Monday, 31 July 2017

Address to 2017 Industry Summit, Melbourne


Ladies and gentlemen welcome and thank you for being here. I know everyone has a very busy schedule and I’m very grateful that you’re all here today for what I think is a great opportunity for government to hear from the industry, to hear from a sector that is keen to engage. We want to make that interaction as pleasurable as possible, to make sure that we can strip costs from doing business, to make sure that we can ease regulatory burden wherever necessary, but where it is necessary for us to impose changes and innovations then we’re keen to do that in a collaborative way as well.

I will firstly acknowledge the presence here this morning of Michael Outram, the Acting Commissioner of the Australian Border Force, the senior leadership team within the Department and to thank Andrew very much for his work and for the work of his team putting this Industry Summit on today.

We are here because each of us understands the vital importance of industry engagement in developing effective national policy. It is by working together that we achieve the best possible outcomes not only for government and for business, but most importantly for the Australian population. Close and effective partnership with the private sector fosters an environment that facilitates growth, investment and international competitiveness.

I will take a moment this morning to thank all of the hard working people within the Department for not only organising today’s events, but all of the activity that goes on in a very, very busy space. The continued dedication of Australian Border Force officers and Departmental officials keeps our nation prosperous and secure.

Earlier this month the Prime Minister announced the most significant reforms to our domestic security arrangements in 40 years. The establishment of a Home Affairs portfolio reflects the Government’s commitment to make sure that we can keep Australians safe. It reflects our commitment to keeping our nation ahead of threats; to act proactively, not reactively in the midst and aftermath of crisis.

The need for a new Home Affairs portfolio is clear. The simple reality is that Australia’s security environment is of course today far more complex than it was even twelve months ago, let alone a decade ago, and we need to ensure our security arrangements are fit for today’s challenges and those challenges experts warn us are just on the horizon.

The numbers tell a disturbing story. The September 11 attacks marked a terrible turning point in contemporary terror. When respected former senior official Ric Smith handed down his 2008 report on domestic security arrangements, there had been six people convicted of terrorist offences in Australia. In contrast, there have been five terrorist attacks since the national terrorist alert level was raised to probable in September 2014. Tragically, three of those events led to the loss of innocent lives.

At the same time, our agencies have thwarted, as of today, 13 imminent terrorist attacks and 70 people have been arrested for terrorism offences. The emergent threat of home-grown terrorism is especially significant, and we continue to investigate individuals for terror-related crimes.

Terrorism is not the only threat to Australia’s prosperity and security and to industry and trade, especially inbound tourism. Australia’s political institutions, its world leading businesses and our communities are increasingly attractive targets for foreign espionage and influence. Organised crime, through people smuggling, drug trafficking, fraud, cyber-terrorism and other offences costs our nation north of $36 billion a year.

Our security agencies are among the world’s best, but they are facing unprecedented challenges. Insidious non-state actors and new and emerging technologies, such as ubiquitous encryption, have drastically altered the security landscape.

The recently released L’Estrange/Merchant review of our national intelligence community highlights how Australia’s deteriorating security environment is driving the need for ever closer cooperation between our agencies.

For more than a decade, reviews of Australia’s domestic security arrangements have argued for stronger cooperation and coordination between our security and intelligence agencies. And for more than a decade, successive Governments have responded on an ad hoc basis.

To their credit, these measures have delivered security outcomes. But ad hoc arrangements have their limits. We need to stay ahead of future threats by strengthening the strategic planning, cooperation and coordination of our domestic security arrangements. The Government firmly believes a Home Affairs portfolio is the best way to achieve that outcome.

The Government is committed to ensuring that the new portfolio makes Australians safer and more secure. As we’ve seen demonstrated over the course of the last 72 hours, this threat is very real.

At the same time I want to assure you all that the vital economic role of this portfolio remains absolutely paramount. While guarding the safety of the Australian community will always be, necessarily, the Government’s immediate first priority, the benefits of a robust national security agenda are many and varied. Secure borders and a secure nation are necessary preconditions to success across many other areas of government policymaking.

This is especially true in the immigration and border protection space. It is a secure border that is enabling the Government to tackle visa reform and to focus on facilitating legitimate trade and travel. The Government’s strong border protection policies have laid the foundation from which we are now engaged in a wide-ranging and ambitious reform agenda.

In securing the border we didn’t just ‘stop the boats’. We built up public confidence and freed up the resources needed to tackle reforms necessary to deliver a more prosperous and cohesive society. This morning I would like to talk to you about some of those important reforms.

The Government is committed to putting in place the right migration settings that are right for our time and that attract the right people to serve our needs – not only social, but economic. What was appropriate fifty or a hundred years ago may not be appropriate now. We are no longer using mass migration to build the population base of a fledgling nation.

Migration today must be finely calibrated and targeted, seeking first and foremost to address specific economic needs and maximise economic growth, and then to enable positive social outcomes.

The best available evidence suggests that properly managed skilled migration expands economic opportunities, improves living standards and helps reduce the budget deficit.

Temporary visitors and international students will become particularly important as we continue to transition out of the mining boom to a service-based economy. In 2015-16 foreign students helped lift education exports to a record $20.3 billion, whilst international tourists injected $34.2 billion into our economy.

We can only hope to continue to reap the rewards of migration if we maintain strong public confidence in the integrity of Australia’s migration programme. To do this we must be willing to innovate and to make tough decisions in the national interest. We are taking these steps right across this portfolio. We are adopting cutting edge technology and developing innovative policy to rise to today’s challenges. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the Government’s almost $100 million investment in a new Visa Risk Assessment capability was followed in the most recent budget by a further $60 million investment in expanding Australia’s biometric capacity. This technology will use highly sophisticated real-time data analysis to detect and weed out potentially dangerous visa applicants before they have the opportunity to reach our shores.

Through our Seamless Traveller initiative, the Government is investing over $123 million in improving the experience of passengers at the border. Many Australians would have already encountered SmartGates, which have now been rolled out at all of Australia’s major international airports. As of this month we have abolished outgoing passenger cards.

Last Thursday I announced the Government has entered into a $22.5 million contract with Vision-Box Australia to deliver an advanced new contactless biometric traveller clearing process. Our ultimate goal is for facial recognition technology to allow passengers to pass seamlessly through airports without having to produce a passport.

This work is becoming increasingly important as passenger volumes continue to grow rapidly. The growth of international travellers arriving in Australia has increased, as you’re aware, to almost 50 per cent in the last five years. There are currently over 40 million crossings of our border each year. This is expected to surge past 50 million by 2020.

Tourism demand is growing, especially from an increasingly wealthy and aspirational Chinese middle-class. We know that in the decade from 2012 to 2022 the number of Chinese upper-middle-class households is expected to more than triple to comprise 54% of that country’s urban population. These people want to travel, and we want them to travel here. We are proactively responding to this trend and ensuring that Australia will be in a position to maximise the benefits.

To do this we are piloting innovative new visa products to support Australia’s tourism industry, including a 10-year frequent traveller visa for Chinese visitors, a trial of online lodgement of visa applications in Mandarin, and fast-tracked visa processing, with a 48-hour turnaround for users willing to pay.

Beyond just China, we have also given frequent short-term travellers from Chile, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam the option of extended three-year validity visitor visas.

While these measures have all been important, the Government has in its sights much more wide ranging reforms.

In recent months the Prime Minister and I announced reforms to strengthen the requirements for Australian citizenship. The changes will require applicants to commit their allegiance to Australia and Australian values, and to demonstrate integration in a positive way and in a way that they contribute to the Australian community more broadly.

We have also announced the abolition and replacement of the 457 visa programme. It was a visa programme that had been distorted beyond recognition and had come to well and truly stray from its original purpose and undermine the confidence of the Australian public that I referred to earlier.

The new skill list and forthcoming Temporary Skill Shortage visas are better calibrated to address genuine skills shortages in our economy. We have responded to industry feedback and will continue to do so, consistent with the policy’s core objective of getting Australians into work.

It is the Government’s view that the kind of objective critical analysis applied to the 457 visa programme needs to be applied across all visa categories.  We need to carefully consider if Australia’s wider visa arrangements and service delivery mechanisms are efficient to meet today’s needs.

To this end, the Government announced $35 million of funding in the 2017-18 Budget for the Department to engage with the market to enhance the way it delivers visa and citizenship services.

As part of this process we recently released the Delivering Visa Services for Australia consultation paper. It outlines our vision for service delivery reform and seeks feedback on what role the private sector could play in designing and delivering future visa and citizenship services at the retail end, whilst the government and our agencies operate the back end.

My Department has undertaken to evaluate critically the parts of the visa business that should remain with Government and those which would most beneficial and in our country’s best interest to be dealt with by the private sector. Currently the Government utilises the private sector for around 20 per cent of visa service delivery, leaving significant opportunity for greatly expanded partnership.

So far more than 140 organisations have engaged with the Delivering Visa Services for Australia paper and more than half of those have participated in a briefing from the Department. Initial feedback has been positive, with providers expressing support for the integrated design and delivery approach.  Some are already considering how they might deliver innovative solutions.

The next step, beyond improved service delivery, is to consult broadly on design elements for a new and modern visa framework.  We must ensure the system is easy to understand and navigate and that it continues to be aligned with Australia’s long-term economic and social priorities. The reality is that the current arrangements have become too complex for users and overly burdensome and unwieldy to administer. Transformative simplification will be central to the modernisation process.

There are a number of design elements that we may consider, such as:

  • the scope for a reduction in the number of visas from 99 at present, to less than ten;
  • the delineation between temporary entry and long-term or permanent residence;
  • the role a period of provisional residence could play in enhancing the integrity of the visa system and easing the burden on taxpayers; and
  • ensuring that our visa system purports to represent, as it should, as a support mechanism to Australia as a competitive and attractive destination for temporary and longer-term entrants.

I am pleased to announce that public consultations on designing a modern visa system will begin shortly. I encourage all Australians, including industry, to be a part of that important process.

There are clearly very significant changes, and they will take time to plan and implement, but they are entirely necessary to ensure Australia’s migration programme continues to serve our national interest.

Of course, Australia’s migration programme is not the Government’s only policy focus. There are more people moving across Australia’s border, as I mentioned before, but it goes beyond people as we all know. The Government is also committed to pursuing innovative reform in the trade and cargo space.

Australian cross-border trade was worth an estimated $516 billion in 2015-16. This figure will continue to grow as international commerce becomes more rapid and meets the modern demand. To support trade growth, we must facilitate the movement of legitimate goods across our borders as efficiently as possible. To achieve this goal, the Government is committed to an ambitious, innovative and world-leading trade modernisation agenda.

Through closer industry engagement, we are working to reduce regulatory and procedural burdens on business to enhance Australia’s economic competitiveness as a trading nation. Streamlining revenue collection and compliance processes is an important part of that process.

The Australian Trusted Trader programme, many of you are involved in that process, is a key example of effective partnership between industry and Government. The programme streamlines border clearance processes for known, low-risk businesses and enables us to focus resources on higher risk, non-compliant goods crossing the border. Trusted Trader partnerships are benefiting business, our economy and border security.

Since its launch on 1 July last year, we have fully accredited now 45 ongoing Trusted Traders, representing more than $30 billion of two-way trade. Following industry feedback we have simplified the accreditation process, making it easier than ever for business to participate.

The benefits of Trusted Trader become manyfold as Australia enters into Mutual Recognition Agreements with our trading partners, as Andrew pointed out before. These agreements provide Trusted Traders with differentiated border treatment in a signatory nation, and we are anticipating to create a direct benefit of $2.4 billion for participants over the next decade.

In February this year, Prime Minister Turnbull and Prime Minister English jointly announced that Australia and New Zealand will trial a ‘fast lane’ for trans-Tasman trade. Two trials will be undertaken later this year:

  • First, a Secure Trade Lane for trans-Tasman sea trade and
  • Second, an e-Commerce green lane for international mail to support our countries’ booming e-commerce trade.

The Secure Trade Lane will enhance the Trusted Trader experience by rewarding accredited businesses with less administration, less interference, and more predictability. The Australian Government will benefit from earlier access to trade information and greater visibility of trusted trade, which will allow us to focus enforcement efforts on higher-risk trans-Tasman cargo.

Just this month we signed further MRAs with the Korea Customs Service, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Customs and Excise Department of Hong Kong. When combined with New Zealand, we have now signed four MRAs with key trading partners.  My Department is currently negotiating MRAs with China and Singapore. The benefits of Trusted Trader will only continue to multiply as we successfully negotiate future agreements.

Another exciting and ambitious part of the Government’s trade modernisation agenda is a proposed single window for international trade. It is a potentially transformative project, it has been spoken about for a long time, and we are continuing to work away on in the background. A single window environment, as you know, has the ability to transform how industry interacts with government.

Australian businesses are currently required to navigate a range of state and federal agencies and industry bodies to comply with all export and import regulations. A single window would provide businesses a singular digital eco-system for the lodgement of trade related documents. At the same time it would increase the visibility of the end-to-end supply chain, reduce manual processes, improve compliance and allow for more sophisticated risk assessment.

In designing that, we need to build a cutting edge system that is reliable, which provides genuine trade facilitation gains and which will have longevity. It’s not simply an update of dated technology; this is a ground-up exercise in innovation. As a part of the design process, we are closely examining the international experience.

Launched almost 20 years ago, Singapore’s TradeNet is recognised as global best practise. TradeNet brings together import, export and transhipment documentation processes and allows the trade and logistics communities to fulfil regulatory obligations. Not resting on their laurels, Singapore is working towards a New National Trade Platform, which will support seamless data exchanges between businesses and their partners up and down the supply chain.

The New Zealand Trade Single Window went live now almost four years ago. By June 2015, 60 per cent of New Zealand industry’s inbound transactions and 100% of outbound messages were processed through that system.

We can learn valuable lessons from these nations’ experiences, and we’re prepared to do so.

Ladies and gentleman it is the case that there is a lot happening within this space. It’s happening because of your support and involvement.

There are exciting times ahead in the Immigration and Border Protection space. Whether it is through the establishment of the new department or through delivering sweeping reforms to migration and cross-border trade, the Turnbull Government is committed to making bold decisions in the national interest.

Every reform the Government has announced is focused on securing a better future for our nation. Home Affairs will deliver a strong foundation for us to succeed. Maximising the economic benefits of 21st century migration and cross-border trade depends on first getting Australia’s security settings right. I strongly believe that by delivering a more secure nation we can deliver a more prosperous nation.

Thank you again for your engagement here today, but importantly the engagement you will provide over the course of the coming year and many years beyond that.

I acknowledge all of the hard work of the departmental officials, as I say, who are here today and who you interact with on a regular basis otherwise. We are genuinely keen to continue the engagement and I thank you very much for your support in being here today.