Role of the Australian Border Force

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The Australian Border Force is the operational enforcement arm of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and is responsible for investigation, compliance and immigration detention operations.

Under the Australian Border Force Act 2015, ABF officers exercise their powers to administer the Migration Act 1958 and other Commonwealth legislation, which includes the operation of the Australian immigration detention network. ABF officers make decisions in accordance with the legislation that underpins immigration detention.

The work of the Australian Border Force in immigration detention is guided by the Detention Services Manual which contains detention policies and procedures.

The ABF is active in the management of immigration detention facilities, and directs day-to-day operations by working with service providers to protect the welfare and dignity of detainees while maintaining the integrity of immigration detention.

Maintaining safety and security in immigration detention facilities is the responsibility of the detention services provider. However, there are circumstances where police are required. The ABF works closely with police services to ensure any incident in immigration detention facilities that requires a police response is appropriately managed.

The ABF has agreements with police that formalise response arrangements for incidents that occur in immigration detention and clarify the roles and responsibilities of all parties.

Over the past few years, the nature of people in immigration detention has changed from illegal maritime arrivals to a population that potentially presents a security risk to the community and those who have had their visa cancelled due to their substantial criminal history.

The increase of people who have had their visa cancelled on character grounds now makes up around a third of the held detention population. This presents challenges to the safe management of detention facilities resulting in an increased need to use mechanical restraints including flexi-cuffs—particularly when moving a high risk detainee from one facility to another. Where this is done, it is recorded as ‘use of force’, and it is undertaken within the law and appropriate guidelines. The use of restraints must always be necessary, proportionate and reported.

The ABF is always careful when deciding to use force on a detainee, particularly those who are vulnerable. The ABF and service providers must have the necessary knowledge, training and skills to safely, effectively and lawfully apply use of force.

The Australian Border Force Act 2015 includes provisions which are used to carefully manage protected information, including personal information. The ABF Act does not prevent individuals from raising claims about conditions in immigration detention, or from reporting cases of alleged child abuse to the appropriate authority. An amendment to the Determination clarifies that health practitioners are not 'entrusted persons' subject to Part 6 of the Australian Border Force Act 2015.

The ABF Act does not remove either the mandatory reporting obligations imposed under laws of states and territories about issues of child welfare or the obligation to protect personal information under privacy laws. It also does not affect the ability to raise concerns under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013.