisation also provides the conditions under which transnational criminals and terrorists have greater reach and seek new opportunities to breach borders.

The Department supports Australia’s economic prosperity and social cohesion by providing a seamless process for the growing volumes of legitimate trade and travellers. It also supports national security and the safety of our community by detecting, identifying and intercepting the non-compliant minority who seek to exploit our borders for self-serving, opportunistic and criminal ends.

The Australian Border Force (ABF) has identified a number of key operational priorities for 2016–17—the foremost of which are:

  • People smuggling (including Illegal Maritime Arrivals)
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Illicit drugs
  • Illicit firearms
  • Organised and criminal exploitation of the visa programme
  • Illicit tobacco.

What is your current approach to combating these issues?

Over the past year, we have focussed on further increasing the professionalism of the Department, as well as investing in professionalisation at the structural, functional and workforce levels. The ABF, for example, has been enhancing the professionalisation of our investigation, compliance and detention functions.

We have consolidated our data holdings and increasingly adopted an intelligence-informed and risk-based approach to managing the border continuum.

The Department has also made significant inroads towards redesigning and transforming our visa and citizenship business processes—both in terms of our services and our decision-making capability.

The new Visa Risk Assessment capability that was committed to over the forward estimates, for example, will consolidate immigration and border information and data holdings. It will, for the first time, give us the ability to undertake automated and recurring assessments of visa holders on- and off-shore, leading to the earlier identification of threats.’

Our collaboration with regional and global partners has been enhanced at both the policy and operational levels, including the sharing of information.

Collaboration and joint ventures are essential to identify innovative approaches to better manage the border continuum in the 21st century.’

The Department continues to embrace digital evolution, including through the continued roll-out of SmartGates across Australia’s international airports. SmartGates leverage biometric data to provide a less intrusive and faster processing experience for low-risk travellers.

Many of our inspection officers have begun using eBorderForce—a built-for-use mobile application that introduces efficiencies for officers in the examination reporting process and lets us release cargo earlier.’

Through the ABF College, we have established a centralised recruitment and training function.

‘Our dual ‘facilitative’ and ‘enforcement’ functions are complementary and go hand-in-hand in the management of Australia’s border.’

This is no more evident than in the Australian Trusted Trader programme—one of Australia’s most significant trade reforms—which bolsters trade facilitation and security by incentivising industry self-compliance. It establishes two streams of trade at the border—those we know and trust and those we don’t know—and allows us to better focus our resources on higher-risk ‘unknown’ traders.

What will be your biggest priorities in the coming years?

Over the coming years, we aim to deliver a seamless, fully automated border environment—one where we only intervene when we suspect unlawful activity.

We aspire to be out of sight and out of mind for the majority of law-abiding travellers, migrants and traders.’

In achieving this, the Department’s priority is now to consolidate the achievements of our first year and build the capabilities of our modern, dynamic organisation.

We will continue to invest in our best asset—our people—and also maintain our willingness to embrace digital reform and innovation.

And we will uphold our efforts to build trusted, collaborative and productive partnerships at the national and international levels.

Building our productivity—operating more intelligently and efficiently as an organisation—will enable us to support a prosperous Australia, facilitate a strong economy and protect the community from harm.

Why is interoperability so important?

In integrating the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, we have brought together the expertise of former immigration and customs staff, and bolstered our ranks with new expertise to build a truly 21st century organisation.

The vast and shared experience of our workforce allows the Department to be agile and responsive in managing global challenges that arise across the scope of the border continuum.

How are you maintaining effective interoperability?

Over the past twelve months, blended teams of ABF officers and departmental staff increasingly worked together, and such working arrangements are now an everyday occurrence:

Our blended teams—combining the expertise of former customs and immigration staff—have provided a robust platform to ensure that the Department’s detention network is managed consistently, transparently and with integrity. We have implemented a command and control model to align detention operations with other ABF functions.

In our inaugural year, we achieved significant operational success in cooperation with partner agencies across our remit as a Department:

We worked closely with the Fair Work Ombudsman and with partner agencies across state, territory and federal governments as part of Task Force Cadena to target visa fraud, illegal work and the exploitation of foreign workers in Australia—this included the inquiry into non-compliance within the 7-Eleven franchise.

We continue to play a significant role within the Joint Agency Task Force Operation Sovereign Borders in maintaining the sovereignty of Australia’s maritime border—no people smuggling ventures have successfully reached Australia since July 2014.

As part of the National Anti-Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs Strategy and National Task Force Morpheus, ABF efforts ensured that more than 100 non-citizen OMCG members, associates or organised crime identities had their visas cancelled or refused on character grounds or under the Migration Act

ABF officers are embedded in multiple joint agency task forces and make significant contributions as part of joint operations.

Hear from Michael Pezzullo at the forthcoming National Security Summit next month in Canberra.

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