The border is large. Its defence involves many government agencies and the private sector working in complex relationships in a fast-paced, high‑volume environment. There are significant commercial and trade interests. There is the dark influence of organised crime. There are also a large number of low-level staff with high discretion and low supervision.
This chapter provides an overview of the complex environment in which law enforcement and border agencies operate; the management of border arrangements; and the agencies and systems in place to identify, prevent and address integrity and corruption issues in law enforcement and border agencies.
The Australian border
The geographic border of Australia encompasses almost 60 000 kilometres of coastline (including islands). There are nine security designated airports and more than 70 sea ports across Australia. The Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs), formerly Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) has described the Australian border as a 'complex continuum stretching ahead of and behind the geographic border. It is a space that enables and controls the flow of people and the movement of goods through complex supply chains'.
The key points where these flows and movements occur are through Australia's air and sea ports, and associated facilities including container, cargo and international mail delivery centres and bonded warehouses. These facilities are owned and/or managed by a range of different actors, including national and state governments and private entities. The complex mix of government and business operations that constitute this 'shared border environment' presents a significant challenge for law enforcement.
In addition to facilities for the movement and temporary housing of people and goods, the border environment also encompasses non-frontline operations, including information and communications technology (ICT) systems that are now integral to border management, and which can provide the means to access valuable information for those wishing to circumvent law enforcement.
Border movements into and out of Australia
Notwithstanding recent declines resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the volumes of people and goods moving across Australia's borders have either remained high or grown steadily over time (depending on category, and with some exceptions) since this inquiry was launched in March 2015. The sheer volume of border movements alone indicates the level of complexity under which Australia's border agencies operate.
For example, in the pre-pandemic period of 2018–19, Home Affairs:
processed 47.4 million international air and sea travellers (including crew);
inspected 1.1 million air cargo and 70 238 sea cargo consignments;
inspected 36.4 million international mail items;
granted 160 323 permanent migrant visas;
granted 8.8 million temporary visas;
granted 18 732 humanitarian visas; and
collected revenue from customs duty, passenger movement charges and import processing charges of $20.78 billion.
The decline in traveller numbers since the second quarter of 2019–20, even allowing that the trend may persist as the pandemic continues, is not indicative of a more operationally straightforward environment for Australia's border agencies. On the contrary, as Home Affairs' 2019–20 annual report noted, as a result of the pandemic the ABF has implemented and is enforcing enhanced biosecurity measures for trade and travel. This has included updated procedures for incoming passengers and the implementation of new programs and capabilities to reduce the likelihood of transmission of COVID-19.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), formerly the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR), reported that during 2018–19, it:
undertook biosecurity checks of more than 23 million international travellers, intercepting over 270 000 items of biosecurity concern;
checked 144 million mail items, intercepting over 68 000 items of biosecurity concern;
inspected over 16 000 vessels; and,
identified non-compliance with biosecurity or other regulation in 550 000 commercial consignments and 430 000 non-commercial consignments.
Early in the inquiry, the DIBP provided a submission pointing to expected increases in movements of people and goods across the Australian border over time with improvements in transport and technology. While the COVID-19 pandemic has meant some of these predictions have not come to pass in an immediate sense, the longer-term trend is consistent with these predictions. Of particular note has been the exponential growth in the volume of online purchased goods crossing the border. Most of these goods pass through international mail delivery and air cargo facilities operated by the government business enterprise, Australia Post, and a number of privately owned entities, for example, DHL Express.
In addition to the rapid increase in the volume of people, goods and international mail crossing Australia's borders, there are a number of other factors presenting longer-term challenges to the agencies that manage border operations, including:
increasingly complex supply chains and travel routes; and
greater geographical dispersion of entry and exit points, both physical and electronic.
Illicit border movements, organised crime and corruption
Border environments have traditionally been associated with a level of criminal infiltration, and there are strong associations between illicit border movements, organised crime and corruption. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) submitted that 'corruption is a key enabler for serious and organised crime, such as drug and weapon importation, money laundering, and visa fraud'.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified Australia's wealth and vast sea borders as attractive to organised crime. It first raised this issue during the committee's 2013 inquiry into the integrity of overseas Commonwealth law enforcement operations. The final report for that inquiry quoted the UNODC, which warned that Australia was a target for organised crime.
The UNODC reiterated these comments in the wake of evidence of a significant rise in illicit drug production in Asia and the seizure of 'large amounts of crystal meth at Australia's borders – airports, ports, couriers, coming through consignments and big shipments'.
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's (ACIC) Illicit Drug Data Report 2018–19 reported record or near-record detections of illicit drugs at the Australian border, by weight, during the reporting period: the weight of amphetamine-type stimulants (excluding MDMA) seized was the highest on record. The weight of MDMA and cannabis was the highest recorded in the last decade, and the weight of cocaine was the second-highest on record. The Illicit Drug Data Report 2018–19 also found that:
The international mail stream continues to account for the greatest proportion of the number of illicit drug detections at the Australian border, however the importation stream accounting for the greatest proportion of the weight varies by drug type.
A 2018 media report stated that, during a 10 day period over Christmas 2017, Australian Border Force (Border Force) officers detected 100 kilograms of narcotics in international mail deliveries. The article also stated that 200 million international mail items go through the Sydney International Mail Gateway each year, of which only around 30 per cent is inspected.
Data for the 2019–20 year suggests an overall reduction in the weight of illicit drugs and precursors detected at the border as a result of changes in the movements of people and goods into Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, there has been an overall increase in the number of detections in this period. Moreover, a considerable number of recent successful drug detection operations undertaken by Border Force, in partnership with other law enforcement agencies including the AFP and state police forces, demonstrate that illicit drug importation is an ongoing concern. Organised crime groups have continued efforts to import large quantities of illicit drugs through the COVID-19 pandemic, and may have in fact stepped up such efforts to move drugs in bulk. For example, following the recent seizure of 552 kilograms of cocaine concealed in bags of banana pulp from Brazil, the AFP commented that organised crime groups and their associates 'are taking bigger risks and looking to move more illicit goods in bulk as a result of global lockdowns'.
The Home Affairs annual report for 2019–20 stated that there were 2541 illegal firearms detections at the border in 2019–20, an increase from the 2269 detections in 2018–19 and 2007 detections in 2017–18.
In its Illicit Firearms in Australia report, released in 2016, the ACIC stated that:
…criminals find importation by mail attractive because it offers fast delivery, tracking and a reduced risk of scrutiny due to the high volume of mail entering Australia. Australia Post’s recently introduced parcel lockers also offer a level of anonymity for postal imports. The majority of firearms, firearm parts and accessories and magazines detected by DIBP in the past five years were found in international mail.
As the above data indicates, sizeable quantities of illicit goods have been detected crossing into Australia through sea and air ports and international mail delivery facilities. What cannot be quantified is that which goes undetected. Similarly, it is difficult to identify, or to quantify the degree to which, corrupt activity within border law enforcement agencies facilitates these undetected movements.
Australia's border agencies
The model of border control used in Australia is dependent on 'specialist government agencies working together in shared operational environments – such as international airports or seaports, international mail facilities, and quarantine premises'. Agencies relevant to this inquiry are listed below by their function, with a brief outline of their role and their operating environment.
Department of Home Affairs
Home Affairs was established in December 2017 and assumed all functions previously carried out by DIBP, including Border Force.
In addition, Home Affairs was given the following functions:
national security and law enforcement policy;
emergency management, including crisis management and disaster recovery;
countering terrorism policy and coordination;
cyber security policy and coordination;
countering foreign interference;
critical infrastructure protection;
countering violent extremism programs; and
Since 20 December 2017, Home Affairs has assumed management of the movement of people and goods across Australian borders. This role also encompasses protection of Australia's borders from individuals or groups trying to undertake illicit movement of people or goods across our borders.
Home Affairs manages migration programs and the administration of Australian citizenship, customs and offshore maritime security. In addition, Border Force, the operationally independent border law enforcement agency and customs agency within the Home Affairs portfolio, is responsible for all border operations, 'including investigations, compliance, detention (facilities and centres), enforcement and direct support functions across Australia's airports and seaports, and land and maritime domains'.
Home Affairs regulates the security of the Australian maritime and aviation transport industries through compliance inspections, audits and other oversight activities of aviation or maritime transport operators, who deliver security services at air and sea ports. The department also has oversight of the Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC) and Maritime Security Identification Card (MSIC) schemes, under which people who regularly access secure areas of air and sea ports must undergo background checks.
Department of Agriculture Water and the Environment
DAWE has a role in the identification, surveillance and management of potential biosecurity threats to Australia. The department undertakes screening and inspections of people, mail parcels, baggage, ships, animals, plants and cargo containers entering Australia at the border and at offshore and onshore facilities and supply chains.
DAWE staff undertake regulatory activities under the Biosecurity Act 2015 in the external territories of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island and Norfolk Island. DAWE also has a joint presence with other Australian government agencies in sea ports, and in some privately operated premises, airports and international mail gateway facilities.
A distinguishing feature of the working environment in which DAWE staff operate, since the enactment of the Biosecurity Act 2015, is that some work is undertaken in the premises of privately owned third parties who have been designated as Biosecurity Industry Participants (BIPs). BIPs are enabled, through voluntary Approved Arrangements, to manage biosecurity risks in their own premises, as long as they are managed in accordance with DAWE requirements, and with 'occasional compliance monitoring (auditing) by the department'. Examples of premises with Approved Arrangements in place include sea and air freight depots, museums and art galleries, bonded warehouses, empty shipping container parks, agricultural product and livestock facilities. DAWE maintains a list of current Approved Arrangement sites on its website.
Australian Federal Police
The role of the AFP is to enforce Commonwealth criminal law, contribute to combating organised crime and protect Commonwealth interests from criminal activity in Australia and overseas. Relevant legislation includes the Australian Federal Police Act 1979.
The AFP provides general uniformed policing services, including investigations, patrols, enforcement of Commonwealth law, as well as specialist anti-terrorism policing, at nine security designated Australian airports (Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney).
In airport facilities, the AFP works in partnership with a number of different agencies, including Home Affairs, state and territory police forces, intelligence agencies and the aviation security industry.
In relation to maritime facilities, the AFP participates in Joint Organised Crime Groups and Joint Organised Crime Taskforces with other law enforcement agencies to investigate offences that involve serious and organised crime, including importation and trafficking of illicit drugs, money laundering, state-based trafficking and manufacturing of narcotics as well as importation and cross-border trafficking of other prohibited and restricted items. The AFP also works with private industry at sea ports, and has memorandums of understanding with a number of shipping companies and port authorities 'to promote cooperation and information exchange'.
Australia's border management system and institutions
There is no one single border management agency. Australia's borders are overseen, maintained and preserved by a range of agencies and systems working independently and in partnership. This in part reflects the complexities of the border environment.
Similarly, there is currently no single integrity or anti-corruption strategy or plan at the Commonwealth level to address government agency integrity issues; rather, a suite of measures encompassing prevention, detection and investigation which address different aspects of operational integrity have been put in place over time across agencies with border control functions. As is further explored in chapter 3, corruption vulnerabilities can arise at an individual officer or organisational level, or can arise from the external environment.
Internal integrity mechanisms
The committee heard evidence of the internal mechanisms agencies use to prevent, identify and address corrupt behaviour. As is the case with all Commonwealth agencies, each border agency has internal policies to ensure compliance with Australian government policies on fraud control and risk management. In its submission to the inquiry, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) stated that:
At a general level, the integrity frameworks of Australian Government agencies with a presence at the border can be considered by world standards to be robust and innovative, with some variation between agencies in expertise and resources. Such variation is not necessarily unexpected or inappropriate, and reflects perceptions of risk, stage of development, judgements related to competition for resources, role specialisation, and differing ability to leverage economies of scale and in‑house expertise.
Australia's border agencies have, for some time now, recognised the corruption risks inherent in the border environment, and sought to guard against those risks. The Annual Report of the Integrity Commissioner 2015–16, a report relating to the period in which this inquiry was first referred, noted that in recent years border agencies had 'strengthened their practices to guard against compromise and corruption. For example, mandatory reporting, drug testing and employment screening and more stringent reference checking have all been introduced or reinforced.'
Department of Home Affairs
Home Affairs promotes the importance of integrity and professional standards on its website, which states that '[c]orruption in our Department would greatly undermine government and public confidence in us, as well as the confidence of our partners'. The website outlines that the integrity and professional standards frameworks are based on a variety of sources, including the Public Service Act 1999, the Public Governance and Performance Accountability Act 2013, the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006 and the Australian Border Force Act 2015.
In its submission, Home Affairs outlined its integrity framework which includes:
employee suitability screening (implemented through a risk-based priority model);
requiring all officers to have and maintain a baseline national security clearance;
requiring officers to declare any changes in circumstances and associations;
requiring officers to report serious misconduct, corrupt conduct or criminal activity;
maintaining an alcohol free workplace and zero tolerance for the use of prohibited drugs;
restricting certain outside (secondary) employment and volunteer activities;
requiring conflicts of interest to be declared and appropriate mitigation strategies put in place; and
requiring the responsible use of social media and corporate electronic communication.
In addition to these measures, Home Affairs has dedicated resources for preventing and investigating fraud and corruption. The Integrity, Security and Assurance Division is a centralised unit responsible for the design and delivery of department-wide corporate risk, assurance, integrity and security policy and frameworks.
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
The DAWE (formerly the DAWR) has implemented an integrity framework that includes 'education, policy, legislation and internal governance components and is underpinned by human resource, information technology and investigation controls'. DAWR submitted that it had established an Assurance Branch within its Assurance and Legal Division 'to give appropriate focus to the ongoing management of the risk environment'.
In its second submission to the inquiry, DAWR provided information on a range of new integrity initiatives it had commenced, following a corruption risk assessment undertaken in 2013:
strengthened arrangements regarding secondary employment and real or perceived conflicts of interest, and has integrated consideration of these as part of its performance management process;
provided training and access to mentoring and specialist support to supervisors who operate offsite in dealing with matters of integrity or staff behaviour;
undertaken an independent review of the capability and capacity to effectively prevent, detect and respond to corruption by departmental employees;
established a Senior Executive Service level Integrity Management Committee to monitor staff misconduct information and provide a whole‑of-department risk-based response strategy;
introduced a network of integrity champions to promote an internal integrity culture and establish a mechanism to communicate corruption risk concerns to the entire workforce;
implemented an auditable case management system to effectively manage the department’s corruption allegations and investigations information;
expanded existing online e-learning packages to include face-to-face integrity workshops and scenario-based training and workshops highlighting corruption vulnerability trends which enable corrupt behaviour;
expanded the department’s 'community-of-practice' activities to develop more timely and efficient stakeholder engagement with strategic integrity partners including ACLEI and DIBP;
strengthened the department’s personnel security processes, including the requirement for national police checks for new employees and inter‑departmental transferees, as well as the requirement for ongoing staff to advise of changes in their circumstances and any security-related associations or contacts;
strengthened staff separation processes to remove system access, asset reconciliation and finalisation of performance management data; and
required ‘Declaration of Associations’ to be completed as part of the recruitment process.
In August 2017, DAWR informed the committee that it had recently conducted a review of its integrity framework, and advised that some of the initiatives listed above were in the process of being initiated, while some were yet to be implemented. DAWR submitted: '[t]his is an ongoing process which we expect we will continue to learn from through our community of practice and to continue to implement measures as we see vulnerabilities emerge'.
In its 2018–19 annual report, the Department of Agriculture (as it was then constituted), reported that in the reporting year it had made 'a significant investment in enhancing our integrity culture'. This investment, according to the department, included training and awareness programs to improve understanding of integrity and security risks and support staff to report integrity issues. The department also established a dedicated Integrity Unit and Hotline.
Australian Federal Police
The AFP also has an internal Integrity Framework, which is comprised of four elements: prevention, detection, investigation/response and continuous learning. Corruption prevention encompasses:
the AFP Fraud Control and Anti-Corruption Plan 2020, which sets out the AFP's strategy for 'overall management of fraud and corruption risks within, and against, the agency', and applies to all AFP staff, contractors and service providers;
stringent pre-employment screening, including consideration of issues relating to character, investigating possible links to individuals or groups involved in criminal activities, and other security risks; and ongoing maintenance of a security clearance in accordance with the Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework;
enforcement of the AFP Code of Conduct through the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 and the AFP Commissioner's Order on Professional Standards, which together set high standards of conduct for all employees, including conduct outside of employment; and
integrity training, which is a component of training for all new employees and recruits, and is undertaken as part of overseas deployments and leadership programs.
The second element of the AFP Integrity Framework, detection, is comprised of mandatory random drug and alcohol testing, and the use of intelligence systems to proactively detect integrity risk behaviours of appointees or work areas, or to verify integrity reporting. In addition, there is a Confidant Network of specially trained appointees which provides independent and discreet information, advocacy and support to staff dealing with integrity dilemmas.
In the third element of the AFP Integrity Framework, investigation and response, the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 prescribes the process for recording and dealing with AFP conduct and practice issues. All matters concerning corrupt conduct must be referred to ACLEI, and investigations may be undertaken solely by ACLEI or by ACLEI in partnership with the AFP. In addition, the Commonwealth Ombudsman is required to review and report on the AFP's records in relation to conduct and practice, providing regular external scrutiny.
In relation to continuous learning, the fourth element of the AFP Integrity Framework, the AFP undertakes regular benchmarking against best practice national and international standards. It has established processes to share best practice integrity frameworks, and understand and develop strategies to address emerging corruption risks with the Ombudsman, ACLEI and other law enforcement agencies. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, which was established by legislation in 2010, also provides oversight of the AFP.
In relation to other Commonwealth agencies, the AFP is tasked with investigating corruption. The next section deals with the role of the AFP and ACLEI in addressing corruption issues within border control agencies.
External integrity mechanisms
In addition to internal integrity mechanisms, border law enforcement agencies are subject to external investigation and/or integrity oversight by the AFP and/or ACLEI. The AFP has 'primary responsibility for investigating offences relevant to corruption issues within Australian Government agencies, except where legislation sets out requirements for referrals to ACLEI'.
Established by the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006 (the LEIC Act), ACLEI provides 'independent assurance to government about the integrity of prescribed law enforcement agencies and their staff members'. ACLEI’s role is to investigate law enforcement-related corruption issues, gather intelligence about corruption, identify and report on trends in relation to corruption in law enforcement agencies, and undertake corruption prevention activities, including making recommendations for relevant laws or practices within law enforcement agencies to be changed. Its focus is on serious and/or systemic corruption.
ACLEI has jurisdiction over the:
ACIC (formerly known as the Australian Crime Commission);
Home Affairs, including Border Force;
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre;
CrimTrac Agency (now situated within the ACIC);
prescribed parts of DAWE; and
the former National Crime Authority.
ACLEI's jurisdiction has been expanded in recent years to include the entirety of Home Affairs (the changes having been made when it was still the DIBP), and those parts of DAWE concerned with biosecurity. This has been, in part, in recognition of the higher risks of corruption in agencies involved with the management of Australia's borders. However, as was found in the committee's inquiry into ACLEI's jurisdiction, some concern has been raised about the impact of only partial inclusion of DAWE within ACLEI's jurisdiction, which could be a constraint on ACLEI performing its role. The recently announced expansion of ACLEI's jurisdiction to include the entirety of DAWE should address these concerns.
ACLEI works with partner agencies to identify corruption risks, and to undertake corruption prevention, investigation and response. Every two years, agencies within ACLEI's jurisdiction undertake fraud corruption risk assessments, assisted by ACLEI. The kinds of issues that have been identified by ACLEI during these processes include:
corruption enabled border crime;
private illicit drug use by public officials, which brings them into potential compromise by organised crime groups;
the risk posed by ‘back office’ staff – particularly ICT 'super-users'—who may have access to sensitive law enforcement information, but who often are subject to lesser scrutiny than front-line officers;
vulnerabilities in specific border operating environments, such as airport and quarantine clearance environments (not currently within ACLEI's jurisdiction); and
the prospect of 'vertical collusion', whereby federal and state officials might collude in corruption enabled border crime.
In relation to corruption prevention, ACLEI's aim is to 'work with agencies to make it as expensive and risk-laden as possible for their officials to collude with organised crime groups to smuggle drugs, or other contraband and commodities'. An example of this work in practice was provided by ACLEI: following the identification of corruption vulnerabilities at Sydney International Airport in 2011, ACLEI worked with the then Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to strengthen its integrity framework, through provision of advice on changes to internal frameworks and also 'played a role in the introduction of integrity testing and drug testing'.
Some corruption investigations undertaken by ACLEI are supported or assisted by other agencies, including the agency or agencies where the corrupt activity may be occurring, while other investigations are undertaken solely by ACLEI. ACLEI uses the resources of other law enforcement agencies in undertaking investigations. For example, ACLEI has access to an ACIC physical surveillance team through a funded service agreement, and to serious and organised crime investigation resources through a partnership arrangement with the AFP. Since June 2014, ACLEI has established a presence in Sydney in partnership with the AFP to give a focus to investigating corruption-enabled border crime.
Joint taskforces and investigation teams are a feature of anti-corruption work at Australia's borders. A number of successful operations have been undertaken in recent years, which were highlighted by ACLEI and the AFP. The following case study was provided by the AFP in its first submission to the inquiry. It provides some insight into the kinds of criminal activity associated with border operations, the kinds of corruption that occurs to facilitate such criminal activity and how law enforcement agencies jointly tackle both serious or organised crime and corruption.
Box 2.1: Operation Marca
Operation Marca (ACLEI Operation Heritage) was a joint taskforce between the AFP and ACLEI with the assistance of the then Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) targeting corruption within ACBPS at Sydney Airport.
The investigation originated from corruption allegations relating to the illegal importation of border controlled substances. These allegations were raised with ACLEI in early January 2011 by the then CEO of ACBPS. This subsequently resulted in the Integrity Commissioner establishing Taskforce Natio. Taskforce Natio involved ACLEI, AFP and ACBPS officers, with assistance from the New South Wales Police, and was tasked to investigate corruption allegations and related information about the possible importation of border controlled substances.
Through the use of illegally imported performance and image enhancing drugs, a network of individuals formed at Sydney International Airport, including ACBPS officers and an employee of the then Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry (DAFF).
The officers used their insider knowledge and privileged access to defeat surveillance and interdiction. This included knowledge about law enforcement techniques, systemic vulnerabilities at the border, and access to law enforcement databases. This enabled corrupt officials to work with criminal organisations to manipulate rosters and job placements which enabled them to facilitate importations of drugs. These officers used their official positions and workplace relationships to gather information and attempt to cover their tracks.
Between June 2012 and March 2014, 27 search warrants conducted under Operation Marca resulted in the seizure of 54 kilograms of pseudoephedrine and $237 450 in Australian currency.
The investigation resulted in the arrest of 30 people for drug, corruption and perjury offences. These arrests included eight ACBPS officers, a DAFF employee performing a quarantine function, two baggage handlers and organised crime members.
A further seven ACBPS officers have resigned as a result of code of conduct issues identified during the investigation.
This matter highlighted corruption risks arising from targeting of officials by criminal groups, frustrated ambition, complacency, poor oversight at the team level, boredom, and ability to manipulate rostering combined with knowledge of operational processes.
Source: Australian Federal Police, Submission 5, p. 5
Australia's border management arrangements are a complex matrix of different government agencies and external service suppliers each with their own distinct functions. In some cases these entities perform different aspects of a single border function, which adds to the complexity. However, the complexity of the task requires a certain level of complexity in the management structure. Like the maxim, Australia's border arrangements are 'as simple as they can be, but no simpler.'
The necessary complexity of border management arrangements, however, makes it harder to ensure appropriate integrity and corruption deterrence and investigations. These challenges are discussed in the following chapter.