Border security is a core responsibility of the Commonwealth, resting on specific powers under section 51 of the Constitution, including trade and commerce, defence, quarantine, fisheries in Australian waters beyond territorial limits, immigration and emigration, and foreign affairs. It comprises a number of core functions for which responsibility is spread across several portfolios and agencies along a ‘border continuum’ spanning from offshore, through Australia’s maritime zones and the border, to domestic enforcement activity.
Key agency responsibilities
The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service’s (Customs) functions include management of border controls at air and sea ports; land-based surveillance of Australia’s coastline, seaports and waterfront; and surveillance, patrol and response in Australia’s maritime domain (through Border Protection Command (BPC)).
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigates suspected Commonwealth offences including smuggling of drugs, tobacco, firearms and people, trafficking in persons and illegal fishing. The AFP is also responsible for operational policing at ten major Australian airports.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship manages Australia’s migration and humanitarian programs and visa system, administers travel alert lists, and is involved in domestic, regional and international efforts to prevent irregular migration including people smuggling and trafficking in persons.
The Australian Defence Force (Defence) contributes ships, aircraft and officers for maritime surveillance, patrol and response in Australia’s maritime domain through Operation RESOLUTE.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Biosecurity manages quarantine controls at Australia’s borders and inspects and certifies imports and exports.
Border Protection Command is a multi-agency taskforce that is staffed by officers from Customs, Defence, Australian Fisheries Management Authority and DAFF Biosecurity, and uses Customs and Defence assets. It coordinates the Australian Government’s response to eight key maritime threats, specifically illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity in protected areas, unauthorised maritime arrivals, prohibited imports and exports, maritime terrorism, piracy, robbery and violence at sea, compromise to biosecurity and marine pollution.
Key budgetary pressures
Scope of border security tasks
Australia faces substantial border security challenges.
Geographically, the area of interest includes the Australian coastline, Australia’s offshore territories, the Australian Fishing Zone, the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (AEEZ) and adjacent areas. This amounts to over 36,000 kilometres of coastline and an offshore maritime area of 15 million square kilometres.
Both the number of international passengers and the volume of cargo and mail coming through Australia’s air and sea ports have been increasing for a number of years. These trends are expected to continue, with the number of international passengers expected to increase from around 30 million to 40 million between 2013 and 2020 and the number air cargo consignments expected to double from around 11 million to 22 million over the same period. Customs also stated that ‘complexity is increasing in supply chains and travel routes, making the task of assessing threats and risks at the border more sophisticated’. The number of international passengers and number of air cargo consignments for the years 2007–08 to 2011–12 are shown in Graphs 1 and 2.
Graph 1: Number of international passengers (arrivals and departures)
Source: Customs annual reports 2007–08, 2008–09 and 2011–12.
Graph 2: Number of air cargo consignments
Source: Customs annual reports 2007–08, 2010–11 and 2011–12.
Funding for passenger facilitation at international airports was reduced by $34 million over four years in the 2011–12 Budget and redirected to support other Government priorities. While still a good result, the proportion of international passengers processed by Customs within 30 minutes of joining the inwards queue dropped from 96.8 per cent in 2010–11 to 93.4 per cent in 2011–12. Increased use of automated SmartGate kiosks for passport processing may go some way to easing pressure on this function.
Irregular maritime arrivals
The number of vessels bringing asylum seekers to Australia has increased significantly between 2007–08 and 2012–2013 (see Graph 3), placing pressure on border security agencies, including Customs. The increase in arrivals has meant that resources allocated for patrol and surveillance activities have been diverted to transportation of asylum seekers. For example, in 2010–11, ACV (Australian Customs Vessel) Triton and ACV Ocean Protector each undertook five per cent more patrol days than their targets (240 and 200 days respectively) in order to ‘facilitate the long haul transportation of passengers and crew from intercepted SIEVs [suspected irregular entry vessels]'. In 2011–12, ACV Triton undertook 30 per cent more patrol days than its target of 240 days; ACV Ocean Protector undertook only one additional patrol day, but 75 of its 121 patrol days (approximately 62 per cent) were spent in northern waters, where it was diverted to transport irregular maritime arrivals, instead of the Southern Ocean, to which it is nominally allocated.
Graph 3: Number of vessels by financial year
Note: 2012–13 figure is up to 31 March 2013 only.
Sources: Figures up to and including 2011–12 were taken from J Phillips and H Spinks, Boat arrivals in Australia since 1976, Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, updated 29 January 2013. The 2012–13 total was compiled by the Parliamentary Library based on media releases from the Minister for Home Affairs.
Customs’ Bay Class patrol boats are reaching the end of their operational life, and in the 2010–11 Budget, funding was approved to replace them with larger and more capable ships—to be known as Cape Class. The first of the Cape Class boats was launched in January 2013, with the full fleet of eight expected to be operational by late 2015 at a total cost of $350 million. As at February 2013, the project was reported to be on schedule and budget.
In the Defence White Paper 2013, the Government announced plans to bring forward the replacement of the Navy’s fleet of Armidale Class patrol boats. The fleet has faced a number of challenges with manufacturing defects, higher than expected workloads resulting in structural fatigue, and difficulties with maintenance. The White Paper also refers to the need for ‘ongoing sustainment of the frequently used but ageing AP-3C Orion fleet, along with the timely acquisition of a replacement capability’. The AP-3C Orion fleet of surveillance aircraft were introduced into service in the Royal Australian Air Force in 2002.
Integrity and reform
Customs officers operate in areas of high risk of corruption, as has been demonstrated by the recent results of taskforces into organised crime groups operating at the Sydney waterfront. A number of Customs and DAFF Biosecurity officers are alleged to have been involved in corrupt and criminal behaviour.
The government has responded to these challenges through a number of measures including bringing Customs, DAFF Biosecurity and other additional agencies under the jurisdiction of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, and the announcement of a ‘major program of structural and cultural reform’ for Customs led by a board reporting to the Minister for Home Affairs.
Customs budget and staffing
Graphs 4 and 5 illustrate changes in the proportion of funding allocated to different Customs programs and average staffing levels for the agency for the most recent five years for which figures are available.
Graph 4: Proportion of program funding allocated by Customs departmental program
Sources: Customs annual reports 2008-09 to 2011-12; Attorney-General’s Portfolio additional estimates statements 2012–13.
Graph 5: Customs average staffing levels
Source: Attorney-General’s Portfolio budget statements 2008–09 to 2012–13.
. Ibid., pp. 151–163; Australian Federal Police (AFP), ‘Aviation’, AFP website, accessed 8 May 2013.
. Portfolio budget statements 2012–13: budget related paper no. 1.2: Attorney-General’s Portfolio, op. cit., p. 103..
. There was a change in methodology in 2011–12: Customs, Customs, Annual report 2011–12, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2012, p. 20, accessed 9 May 2013.
. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs), Annual report 2010–11, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2011, p. 61, accessed 8 May 2013; Customs, Annual report 2011–12, op. cit., p. 21.
. Use has increased over the last two years: Customs, Annual report 2010–11, op. cit., p. 64; Customs, Annual report 2011–12, op. cit., pp. 21–22.
. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs), Annual report 2010–11, op. cit., p. 99.
. Customs, Annual report 2011–12, op. cit., pp. 61–63. For further detail on spending across portfolios see H Spinks, E Karlsen, N Brew, M Harris and D Watt, Australian Government spending on irregular maritime arrivals and counter-people smuggling activity, Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 6 December 2011.
. Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2010–11, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010, p. 97, accessed 9 May 2013; B O’Connor (Minister for Home Affairs), Austal announced as Cape Class patrol boat preferred tenderer, media release, 13 June 2011, accessed 9 May 2013.
. N Perry (National Director Marine Operations Support, Customs), Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Attorney-General’s Portfolio, Additional Budget Estimates, 2012–13, 12 February 2013, pp. 50–51, accessed 9 May 2013.
. C Stewart, ‘Fewer navy patrol boats’, Weekend Australian, 24 March 2012, p. 4, accessed 9 May 2013; C Stewart, ‘Patrol boats crack up: asylum demands breaking navy fleet’, The Australian, 10 August 2012, p. 1, accessed 9 May 2013; Royal Australian Navy, On The Record: Chief of Navy's letter to News Limited regarding Patrol Boats article, media release, 16 August 2012, accessed 9 May 2013.
. Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), ‘Orion AP-3C’, RAAF website, accessed 17 May 2013.
. See for example J Clare (Minister for Home Affairs), Press conference, transcript, 20 December 2012, accessed 17 May 2013.
. There are currently five departmental programs; funding for trade facilitation and revenue collection has been combined as they were covered under a single program until 2009–10.
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