Estimates Hearing

Michael Pezzullo
Department of Immigration and Border Protection
Verbal opening statement to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee

27 February 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to table a written opening statement. Further to this, the Commissioner and I would both like to very briefly highlight a number of points.

The Department—and the Australian Border Force as its operational arm—has been operating as an integrated entity since 1st July 2015, when Customs and Immigration were integrated, a task that is substantially complete.

The imperative of budget repair means that we are operating with reduced financial and staffing resources—we are doing more with less. Since peaking in 2013–14, our staffing levels have reduced by more than 300. Departmental funding for 2016–17 has decreased by $130 million from 2015–16 levels, with further reductions of over $400 million programmed across the forward estimates. In the period 2013–14 to 2019–20, my Department will deliver savings of $1.5 billion, of which $1 billion will be delivered in the period 2017–18 to 2019–20.

Moreover, with the rejection of the third proposed Enterprise Agreement—which offered pay increases of between 6.4 and 10.7 per cent for the majority of staff—the Fair Work Commission will now determine employee conditions through arbitration. Our proposed Workplace Determination will come at a cost of approximately $145 million over three years, requiring staffing reductions of 656 full-time equivalent positions. In contrast, the CPSU’s draft Workplace Determination would cost the Department more than $600 million over three years in salary costs alone, with staffing reductions of more than 1900 full-time equivalent positions.

Despite these resource constraints and challenges, our productivity has been climbing commensurate with escalating border flows. Last financial year, we:

  • processed more than 40 million international air and sea travellers;
  • granted almost 8 million temporary visas; and
  • processed approximately 35 million air cargo consignments and more than 3 million sea cargo movements.

Over the last three financial years passenger numbers have increased by 11 per cent, visa applications by 15 per cent, and inbound goods by 14 per cent. By 2019–20, passengers, visas and goods are forecast to increase by a further 20 per cent, 18 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.

In the face of resource constraints and increasing border flows investment in modernisation is crucial. This means:

  • increased automation—such as the next generation of SmartGates;
  • harnessing new digital technologies to improve our client services;
  • improving our ability to collect and analyse big data and produce actionable intelligence; and
  • investing in the ongoing professionalisation of our staff.

We are under critical and increasing pressure in trying to sustain a careful balance—between cost containment, managing increasing border flows and associated risks, and maintaining appropriate service delivery standards.  We will as a result need to pursue aggressive and radical innovation, apply new technologies which are increasingly characterised by Artificial Intelligence-based capabilities, and expect more from our people in terms of their specialised skills and professional competencies.  The era of the generalist administrative clerk is well and truly in its last days, and the era of the specialised, globally competitive public sector expert is well and truly upon us.  

On other matters:

  • Despite it being more than 900 days since a successful people smuggling venture reached Australia, Operation Sovereign Borders remains as vital today as when it was first enacted in 2013. Let me restate: the illegal maritime pathway to Australia is, and will remain closed. I would like to welcome the new Commander of the Joint Agency Task Force, Air Vice-Marshal Stephen Osborne, who will follow in the footsteps of Lieutenant General Angus Campbell and Major General Andrew Bottrell.

  • I welcome the United States Government’s commitment to the arrangement with Australia for the resettlement of refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea, which is proceeding.  We continue to have discussions with other countries to expand resettlement opportunities, and are working with the Government of Papua New Guinea to close the Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island.

  • Virtually all of the 30,000 legacy caseload Illegal Maritime Arrivals have now been provided with the opportunity to apply for a Temporary Protection Visa or a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa. Nearly 30 per cent have had their claims assessed. While processing and application rates have accelerated in recent months, around 11,000 people are still to submit an application. It is time for those who have not applied to do so, and to engage with the process.

    Those who do not engage—and those who are found at the end of the process not to be owed protection—will be expected to leave Australia. We have already removed from Australia some of those individuals, and more will follow. Those who refuse to leave, for whatever reason, who are not found to be owed protection, cannot expect unending support from the Australian taxpayer.

Thank you.