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SAFEGUARDING AUSTRALIA 2016 - PROTECTING THE HOMEFRONT

“THE BORDER AND BEYOND AUSTRALIA’S 21st CENTURY BORDER SECURITY SYSTEM”

11 May 2016

 

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Distinguished guests, good evening.

I thank Karl Mahoney for his introduction.

And I want to thank Professor Mendis for inviting me to speak with you tonight about the challenges facing Australia’s border security.

I understand that you have had a day of productive discussions of the critical challenges facing our nation’s security.

Just over three years ago, Australians were told that our security environment had changed from that of the ‘9/11 decade’

-      that the threat of terrorism would be replaced by threats from other states

-      and that Australia's "principal national security focus" in future would be on state players in our own region.[1]

Then Prime Minister Julia Gillard made many pronouncements that would be proved wrong. That was one of them.

Similarly, Labor was on the wrong side of history and our nation’s security when it dismantled Howard-era defences against people smugglers.

In the resulting chaos, more than 800 boats brought more than 50,000 people to our shores – and more than 1200 people lost their lives.

The nation’s Budget took an $11 billion hit as Labor scrambled to open 17 detention centres to detain illegal arrivals, including 8000 children.

At the same time, Labor cut 700 staff and $735 million from Customs, despite persistent threats from organised criminals trafficking everything from Ice to counterfeit goods.

Unsurprisingly then, Australians lost confidence in the integrity of our borders and in our migration programme – a significant contributor to our nation’s wealth and character over the past 70 years.

 

A STRONG BORDER MATTERS

A strong border is vital for any country that wants to maintain national sovereignty, and deter transnational criminals and terrorists.

But our conception of what constitutes effective border security has moved beyond the immigration line or territorial boundaries.

Given the trans-national nature of threats our nation faces, our approach must encompass multiple lines of effort across a border continuum, including

-      … stronger measures, such as biometrics and other technologies, at the border…

-      …cooperation and action with our friends and allies beyond the border…

-      …and collaboration among our domestic agencies, with businesses and with our community behind the border.

This approach is important to identifying and stopping threats…

-      …and it also helps the passage of legitimate commerce and passengers vital to our nation’s wealth.

Such effort, however, requires a well-resourced and coordinated plan.

 

OPERATION SOVEREIGN BORDERS

The Coalition came to office with a clear plan for our nation’s security that has restored integrity to Australia’s borders.

Operation Sovereign Borders, the Government’s ADF-led, multi-agency border security operation, has stopped the boats.

And that’s because of the simple premise of OSB:  that those attempting to enter Australia illegally by boat will be stopped and turned back to their country of departure, where it is safe to do so.

Since OSB began, 26 boats carrying 710 people have been turned back and safely returned to their country of departure.

-      it has now been more than 660 days since the last successful people smuggling venture to our country.[2]

OSB has undermined the people smugglers’ business model, forcing them to cut prices from $10,000 per voyage to as little as $1,000.[3]

-      and even at that price, clients have been hard – albeit not impossible – to find.

OSB has ended the deaths at sea, restored public confidence in our maritime borders and, this in turn, as reported by the Scanlon Foundation, has renewed support for our migration programme. 

OSB is effective because it works across the border continuum:

-      collaboration with source and transit countries has disrupted ventures before they embark on dangerous journeys and enabled safe returns;

-      successful on-water operations have deterred new boats while returning those foolish enough to try;

-      and cooperation among domestic agencies has led to the prosecution of people smugglers based in Australia – 18 people are serving prison sentences in Australia for people smuggling offences.

But the lesson of Labor in Government is that success cannot be taken for granted and can be easily undone

-      Indeed, we have seen some in Labor already tug at the loose threads of Labor’s asylum policy.

We know there are some 14,000 people in Indonesia – and many more beyond – that have not given up the hope of a boat journey to Australia.

We know people smugglers continue to ply their dangerous criminal trade and are looking for the earliest sign that we might waiver – we must not.

In recent months, our on-water posture has been reinforced to its highest level since the beginning of OSB to deal with immediate and enduring threats to our maritime security and sovereignty. 

Australians can have confidence that a re-elected Coalition Government will maintain the strong policies that keep the people smugglers at bay.

 

TACKLING TERRORISM

Ladies and gentlemen.

Far from facing the end of the terror threat, Australia – along with our friends and allies – has been assaulted by terrorism.

As a liberal, tolerant and democratic society, Australia is a tempting target for international and home-grown terrorists:

-      ASIO is conducting more than 400 high priority investigations, a number that has doubled since early 2014;

-      it has identified around 190 people who are being investigated for providing support to terrorist activities in Syria and Iraq;

-      and we know some 110 Australians are fighting for or otherwise supporting Daesh and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Since 12 September 2014, when the national threat level was raised, there have been 34 people charged as a result of 12 counter-terrorism operations – more than one-third of all such charges since 2001.

Most troubling, the overwhelming majority are young men and women.

This speaks to the impact of the internet and other mass communications technology on our security.

While these technologies enable business at long distance, and expose people to new experiences and ideas, they also provide opportunities for transnational crime, exploitation and radicalisation.

Rapidly developing technology – in particular encrypted communications once the privilege of states – makes threats more difficult to counter.

And of course, modern terror has global reach:  young Australians can be radicalised from afar and turned to home-grown terrorism or the ranks of foreign fighters.

Where terrorists once took months to plan, train for and execute an attack, they can now read an on-line manual and act catastrophically – all while maintaining a very low profile.

-      Regrettably, we have seen such attacks here and abroad.

We must also be concerned that Australians who join the fight could seek to return with more lethal skills and deeper, more spiteful convictions. 

Between 1990 and 2010, 30 Australians travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to train with extremists and terrorists.

-      Of the 25 that returned, 19 have since engaged in activity of security concern, with eight convicted and five still serving a custodial sentence.

-      So given the numbers involved in Syria and Iraq – and the shear brutality of the conflict – there is good reason to be concerned.

There can be no higher obligation on a Government than to keep its citizens safe and secure.

The Coalition Government has invested more than $1.3 billion to support counter-terrorism efforts, whereas Labor slashed $790 million.[4]

We have passed five tranches of legislation to strengthen our laws against terrorism, whereas Labor did not pass one in six years in Government.

The Australian Citizenship Act, for example, has been updated so that terrorists who are dual nationals can be stripped of their citizenship.

-      Last week I formally declared Islamic State a terrorist organisation under the Act;

-      and our agencies are working through the details of terrorist suspects who might fall within the scope of the Act.

At the border, the Coalition has established Counter Terrorism Units to deal with inbound and outbound national security risks, in particular would-be foreign fighters.

Since their deployment in 2014, CTU teams at our major airports have conducted over 20,000 patrols and almost 300,000 real time assessments, resulting in almost 300 positive national security related outcomes.

Our work to keep Australians safe and secure will continue.

 

THE FUTURE OF BORDER SECURITY

Recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels remind us that even individuals from ‘friendly’ countries can pose significant security threats.

We need a robust visa framework based on the individual, regardless of where they come from, to manage this risk from travellers.

We also need to ensure that legitimate travellers – as well as legitimate commerce – are not impeded by our border processes.

To put this into context, this financial year alone, we have processed more than 31 million air and sea passengers.

This is expected to grow to almost 40 million passengers per annum by 2018-19.

Similarly, air and sea cargo will rise 14 and 26 per cent, respectively, over the four years between 2014-15 and 2018-19.

Given this strong growth, the Coalition has enhanced capabilities to detect and counter criminals and terrorists, while streamlining processes for legitimate travellers and trade.

We have integrated Immigration and Customs agencies, forging closer cooperation between policy and enforcement arms of our border.

The new Australian Border Force is better equipped, and thanks to centralised coordination of visa and document intelligence, better informed to deal with threats at the border. 

At the same time, we are streamlining trade for trusted Australian businesses through an almost $70 million investment in the Australian trusted trader programme.

Legitimate low risk travellers and traders enjoy easier passage at the border, while the ABF sharpens its focus on threats and high risk activity.

 

NEW VISA RISK ASSESSMENT CAPABILITY

This work will continue in a second term for a Coalition Government.

Traditionally, while visa applicants have to meet character and security criteria, much of the risk assessment has focused on the immigration risk.

-      That is, will the applicant overstay their visa or work when they don’t have work rights?

Decision makers need to have the tools to take a closer look at a traveller’s broader criminal and security risks. 

They need to know much more about visa applicants and whether they pose a threat to the community.

So tonight I announce the Turnbull Government will establish a new Visa Risk Assessment Capability within the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

This capability will consolidate immigration and border information to enable better informed decision-making and threat identification.

Decision makers will not have to go searching for the information.  It will become an integral part of their processing system.

Risks will be more easily identified at the visa application stage, before individuals even reach the border. 

This $99.2 million investment will enable the Department to better assess terrorism and criminal threats to Australia.

The Visa Risk Assessment system will build on the Coalition Government’s efforts to tackle identify fraud.

People attempting to use fraudulent passports to cross our border is not new, and my Department has put great effort into training staff to detect fakes.

But a real challenge is where the documents are genuine, but the traveller is not.

We have had instances where a criminal or person with terrorist intent has left or entered the country, using a relative’s passport.

Staff are good at detecting this fraud, but technology is leaping ahead.

Our departure and arrival SmartGates use facial biometric technology to confirm the identity of the traveller and authenticate travel documents.

Rollout of the departure SmartGates began in 2015, as part of a $630 million effort to boost counter-terrorism measures.

Already, nearly six million passengers have left Australia through the departure SmartGates.

And the rollout of all 92 SmartGates will be completed in coming weeks.

 

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen.

Terror attacks at home, in Paris and Brussels – as well as the enduring legacy of Labor’s years of border mismanagement – remind us of that no Australian Government can provide domestic security without strong border security.

We must be more resourceful than those who seek to do us harm.

And we must be more creative and innovative in ensuring the smoother passage of legitimate people and goods across our border.

The Coalition Government has strengthened the nation’s capacity to deal with threats, while easing the burdens on legitimate travellers and businesses.

We will not stop here. 

A re-elected Coalition Government will continue to improve Australia’s capacity to manage and identify risks across the border to keep Australians safe, prosperous and secure.

Thank you

[ends]
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