It is an honour and a privilege to speak to you on such an historic occasion.
There have been but a few occasions since Federation when a Minister of the Crown has had the opportunity to be intimately involved in the creation of a new Commonwealth service that will enhance national security, sovereignty and improve the life of our fellow Australians.
The breadth of the combined Immigration and Customs portfolio is quite impressive.
Although Customs and Immigration may deal primarily with migrants, traders, visitors and Australians returning from overseas, our contribution to the preservation of the national fabric is significant. By monitoring and managing the flow of people and goods across our borders you act as a safeguard against undesirable elements penetrating our defences and preying on the vulnerable in our society, or otherwise breaking our laws.
Consider the following scenarios: The new Australian who enrols his children in a school, the refugee who is able to live her life in peace, the vulnerable immigration client who is assisted with financial or housing support, the traveller who returns home to a welcoming smile and a smooth entry process through our border… These are but a snapshot of the ways in which your work touches the lives of ordinary Australians.
The men and women of the Department and the Service have made enormous contributions to Australian society, and we too have been supported in this by our service providers, the NGOs we work with, the migration agents and researchers and all the other people who have put in time and effort to underpin our efforts, to enhance our capability, and to all these people I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks.
In a very real way, Customs and Immigration have historically been every bit as important as the police, security agencies and defence force, and with the establishment of the Australian Border Force this view is legitimised completely.
As the successor agency to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service the Australian Border Force has a legacy of excellence to live up to and a mandate to protect Australian borders, at our sea and airports, and maritime interests in our Exclusive Economic Zone.
The ABF, as it will be known, is going to occupy the same position as the AFP, Navy, Army and Air Force currently do as the frontline operational enforcement arm of the reinvigorated Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
And its mission is conceptually simple, if complex in execution: Maintain the sovereignty of the nation by maintaining the integrity of the borders and protecting them from compromise by individuals and organisations that would seek to subvert the good order of the nation, or break the laws of the state, or both.
You will have heard sovereignty mentioned often in relation to the ABF, and Customs and Immigration in general, and for good reason: The maintenance of sovereignty is one of the fundamental responsibilities of any government.
John Warner, a United States Senator and former Secretary of the Navy once said: “The very heart of being a sovereign nation is providing the security of one’s borders, of one’s internal situation, and security against anyone attacking one’s nation. That is the very heart of what I believe is sovereignty.”
I agree with him. A government that cannot maintain sovereignty and territorial integrity is failing its people. We must never permit this to happen.
For a nation such as Australia – particularly as an island nation – strong management of our maritime borders by our Navy and Border Protection fleet is critical.
Although we do not share a land border with any nation, we have our own unique challenge in maintaining our sea borders, offshore jurisdictions, and exclusive economic zones.
Our challenges come primarily from geography. The Australian mainland has a total coastline length of 35,876 km, and additional 23,859 km of island coastlines.
Much of this coastline passes through remote regions of our nation—eight major international airports and over 60 international seaports.
It has been characterised by some as one of the most difficult coastlines in the world to defend due to its immense size, and our low population concentrated in several points along the East Coast.
As a nation bound by the sea, and dependent on the sea for significant amounts of trade, strong coastal, border and maritime defence is essential.
Historically, any nation that has possessed a sea border and has had a stake in maritime security has been forced to invest in the ongoing and committed management of their sea approaches. Time and time again, nations have learned to their detriment of the perils of weak maritime defence.
If these sea approaches are not controlled and managed the effect on trade, immigration and overall security can be devastating. This is also nothing new.
In this respect, the rationalisation of Customs and some functions of Immigration into a single service – the Australian Border Force – is an idea that has been a long time coming.
Some ideas just make sense, and seem so obvious to us when looked upon with the benefit of hindsight, and yet take years to manifest themselves. The integration of Customs and Immigration is an idea whose time has come.
No longer will our officers have to contend with differing jurisdictions, legislation, corporate structures or the other obstacles formed by operating separately
We have a truly massive and underpopulated coastline, and for too long have had to rely on the Royal Australian Navy to supplement the management of our borders and with regard in particular to illegal fishing, contraband smuggling and illegal maritime arrivals.
In the lead up to the July 1 transition to our new portfolio arrangements I have had opportunities to meet with officers from both Customs and Immigration and I have been thoroughly impressed with the professionalism and zeal that has been applied to the process. I know this transition has been difficult for some people and you have done so well.
We are here to honour our history today, but we also look forward to the future.
A Border Force officer will be a multi-skilled, team-based and agile staff officer who is responsive to the operational needs of the ABF.
But of course, not everyone here is going to be front line ABF officer, or indeed, an ABF officer at all. There are many people here whose job it is to manage finance, procurement, corporate services, decision making, HR or communications, and so on.
All of you play an equal role in this organisation. All of you will support this incredibly important mission. Without your support and hard work behind the scenes the ABF, and the Department, will be unable to function.
The ABF and our officers on the front line are important to our nation’s security. You are our logistics. Without you, there are no ABF officers on the front line.
You procure their equipment, clothe them in their uniforms, arrange their salary, you lease the buildings they works from, you write the newsletters promoting their good work, and you provide the policy framework that they work in, and much, much, more.
All this is to say that while the ABF may be the most visible organisational change to come about as the result of integration, I recognise that there has been significant work done to integrate the staff of Immigration and Customs who do not work on the front line.
So while we are rightfully looking forwards towards the future and anticipating the challenges for which we will test our capability against, we must also consider and honour the important work that has preceded us, and reflect on our past.
Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an Australian Customs and Border Protection Service reception event held at the National Arboretum. During the event, it was my privilege to launch a history book entitled, From Federation to the Australian Border Force.
Flipping the portfolio coin so to speak, it is my privilege to today launch a further publication entitled, The History of the Department of Immigration: Managing migration to Australia.
This publication has been written to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Department of Immigration in July 1945. I am sure you would all agree that the importance of history, and its recording, cannot be understated.
This publication is a brief history of the Department which captures some of the key events, highlights and challenges relating to immigration to Australia.
Chapters 1 and 2 examine the early history of immigration to Australia prior to the establishment of the Department, particularly the policies which maintained a restricted approach to immigration. This provides a useful context for understanding the challenges faced by the new Department in 1945 in overseeing an ambitious nation building plan in the post-World War II period that would transform the social and cultural landscape of Australia.
Chapter 3 looks at the establishment of the Department in 1945 and the first two decades of its management of the migration programme. The influence of the Department’s first two substantive Secretaries, Tasman Heyes and Peter Heydon, is explored, including the diversification of the migration programme and the steady dismantling of the ‘White Australia Policy’.
Chapter 4 covers the 1970s and 1980s. It explores the shift in the Department’s management of the migration programme away from assisted migration schemes to migration tailored specifically towards supporting Australia’s economic, social and labour priorities. This chapter also charts the Department’s role in humanitarian resettlement and the establishment of the humanitarian programme.
Chapter 5 surveys the rapidly expanding responsibilities of the Department in the final decades of the 20th century and into the 21st century, mirroring Australia’s increased interconnectedness with the rest of the world. This final chapter explores the challenges associated with the Department managing a large number or arrivals – both regular and irregular. It also looks at the cultural and business reforms the Department initiated when it became subject to significant public scrutiny in the mid 2000s.
As we approach 1 July – the date which will mark the official amalgamation of the Australian Government’s immigration and customs portfolios into one Department, and the establishment of the Australian Border Force – this publication provides an important reminder of where we have been and how we have changed.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the significant efforts of staff within the Irregular Migration and Border Research Section who have undertaken the research and written this publication, as well as those within the Production and Design team who have produced the beautifully finished product.
On that note, I would ask Secretary Michael Pezzullo to please join me on stage to officially launch the publication, The History of the Department of Immigration: Managing migration to Australia.