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Joint Committee on Migration
Immigration entry arrangements for the Olympic Games
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Immigration entry arrangements for the Olympic Games
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Joint Committee on Migration
Content WindowJoint Committee on Migration - 03/03/99 - Immigration entry arrangements for the Olympic Games
CHAIR —Welcome, Mr Broome. We have a submission from you. Do you wish to amend that in any way or would you like to provide an opening statement to the committee?
Mr Broome —I have just a very brief observation to make. We have set out the essential concerns we have about issues which are before the committee in that letter. There is nothing that I would wish to change in it. Perhaps the one point I would make is that as far as the authority is concerned, we are not suggesting that the fact of the Olympics is of major significance in the work that we do. What we would say, of course, is that any event which sees a very substantial increase in entries to Australia and adds to the number of people who are in any particular place at one time would expectedly give rise to certain increases in criminal activity of a whole variety, ranging from community police type issues through to, perhaps, more complex and sophisticated crimes.
We will be continuing to do the sort of work that we do all the time. The point we have made is that this is an issue where some additional vigilance is required. I would not, for our part, want to put it higher than that, other than to also reinforce the point that we have made that at least for our part we see a retention of the present entry system as an important part of Australia's capacity to respond to potential problems, both in relation to terrorism—about which we have no real involvement—and certainly in relation to crime. That is a position we put.
I will make one observation in light of some of the earlier evidence given this morning. The kinds of constraints that are there are not for the benefit of the agencies; they are for the benefit of the Australian community, which is the group for which we provide our services and work. I do not think it is correct to describe these issues as ones which benefit particular organisations, be they government or otherwise. They are for the Australian community's benefit.
CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Broome. Would you like to tell the committee how you see the present visa situation, where people are required to have either a paper visa or an ETA, as assisting you in your work?
Mr Broome —There is no doubt that the present system, which provides advance warning capacity, which enables persons of possible interest to be flagged, and which certainly—even in its more streamlined forms—does have the advantage of some prior warning, is of assistance to law enforcement. Primarily, the agencies that benefit from that are obviously the Australian Federal Police, Customs, Immigration—because of its responsibilities—and indeed the state police services, which also have the capacity to identify persons of interest under that system.
For our part, it is not a huge area of activity or interest. Clearly, we can and we do use that if we have particular people of interest we would like to identify but we, like the majority of Australian law enforcement, obviously benefit from a system where we are able to be given advance warning of possible entrants who are of some interest or concern and to
be able to have a system maintained which enables identification of persons of interest. I accept that they are not necessarily systems which have to run concurrently—you can have an alert system without necessarily having a visa system—but in fact they do complement each other, at least in my view.
CHAIR —Are you happy with the arrangements for the Olympics? Are there any areas of the arrangements that you have any concerns about at all?
Mr Broome —I guess any concerns I would have go more generally to the extent to which it is possible to have, even under the present visa system, the kind of checking done in source countries before visas are issued, which in a perfect world we might like to see. But I am a realist, and I know that what we are doing here is balancing a whole lot of competing interests. You have just heard from witnesses who represent industries that have a very real interest in ensuring that the flow of tourists to Australia is as unimpeded as it is possible to make it. I understand that concern. I think that in some circumstances it would be better if there were resources available to conduct more rigorous assessment of people—not intuitively but based on available evidence. But the simple realities are that you cannot process the number of people who come to Australia through the kinds of posts, and the staffing we provide at those posts, at a level which is higher than is presently being provided.
CHAIR —Mr Broome, yesterday we heard that the questions asked on the ETA form were basically name, address, passport number—that was pretty well it. Would you like to see more questions on that ETA form and, if so, what would the questions be?
Mr Broome —At the end of the day, at least from the position of the National Crime Authority, I think the basic issues of the entry control system are not ones that fall within our responsibility—
CHAIR —I understand that. I just wondered about it for your own benefit, for the organisation in its work to assist the Australian population—
Mr Broome —Clearly, the greater the extent to which one can identify persons of genuine concern from a law enforcement perspective before they arrive in Australia is an advantage.
Senator McKIERNAN —Mr Broome, can I say at the beginning how pleased I am that your organisation has not sought to put in a confidential submission to the committee and that you are prepared to give your evidence in public. I certainly appreciate that. I have raised the matter with the Attorney-General's Department when they appeared before the committee in camera, and their submission is confidential. I think it detracts from this whole debate around the visa system, and indeed around the matters associated with the Olympics that are the purpose of our inquiry. So it is enlightening that you are here today without seeking the cloak of secrecy around you. Hopefully, the other organisations might reflect on that.
Mr Broome —Can I just say thank you for the compliment, Senator. Despite suggestions to the contrary, the authority is not a secretive organisation. It is an organisation that has
great concern about the privacy of people who may be the subject of its investigations. But when it comes to issues of this kind, I think we should be prepared to express our point of view, to be publicly accountable for it, and to answer the questions in public.
Senator McKIERNAN —Thank you for that. I might also say, because I have been critical, how I commend the representative of the AFP who did give part of the evidence in public yesterday. Has your organisation been given any additional resources by the government, through the budgetary processes, specifically for activities associated with the Olympics?
Mr Broome —No, and we have not sought any either.
Senator McKIERNAN —Other law enforcement organisations have.
Mr Broome —Yes, because their functions much more directly are affected by the kinds of circumstances that surround the Olympics. We do not have an anti-terrorism capacity or function; it is not part of our statutory charter. We are not concerned with border movement per se. We are not concerned about the sorts of areas that ASIO are concerned with in terms of their statutory responsibilities. It does not seem to me to be either necessary or appropriate, based on the fact of the Olympics, to seek funding from the government in relation to our functions. We have received additional funding from the government in the last two budgets in relation to specific areas of work which we carry out. Those areas clearly may be affected in the sense that there will be greater numbers of people coming to Australia and there may be, therefore, an increased market for some illicit drugs because there will be visitors who may seek to buy those drugs while they are here, and so on. But we have not thought it appropriate to try and separate out our normal work in relation to organised crime and link it in some way specifically to the Olympics.
Senator McKIERNAN —There has been some publicity about the fact that the Customs Service will be relaxing their inspections at the airports, particularly for Olympic Family members. Are you aware of that speculation and, if so, do you have any views?
Mr Broome —I think there will be an inevitable consequence that if you are processing—and let me just say that I accept at face value the figures I have heard this morning—320,000 more people coming into Australia next year than perhaps this year, that X will only go into Y so many times. I think there is going to be an inevitable consequence that resources will be such that there may well be a reduction in inspection capacity.
What I would point out, of course, is that in relation to Customs inspection capacity, it has never been suggested that Customs could or should search containers, passenger baggage, or anything of that kind, other than on a whole series of considerations which they will put in place to make informed decisions about where resources are deployed. It is all about risk management, it is about using intelligence, and so on. I would see that kind of process obviously continuing. I think that those kinds of concerns—which obviously should be taken up with Customs rather than us—I would not be that concerned, because it seems to me that we have always had the situation where we have had to use the available resources in the most intelligent and informed way, and that situation certainly will not change.
Senator McKIERNAN —The tourist industry as such has made a very strong push that there be a visa-free trial introduced that coincides with the Olympics. I have a view that this would be completely the wrong time to introduce such a trial, even if I were of a mind to have a trial at all. I would have thought that this was perhaps the most inappropriate time to have such a trial, and we have not actually been given final details of what a trial would consist of. What are your views on that?
Mr Broome —If you start from the proposition that because of the influx of visitors next year there is an increased risk, of whatever magnitude, from potential terrorism and from law enforcement perspectives more generally, it seems to me that in a normal risk management approach that would not be the environment in which you would undertake a trial of something which, by definition, reduces your capacity to identify potential problems. With respect, Senator, instinctively and logically the point that you make strikes me as making a lot of sense. It is not the time of choice that I would do it. I think it is also fairly obvious that if you conducted a trial at such a time of peak movements, I would question whether that was really a proposal for a trial at all.
Dr THEOPHANOUS —As the chair has pointed out, the ETA system does not ask for very much information and the only check that it allows you to do is against the MAL system. Are you satisfied that the MAL system is adequate to provide you with information about potential problem people?
Mr Broome —I am satisfied that it works in the sense that if we identify someone for the alert list, then we will be alerted about that person. The question of how well MAL performs its function is in a sense different from the broader question about visas. Certainly, in relation to those visitors who can come with the electronic processing, there is quite clearly less opportunity for checks to be undertaken and less time for those checks to be undertaken—which is the same point, in a sense—and obviously less information on which—
Dr THEOPHANOUS —You would not even come across them, would you, unless they are already on the MAL system?
Mr Broome —That is what I am saying. You have asked me whether MAL works. MAL works if we put something on it, but the real question is to know who you are looking for. Quite often it is only if you are in the position to make some kind of check through other systems that you might identify people of potential concern. Obviously, you do not put people, and we certainly do not identify people, on those systems unless we have a very good reason for doing so. You do not want to clog them up for a start and you do not want to be in a situation where you are crying wolf. You want people to believe that if the system is being used by an agency such as ours we need to respond when they get a hit.
Dr THEOPHANOUS —Whereas with the non-ETA system you have the situation where there are effectively lots and lots of questions asked—including questions about any kind of police offences, local or international in character—which is something you do not have with the other system.
Mr Broome —Sure.
Dr THEOPHANOUS —Does that assist you?
Mr Broome —If I had my druthers, I guess I would want to see a little bit more available, at least in terms of the ETA. From the authority's point of view, we are a user of that system—given the nature of our work, clearly some of the people in whom we have a direct interest are those who I think are of substantial concern to the Australian community—but we are not the major users of the system and we are not the major drivers of the system. I guess there are things where I would like to see a little more warning and a little more information available, but, as I said at the outset, successive governments have made decisions to balance some quite difficult competing considerations and those balances are never easily struck.
Dr THEOPHANOUS —Is it not true that because of the ETA/non-ETA system you can have a lot of information about whether, for example, a kid in China has been arrested for shoplifting, whereas you have no information about whether somebody might have robbed a bank or killed somebody in Britain or one of the other European countries?
Mr Broome —It is certainly true that with the electronic system and the way it is processed, you will not, by definition, have provided by the applicant the same amount of information.
Dr THEOPHANOUS —It does not strike you as somewhat odd that on the one hand from the non-ETA system you have very detailed information about even the slightest offence, and yet in the ETA system you have no knowledge even of the most serious offences?
Mr Broome —There is obviously an inconsistency which is, as I understand it, in large part one based on assessments that have been made about low risk countries, as they have been described. I understand that, although I am not sure that you can categorise a whole community as high or low risk. Certainly, in our experience—
Dr THEOPHANOUS —But these high and low risk categories have nothing to do with terrorism or offences—they have only to do with overstaying and immigration. Therefore they really do not help you very much at all.
Mr Broome —That is certainly true.
Dr THEOPHANOUS —Have you ever tried to talk to Immigration about the possibility of a system that might help you a bit better?
Mr Broome —There has been for a long period of time a great deal of debate around government—certainly, that I am personally aware of, it has gone on for the last 15 years—where these issues have been thrown backwards and forwards. I think it is fair to say no-one has come up with the answer that satisfies all the competing interests. What we have at the moment is a compromise.
CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Broome, for appearing before us today. You will get a copy of the transcript. If you have any queries, get back to us. In the meantime, if we have any more inquiries in your area, we will get back to you. Thank you very much for your time.
Mr Broome —Thanks very much indeed.