Counter-people smuggling measures

Budget Review 2014–15 Index

Cat Barker

The Coalition went into the 2013 Federal Election with two key policies relevant to countering people smuggling—establishment of Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), a ‘military-led response to combat people smuggling and protect our borders’, and a regional deterrence framework.[1] Most of the funding to implement those policies was included in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2013–14 (MYEFO). The 2014–15 Budget supplements the MYEFO, mainly by providing further funding for existing measures due to expire.

Regional deterrence and cooperation

The MYEFO contained $66.8 million (including $4.3 million in capital funding) from 2013–14 to 2015–16 for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to ‘work domestically and with regional partners to combat the operations of people smugglers’ through increased intelligence gathering, disruptions and joint policing operations.[2] The bulk of the funding will go to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) ($38.0 million) and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service ($26.8 million). Both agencies received additional funding for these activities in the 2009–10 and 2011–12 Budgets, with the AFP also allocated a small amount in the 2013–14 Budget.[3] The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has been allocated $1.4 million and the Australian Crime Commission $0.5 million. The Australian Signals Directorate will also contribute to this measure, but will do so from existing resources. The relevant election policy indicates the AFP’s involvement at least will be focused on Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.[4] This measure will have been affected by Indonesia’s decision in November 2013 to suspend cooperation with Australia on people smuggling issues.[5]

A further $40.9 million from 2013–14 to 2015–16 (including capital funding of $4.4 million) was included in the MYEFO for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to help countries in the region ‘detect and disrupt irregular movements of people from source and transit countries and reduce the flow of potential illegal immigrants to Australia’. The relevant election policy indicates the Government will work with other countries to identify high-risk travellers at an early stage, accelerate work underway through the Bali Process Regional Support Office for matching of biometric data with Indonesia and Malaysia and provide equipment, software and training to Indonesia.[6]

Smaller amounts of additional funding announced since the 2013–14 Budget include:

  • $19.9 million over four years for community engagement and communications aimed at preventing and disrupting people smuggling activities, including in Indonesia (MYEFO)

–      Communications campaigns aimed at deterring asylum seekers from using people smugglers to reach Australia have been funded from 2009–10 onwards[7]

–      The campaign outlined in the relevant election policy included a ‘capped boat buy-back scheme’ and the option of ‘bounty payments’ for information resulting in significant people smuggling disruptions or convictions.[8] The Australian reported in December 2013 that funding for the measure had been ‘quietly reassigned’, with around $8.0 million allocated for a community liaison program in Indonesia and the remainder to be spent on a communications campaign focused in Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.[9]

  • $6.4 million over two years from 2014–15 for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to continue existing counter-people smuggling measures, specifically a dedicated position in Sri Lanka, the Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues and Bali Process meetings (2014–15 Budget)
  • $3.7 million in 2014–15 to continue Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs) officer postings in Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka to coordinate Australian Government activities to prevent maritime people smuggling (2014–15 Budget)
  • $2.4 million over four years to donate two retired Bay Class vessels each to Sri Lanka (MYEFO) and Malaysia (2014–15 Budget) to be used to combat people smuggling and
  • $1.0 million over two years from 2013–14 to fund the Special Envoy for OSB (2014–15 Budget, first identified in the 2013–14 Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements).[10]

Maritime surveillance and interception

Additional funding announced since the 2013–14 Budget for maritime surveillance and interception includes:

  • $81.2 million over four years to maintain Customs operations in Australia’s northern waters, including extending the leases on Australian Customs Vessels Triton and Ocean Protector and Reims aircraft, increasing flight hours for Dash 8 aircraft and expanding the Australian Maritime Identification System (MYEFO)

–      Additional funding towards extending leases, increasing patrols and replacing vessels has been a regular feature of budgets handed down since 2009–10.[11]

  • $31.6 million in 2013–14 (MYEFO) and $60.3 million in 2014–15 and 2015–16 (2014–15 Budget) to cover the net additional cost of continuing Operation Resolute, the Australian Defence Force’s (Defence) contribution to whole-of-government maritime surveillance efforts, until 2015, and expand it to include activities related to OSB[12]

–      Defence was required to absorb the additional costs of this operation, which were around $10.0 million per year, in the 2011–12 to 2013–14 Budgets[13]

–      This operation targets a range of other maritime security threats.[14] However, the significant increase in the net additional cost since it was expanded at the commencement of OSB may indicate that most of the resources are currently focused on dealing with irregular maritime arrivals and

  • $10.0 million from 2013–14 to 2015–16 to establish a Joint Agency Taskforce to lead OSB (MYEFO, p. 167).

[1].           Liberal Party of Australia and the Nationals, The Coalition's Operation Sovereign Borders policy, Coalition policy document, Election 2013, accessed 14 May 2014; Liberal Party of Australia and the Nationals, The Coalition's policy for a regional deterrence framework to combat people smuggling, Coalition policy document, Election 2013, accessed 14 May 2014.

[2].           The budget figures have been taken from the following document, unless otherwise sourced: J Hockey (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2013–14, 2013, accessed 14 May 2014.

[3].           H Spinks, C Barker and D Watt, Australian Government spending on irregular maritime arrivals and counter-people smuggling activity, Research paper series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, updated 4 September 2013, pp. 21–26, accessed 14 May 2014.

[4].           The Coalition's policy for a regional deterrence framework, op. cit., p. 10.

[5].           P Alford, ‘Boats sanctions “outrageous”’, The Australian, 21 January 2014, p. 4, accessed 14 May 2014.

[6].           The Coalition's policy for a regional deterrence framework, op. cit., p. 12.

[7].           Australian Government spending, op. cit., pp. 23–26.

[8].           The Coalition's policy for a regional deterrence framework, op. cit., p. 11.

[9].           P Maley and C Stewart, ‘Boats buyback sinking as cash siphoned off’, The Australian, 17 December 2013, p. 7, accessed 14 May 2014.

[10].         Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2014–15, 2014, accessed 14 May 2014, pp. 119, 151, 154–5; Australian Government, Portfolio additional estimates statements 2013–14: Immigration and Border Protection Portfolio, p. 132, accessed 14 May 2014.

[11].         C Barker and H Spinks, ‘Responding to unauthorised arrivals’, Budget review 2013–14, Research paper, 3, 2012–13, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2013, accessed 14 May 2014; H Spinks, C Barker and M Biddington, ‘Responding to unauthorised arrivals’, Budget review 2012–13, Research paper, 9, 2011–12, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2012, accessed 14 May 2014; H Spinks, J Phillips, E Karlsen and N Brew, ‘Responding to boat arrivals’, Budget review 2011–12, Research paper, 13, 2010–11, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2011, accessed 14 May 2014; J Phillips, ‘Border protection and combating people smuggling’, Budget review 2009–10, Research paper, 33, 2008–09, Parliamentary Library 2009, accessed 14 May 2014.

[12].         Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2014–15, op. cit., p. 75.

[13].         Australian Government spending, op. cit., p. 6; Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2011–12, 2011, p. 126, accessed 14 May 2014.

[14].         Department of Defence, ‘Border protection’, Defence website, accessed 14 May 2014. 

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