Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that the government will create a new Australian Border Force to consolidate Customs and immigration border operations into one super-agency.
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Refugee safety an 'aspiration': Morrison
Violence to refugees can happen 'equally in detention and in the community' Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says.
Mr Morrison said on Friday that the move could result in job losses but he said it would produce savings that would be reinvested in border protection.
The Border Force will be part of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. It will be led by a civilian commissioner, reporting directly to the Immigration Minister.
The move, which was recommended by the Commission of Audit, means the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service will not exist from July.
“It brings together enforcement officers, investigation officers, those working beyond our borders, those working at sea, at the airports, sea ports, into an integrated agency that's focused on one thing and that's protecting our most important, I'd argue, national asset - our border,” Mr Morrison told ABC radio on Friday.
“[W]e're talking about a civil agency, a law enforcement agency which deals just not with the customs challenges as the current Australian Customs and Border Protection Service does but the immigration challenges as well.”
Elaborating on the changes in a speech in Sydney later on Friday, Mr Morrison said the new task force was an "ambitious move" and had been modeled on a hybrid of the current United Kingdom Home Office model.
"Establishing a single border agency is not new," he said. "It has been a theme of global border reform for decades, in particular in the United States through Homeland Security Department and a series of reforms at the UK Home Office."
"In bringing together this reform we have studied their failures and their successes," he said.
One example of a failure is when border controls were merged with immigration in the UK in 2008. The agency was heavily criticised by members of Parliament who said it was "chaotic" due to the significant backlog of immigration cases, consistent poor service and an increasing number of complaints and was subsequently disbanded in 2013.
Mr Morrison acknowledged the failings of the UK system, saying he was "very keen not to repeat their mistake" and that "they are in different environments to us", due to the much larger number of immigration cases.
Mr Morrison would not elaborate on how many jobs would be lost as a result of the merge, only saying that they were "working through that consolidation in the next few months".
In anticipation of next week's budget, he also said there would be $2.5 billion in savings following the "collapse" in boat arrivals to Australia and $280 million saved after after the closure of six onshore detention centres within a year.
Mr Morrison also announced on Friday immigration officials have this week handed down the first resettlement decisions for asylum seekers on Manus Island.
He was speaking in Sydney while the High Court in Canberra heard a challenge to the Manus Island offshore detention centre.
There had been positive and negative decisions in equal measure, Mr Morrison told Sky News. He said he hoped refugees would be resettled in Papua New Guinea by July.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has criticised Australia's lack of responsibility over the Manus Island violence in a Senate inquiry submission, as documents show the disturbance at the detention centre was so widespread the telephone and computers were damaged.
The UNHCR says regional processing does not extinguish Australia’s legal responsibility for the protection of asylum seekers who have been transferred to Manus Island, and that the safety of asylum seekers should be equally shared between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
The submission also questioned the lengthy delays in processing asylum seekers on the island, which has contributed to anxiety and uncertainty.