Secretary’s review

Secretary, Michael Pezzullo


This year continued to be one of significant change for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP). We worked closely with our Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) colleagues to transition to one Department from 1 July 2015. This included establishing the Australian Border Force (ABF) and its legal framework within the integrated Department.

Throughout 2014–15, all policy, regulatory and corporate functions of DIBP and ACBPS were progressively integrated into the one Department of Immigration and Border Protection, including finance and human resource systems. From 2 March 2015, both organisations' staff started working within an integrated structure in the lead-up to 1 July. Combining two large and complex organisations with long and proud histories was a challenging but rewarding task—and it was a task we did well.

In addition to working towards integration, in 2014–15 DIBP continued to work in a complex environment and made a significant contribution to national security, the economy and Australian society. We continued to respond to Australia's immigration and border protection challenges, maintained our commitment to nation-building through managed migration, contributed to Australia's security through border management, promoted Australian citizenship and assisted refugees, and contributed to international humanitarian policy.

Migration, citizenship and humanitarian Protection

Managing the lawful movement of people across Australia's border is central to our continuing work to build our nation and protect Australian citizens. Managing the movement of people across Australia's border protects our society and provides economic, social and cultural benefits. Our citizenship, temporary and permanent migration and humanitarian programmes contributed to these benefits.

During 2014–15 Australian citizenship was conferred on 136,572 people. 

There was an increased number of visitors to Australia who contributed to economic growth. The People's Republic of China was Australia's largest source of visitors, a travel market worth more than $5 billion to our economy. More than 661,000 visitor visas were granted to Chinese nationals in 2014–15, the highest number for any nationality and about twice the number of five years ago. A total of 7.2 million temporary visas were granted in 2014–15 compared with 6.8 million1 in 2013–14.

The permanent Migration Programme outcome was 189,097 places within the programme ceiling of 190,000 places. Economic migration, which includes skilled migrants or people with significant funds to invest in Australia, accounted for 67.6 per cent of the 2014–15 programme, including 48,250 employer sponsored visas. The Family stream, which is the social and cultural side of the programme, was delivered with an outcome of 61,085 places.

This year also saw the completion of an independent review of the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) that the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, announced in June 2014. The Department worked closely with OMARA during the year to consolidate its functions into the Department to coincide with the launch of the integrated Department on 1 July 2015. The Department has put in place measures to help the public and migration agents during the transition. Implementation of the review's recommendations will start in the second half of 2015 after further consultations with stakeholders.

The 2014–15 Humanitarian Programme supported Australia's international and humanitarian obligations with the grant of 13,756 visas, including 1009 Woman at Risk visas for vulnerable women and their children who are at risk of harassment and victimisation because of their gender. Due to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, Syrians and Iraqis comprised the two largest caseloads within our 2014–15 Humanitarian Programme, making up 5011 visa grants across both the onshore and offshore components of the programme.

The passage of the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Act 2014 in December 2014 and the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Act 2015 in March 2015 has achieved the Australian Government's policy intention of establishing an effective onshore protection-status determination process with strong integrity. These legislative reforms reintroduced Temporary Protection visas (TPVs) and introduced Safe Haven Enterprise visas (SHEVs) for illegal arrivals, and allowed for the processing of the legacy caseload of around 30,000 illegal maritime arrivals (IMAs) to begin.

In 2014–15 the Department made the processing of visa applications quicker and easier for eligible applicants. Since the launch of ImmiAccount in December 2013, this global visa and citizenship system has been expanded to additional countries where online applications can be lodged. ImmiAccount allows clients to self-manage their visa applications online, including lodging applications, uploading documents, paying and tracking progress. More than 2.4 million ImmiAccounts have been created since the system was launched, with an average of more than 5000 new applications made daily.

Two other initiatives exemplify the Department's move towards digital channels. We are the first government agency to pilot virtual-assistant technology. This technology will reduce client telephone calls to the Department and visits to our service counters. In turn, this will reduce staff resource costs. The Department is also developing web and mobile applications (apps) to take advantage of the growing trend in client preferences for accessible mobile programmes. For example, myVEVO is a free mobile app that provides a fast and convenient way for clients to check and email their Australian visa entitlements—work rights, study rights, travel conditions and expiry date.

In 2014–15 the Department expanded its Offshore Biometrics Programme, effectively doubling annual enrolments. Expansion will continue in 2015–16, with enrolments again set to double in the next 12 months. The introduction of biometric collection into offshore visa processing strengthens national security and visa integrity.

Compliance and border control

Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), the military-led border security operation dedicated to combatting people smuggling, is supported by a range of government agencies through the Joint Agency Task Force (JATF). The JATF continued to successfully manage the whole-of-government effort to combat people smuggling and manage Australia's border.

Under OSB there was a substantial and sustained reduction in maritime ventures and potential illegal immigrants attempting to reach Australia. No people smuggling ventures had reached Australia since July 2014. Continued vigilance ensures that people smugglers are denied a product to sell, and prevents deaths at sea. Importantly, for more than 18 months, there has been no known loss of life at sea of those trying to reach Australia by boat.

The ongoing success of OSB in stopping the boats has allowed seven immigration detention facilities to be closed during 2014–15. This builds on earlier closures of immigration detention facilities and has delivered a combined saving of $570.1 million over the forward estimates period.

In February 2015 the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released its report on The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (2014). Before its release, the Department made significant progress in releasing eligible children and their families from IDFs. At 30 June 2015 only 127 children remained in held immigration detention compared with 699 children in immigration detention at 30 June 2014. The release of children into the community, including transferring children and their families from Christmas Island to the mainland, became viable because of temporary protection measures and regional processing arrangements.

The Department continues to support the Governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea in managing services for transferees and refugees in Nauru and Manus. Major infrastructure projects have been a focus of the programme, with new facilities being built to meet the needs of staff and transferees within the regional processing centres (RPCs). These projects have often benefited the local community. On Manus, the facilities include new medical, recreational and accommodation amenities. In Nauru, an emphasis on children's education has resulted in projects that will see additional teaching resources and the extensive refurbishment of school facilities.

In October 2014 the then Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced a review of recent allegations relating to conditions and circumstances at the RPC in Nauru. A former Integrity Commissioner with the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, Mr Philip Moss, was commissioned to conduct the review. The Department accepted all of the 19 recommendations and has been working closely with the Government of Nauru and service providers to implement the recommendations.

In May 2015, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, announced that the Department would establish a Child Protection Panel to provide independent advice on child protection in immigration detention and RPCs and, in addition, four additional Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers would travel to Nauru to advise local police. This followed the establishment of the detention assurance team in December 2014, within the Department's Integrity, Security and Assurance Division, to strengthen assurance and integrity in the management of detention services. This team operates separately from the relevant line management which oversees the provision of these services and is playing a key role in assuring me that the recommendations made in the Moss Review are being implemented.

The Senate established the Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the RPC in Nauru on 26 March 2015 to inquire into the Australian Government's responsibilities in the management and operation of the RPC. The Department prepared a comprehensive public submission focusing on the operational and policy frameworks underpinning the RPC. The Department will consider the Select Committee's report after it is published in August 2015.

The RPCs in Papua New Guinea and Nauru are central elements of the Government's border protection strategy. It is imperative therefore that they function as intended, and that they be places of good order, safety and security.

On 26 September 2014 the Governments of Australia and Cambodia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) relating to the settlement of refugees in Cambodia. The agreement provides for the permanent settlement in Cambodia of people found to be refugees by the Republic of Nauru. As signatories to the Refugee Convention, Australia and Cambodia share a strong commitment to achieving humanitarian outcomes for refugees in the region. In June 2015 the Department facilitated the transfer of the first refugees from Nauru to be settled in Cambodia under the MOU.

The Department has also been working with the AFP, the Attorney-General's Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on recommendations that require a whole-of-government response. These include deploying additional AFP officers to support the Nauru Police Force, improving incident reporting and management, reviewing all stakeholder meetings and guidelines, enhancing staff training, and developing a child protection framework.

The Department remains committed to cooperating fully with properly constituted reviews and inquiries relating to our operations.

Policy and business reforms

National security continued to be one of the Department's biggest challenges in 2014–15. Following reviews of Australia's counter-terrorism machinery and in response to the Martin Place siege, the Department established a Visa Regulatory Reform Task Force to develop options to enhance visa and citizenship decision-making, with a focus on identifying reforms needed to protect Australians and facilitate the flow of visitors and migrants.

Working in close consultation with the task force, the Client Services Decision Support Review was established in the Department in February 2015 to examine how visa and citizenship decisions are made. Its work will ensure that we can deal with the twin imperatives of facilitative decision-making and protecting the Australian community. The review seeks to ensure that we are well-positioned to manage projected business volumes and government policy directions in the future. The review will deliver an integrated change-management plan.

In December 2014 the Department established a new Research and Innovation Division to deliver value-added research advice and innovative technology solutions to support the Department's strategic priorities. Its vision is to lead innovation into technology-based solutions that strengthen Australia's border protection. Throughout the year the division developed links with other Australian government, academic and private sector organisations to enhance its research and innovation outcomes. Some of the key stakeholders included the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and NICTA (National ICT Australia).

In 2014–15 a range of amendments to the Migration Act 1958 strengthened the Department's powers to cancel and refuse visas on character, integrity and national security grounds. These grounds included a broadening of the character test within s. 501 of the Migration Act, the introduction of mandatory visa cancellation under s. 501 for certain non-citizens in prison, and enhanced measures within the general visa cancellation provisions to deal with non-citizens who present integrity, identity or fraud risks.

In December 2014 the DIBP Secretary and ACBPS CEO jointly announced a new Integrity Framework that was applied to the integrated Department from 1 July 2015. The framework is a set of measures designed to protect the Department's people, property, systems and information from infiltration and corruption.

Throughout the 12 months under review, the Department continued to address complaints from the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the AHRC, including responding to the inquiry into children in immigration detention, and supporting external reviews of immigration matters.

Financial performance

The Department's 2014–15 financial performance was strong.

The departmental 2014–15 financial statements report an $85.3 million operating deficit compared with a $105.7 million operating deficit in 2013–14. In 2014–15 the Department incurred $109.9 million in departmental depreciation and amortisation expenses. Had these items been funded, the 2014–15 departmental result would have been a $24.6 million surplus, a less than 2 per cent variation.


The way forward for the integrated Department is clear. We seek to be a world leader in border management and set the global benchmark in all facets of our work, including refugee and humanitarian assistance, immigration and citizenship, enforcement of detention and removal, trade and customs facilitation and enforcement, offshore maritime security and revenue collection.

From 1 July 2015, together we will enhance our capability and improve our effectiveness. We are forging a new workforce culture in the integrated Department with a focus on integrity, professionalism and capability to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australians and those we welcome to Australia. This will enable the new Department and the ABF to provide a secure gateway between Australia and the world, and to facilitate trade, travel and migration while protecting our border.

Crucial to our future success is the effective management of the movement of people and goods across our border and maintaining the Department's integrity. The ABF will protect our border at our airports and seaports and undertake detection, investigations, compliance and enforcement in relation to illicit goods and people who have no legal basis to enter—or remain—in Australia.

To effect the movement of people and goods, the newly established Research and Innovation Division will build on and extend the professional skills of its researchers and IT specialists to build our future capabilities.

We will continue on our reform journey in 2015–16. We will provide a nationally coordinated approach to border operations, enhance our intelligence systems and analytical capability to reduce threats and risks, and enhance travelling experiences for our citizens and visitors to Australia. On 1 July 2015 the integrated Department launched its inaugural Strategy 2020—our plan for the future.

In rising to the many challenges of the past year, I wish to thank all departmental staff for their contributions that have made it possible to achieve the integration of DIBP and ACBPS, and the establishment of the ABF. All staff have demonstrated professionalism and resilience. I also extend my thanks to the Department's many stakeholders and partners who provided assistance and advice throughout the year.

1 Total temporary visas 4.7 million in 2013–14 excluded Special Category, Maritime Crew and Transit visas. The 6.8 million total includes Special Category, Maritime Crew and Transit visas.