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Thursday, 14 May 2015
Page: 3167


Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (13:25): The measures in the Australian Border Force Bill 2015 and related bill are ones that the opposition will be supporting. They fulfil a commitment that was made by the member for Blaxland when he was the Minister for Justice in the former Labor government. Merging the border control functions of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection into a single integrated agency was formally proposed last year by the National Commission of Audit, but the need for the structural and cultural change in border control was identified in 2013 by the capability review of the Customs and Border Protection Service, which Labor established. The review recognised the work of Customs as growing much more complex, requiring fundamental revision of the management systems, intelligence capabilities and business processes. Substantially increasing volumes of passengers and cargo traffic, the increased complexity of travel routes and supply chains and the threat of criminal infiltration all require constant enhancement of border protection.

The task reforms set out by the capability review began under Labor. We began the move towards full electronic data reporting for goods arriving and departing our border. We strengthened the investigative relationship between Customs and the Australian Federal Police and created a special integrity adviser to manage cases of serious misconduct. Labor understands that improving border control and processes requires constant refinement to keep up with best practice, and we will continue to support reform in that vein.

The Australian Border Force Bill 2015 brings the Department of Immigration and Border Protection clearly within the national security sector. Importantly, however, the Australian Border Force will not have greater powers than are currently possessed by the Customs Service and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Specifically, the bill establishes the Office of the Australian Border Force Commissioner, who will control the operations of the new agency. The commissioner and Australian Border Force members will be able to exercise powers under the Customs Act, the Migration Act, the Maritime Powers Act and other relevant Commonwealth legislation.

The bill is consequential to the ABF Bill. It repeals the Customs Administration Act and therefore abolishes the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. The ABF Commissioner will also hold the office of Comptroller-General of Customs, with responsibility for the enforcement of Customs law and the collection of relevant revenues.

Because of the hour I will not go through the detail of the measures, but I will simply say that we understood that it had been agreed across the chamber that this legislation would be dealt with as non-controversial legislation. I understand that that has changed with the view that amendments are now being sought. We received no notice of the amendment. We were not consulted about it and we do not believe that the amendment is necessary. Labor supports the existing whistleblower arrangements and would oppose any attempt to dilute those protections. The advice we have received is that this bill does not include any provisions that would prevent an employee of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, including the Australian Border Force, from making a public interest disclosure in accordance with the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013, which is the act that provides protection for whistleblowers.

I will leave my contribution at that point, given that time is pressing for the treatment of this legislation.