Immigration Border protection and combating people smuggling

Budget Review 2009-10 Index

Budget 2009 10: Immigration

Border protection and combating people smuggling

Janet Phillips

With a rise in the number of boat arrivals since September 2008, the Government has been under increasing pressure to address border security and people smuggling issues. According to the Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, $654 million has been allocated in this Budget across several portfolios ‘to fund a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to combat people smuggling and help address the problem of unauthorised boat arrivals’.[1]   

It is not clear from the Minister’s press releases or budget papers where this funding has been allocated. However, it appears that much of it has been allocated to agencies within the Attorney-General’s portfolio, mostly for coastal and maritime surveillance activities and people smuggling investigations/prosecutions (to Customs, the Australian Federal Police and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in particular).[2] An additional $1.7 million has been allocated to the Defence portfolio for coastal surveillance to deter people smuggling.[3]

The remainder of the Government’s whole-of-government border protection and people smuggling funding—a total of $92.4 million—has been allocated to the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) for combating people smuggling and strengthening ‘engagement with our regional neighbours and international organisations’.[4]

Of the funding allocated to the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio ($40.2 million), much of it has been allocated to improved intelligence on people smuggling in the region—$30.5 million over four years goes to the Australian Secret Intelligence Agency (ASIS) as part of the Government’s ‘layered response to the resurgent maritime people smuggling threat’.[5] The remainder ($9.7 million over two years) has been allocated for regional cooperation and engagement on people smuggling, including the re-establishment of an Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues.[6]

In addition, PM&C has been allocated $2.8 million to manage border security and people smuggling issues, including the establishment of a Border Protection Committee consisting primarily of members of Cabinet.[7]

As part of its share in the $92.4 million for border protection and combating people smuggling, DIAC has been allocated $39.6 million—with a focus on ‘preventive overseas interventions’:

  • $14.3 million over two years for regional engagement with Indonesia, including additional funding to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for managing detention facilities in Indonesia and establishing temporary transit facilities
  • $16.4 million over two years to ‘address irregular population flows’ through the region, including funding to develop a regional framework for the resolution of the status of asylum seekers in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and IOM and
  • $8.9 million over four years for improved intelligence and compliance support at airports and seaports both offshore and onshore.[8]

Since the Budget announcements, some commentators have questioned whether the Government’s people smuggling measures are in proportion to actual boat arrivals. One post-Budget press report questioned whether:

The politics of border protection have skewed the Rudd Government’s national security priorities with the budget committing $654 million to stop the flow of asylum seekers heading for Australian shores.[9]

The ‘unauthorised’ arrival of asylum seekers has raised concerns globally for many decades with most destination countries struggling to maintain a reasonable balance between attending to the needs of displaced people and protecting national borders. In the case of Australia, concerns over ‘unauthorised’ boat arrivals or ‘boat people’ have occupied successive governments since the 1970s. However, many argue that the numbers of boat arrivals in Australia are small in comparison to the significant flows of ‘unauthorised’ arrivals in other parts of the world over the last few decades and that the policy response by governments over the years to unplanned migration in Australia may be excessive.[10]

[1].    B Debus (Minister for Home Affairs), $1.3 billion to combat people smuggling and strengthen Australia’s national security, media release, Canberra, 12 May 2009, viewed 14 May 2009,

[2].    B Debus The Minister includes figures in this budget media release of $324 million and $63 million (totalling $387 million) for coastal and aerial surveillance activities.

[3].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2009–10, Commonwealth of Australia, 2009, p. 134, viewed 15 May 2009,

[4].    B Debus

[5].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2009–10, p. 255.

[6].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2009–10, pp. 254–255.

[7].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2009–10, p. 370.

[8].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2009–10, pp. 332–334.

[9].    P Dorling, ‘Border politics drive up funding’, The Canberra times, 13 May 2009, p. 22, viewed 15 May 2009,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2F7FJT6%22

[10]. D McMaster, Asylum seekers: Australia’s response to refugees, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2001, pp. 9, 98, 125–126.