Border protection and counter-people smuggling measures

Budget Review 2015–16 Index

Cat Barker

The 2015–16 Budget contains several measures relating to border protection and counter-people smuggling. While most include additional funding, none are entirely new measures. Rather, they continue existing measures due to expire or represent savings realised from 2014–15 Budget measures.

Border protection

The consolidation of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs) into the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) and the establishment of the Australian Border Force (ABF) were announced in May 2014.[1] Legislation to establish the ABF from 1 July 2015 has been passed by both Houses of Parliament.[2]

The 2014–15 Budget allocated $480.5 million over four years for the consolidation and associated reforms, with more than half the total from existing portfolio resources.[3] The Government stated at the time that the measure would produce ‘hundreds of millions in savings’ that would be reinvested back into the ABF, but those savings were not detailed in the 2014–15 Budget.[4] The savings foreshadowed last year are reflected in the 2015–16 Budget, which indicates the Government will save $270.1 million over four years.[5] However, it does not appear they are necessarily being reinvested back into the ABF. The description of the measure states the savings will be ‘redirected by the Government to repair the Budget and fund policy priorities’, while a note in the Portfolio Budget Statement indicates $70 million of the total will be ‘reinvested for reform activities’ in the measure outlined below.[6]

The 2015–16 Budget measure ‘Strengthen and enhance Australia’s border protection—further measures’ builds on the $480.5 million in the 2014–15 Budget and a measure in the Mid-Year Fiscal and Economic Outlook (MYEFO). A further $151.9 million over four years will go to the DIBP for:

  • initial work towards new technologies to manage travellers’ biometric data and visa information
  • a trial and rollout of new eGates at major international airports and three seaports (funding towards this measure was included under a counter-terrorism package in the 2014–15 MYEFO[7]) and
  • additional equipment and training for the ABF.

The funding for particular components has not been fully detailed. A Budget media release indicates $93.7 million over five years will go towards the ‘Seamless Traveller’ initiative, which covers the rollout of SmartGates and new eGates with biometric capabilities, and that $5.6 million will go towards a pilot phase of a ‘Trusted Trader Programme’.[8] Neither initiative is mentioned directly in Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2015–16, and both appear to have originated under Customs’ Blueprint for Reform 2013–18.[9]

The measure also includes an additional $12.9 million over four years for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. The Commission’s jurisdiction already includes Customs; from 1 July 2015 it will oversee the whole of the DIBP.[10]

Separate measures include a further ‘restructure’ of the Import Processing Charge (IPC) and licence charges that will generate $107.6 million in additional revenue over four years (the IPC was last increased in the 2013–14 Budget[11]), and $26.2 million over four years (including $2.3 for the Department of Agriculture) to establish permanent border clearance services at Townsville and Sunshine Coast airports to support international flights.

Counter-people smuggling and maritime surveillance

Funding in the 2015–16 Budget for counter-people smuggling activities and maritime surveillance is directed at extending or expanding existing measures. It comprises the following:

  • $53.8 million over two years for Defence to cover the net additional cost of extending Operation Resolute to the end of June 2016. This operation targets a range of maritime security threats, but the significant increase in the net additional cost since it was expanded at the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) may indicate that most of the resources are currently focused on dealing with irregular maritime arrivals.[12]
  • $74.3 million over five years from 2014–15 to increase the patrol days of the Australian Customs Vessel (ACV) Ocean Shield from 180 to 300 days annually from 2015–16 to 2017–18, and to continue patrols for 180 days in 2018–19. A total of $92.9 million was included in the 2014–15 MYEFO to ‘repurpose and transition ownership’ of Ocean Shield from Defence to Customs from 1 July 2014 (instead of 1 July 2016) and extend the lease for the ACV Triton by six months to the end of 2014–15.[13] Additional funding towards extending leases, increasing patrols and replacing vessels has been a regular feature of budgets handed down since 2009–10.[14]
  • $39.9 million over four years to continue counter-people smuggling ‘strategic communications campaigns’ in Australia and overseas. Campaigns of this type have been run for some time; however, they have been expanded, with concomitant funding increases and a degree of controversy, in recent years.[15]
  • $12.5 million allocated from existing resources to continue the OSB Disruption and Deterrence Task Group, led by the Australian Federal Police, for a further two years. Funding to the end of 2015–16 was included in the 2013–14 MYEFO.[16]
  • $4.7 million in 2015–16 only to retain ABF (currently Customs) postings in Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka to coordinate activities aimed at preventing maritime people smuggling. This measure has been extended at one or two year intervals since 2009–10.[17]
  • $1.3 million in 2015–16 only to continue activities through the Bali Process Regional Support Office. The Office was established in 2012 to support implementation of the Regional Cooperation Framework to reduce irregular migration in the Asia Pacific region.[18]

[1].          S Morrison (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), A new force protecting Australia’s borders: address to the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney (A new force), media release, 9 May 2014.

[2].          Parliament of Australia, ‘Australian Border Force Bill 2015 homepage’, Australian Parliament website. For details, see C Barker, Australian Border Force Bill 2015 and Customs and Other Legislation Amendment (Australian Border Force) Bill 2015, Bills digest, 94, 2014–15, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 7 May 2015. The Bill had not received Royal Assent at the time of writing.

[3].          C Barker, ‘Australian Border Force’, Budget review 2014–15, Research paper series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.

[4].          Ibid.; A new force, op. cit.

[5].          The budget figures in this article have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, 2015.

[6].          Ibid., p. 125; Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.11: Immigration and Border Protection Portfolio, pp. 23, 26.

[7].          The Immigration and Border Protection portfolio was allocated $154.7 million under the 2014–15 MYEFO measure ‘Additional counter-terrorism funding’, some of which was for the eGate rollout (the exact amount does not seem to have been made public). J Hockey (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2014–15 (MYEFO 2014–15), pp. 135–36; S Morrison (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), New measures at our borders to protect against terrorist threat, media release, 10 September 2014.

[8].          P Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Control), Benefits for consumers, travellers and industry from red tape cuts and new technology, media release, 12 May 2015.

[9].          Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs), Blueprint for reform: 2013–18, Customs, Canberra, June 2013, pp. 36–37.

[10].       Parliament of Australia, ‘Customs and Other Legislation Amendment (Australian Border Force) Bill 2015 homepage’, Australian Parliament website. The Bill has been passed by both Houses of Parliament but had not received Royal Assent at the time of writing.

[11].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2013–14, 2013, p. 10; Import Processing Charges Amendment Act 2013.

[12].       Department of Defence (Defence), ‘Global operations: border protection’, Defence website; C Barker, ‘Counter-people smuggling measures’, Budget review 2014–15, Research paper series, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014.

[13].       MYEFO 2014–15, p. 177.

[14].       ‘Counter-people smuggling measures’, op. cit.

[15].       Ibid.; MYEFO 2014–15, p. 174; 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, p. 23; S Whyte, ‘Australia’s $20m “keep out” sign’, The Age, 3 May 2014, p. 14; T Swann, ‘Rudd’s irregular ad spend on people smugglers’, The Saturday Paper (online edition), 7 June 2014.

[16].       J Hockey (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2013–14, p. 120.

[17].       H Spinks, C Barker and D Watt, op. cit.; ‘Counter-people smuggling measures’, op. cit.

[18].       Regional Support Office, ‘Regional support office: information’, Information sheet, Bali Process website. For information on the Framework, see ‘Regional Cooperation Framework’, Bali Process website.


All online articles accessed May 2015. 

For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.

© Commonwealth of Australia

Creative commons logo

Creative Commons

With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, and to the extent that copyright subsists in a third party, this publication, its logo and front page design are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence.

In essence, you are free to copy and communicate this work in its current form for all non-commercial purposes, as long as you attribute the work to the author and abide by the other licence terms. The work cannot be adapted or modified in any way. Content from this publication should be attributed in the following way: Author(s), Title of publication, Series Name and No, Publisher, Date.

To the extent that copyright subsists in third party quotes it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material.

Inquiries regarding the licence and any use of the publication are welcome to

This work has been prepared to support the work of the Australian Parliament using information available at the time of production. The views expressed do not reflect an official position of the Parliamentary Library, nor do they constitute professional legal opinion.

Any concerns or complaints should be directed to the Parliamentary Librarian. Parliamentary Library staff are available to discuss the contents of publications with Senators and Members and their staff. To access this service, clients may contact the author or the Library‘s Central Entry Point for referral.