Protecting our borders

Border officers

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The Australian Border Force is responsible for the protection of Australia’s border in partnership with a range of intelligence, law enforcement and other agencies. Our mission is to protect our border and manage the movement of people and goods across it and, by doing so, we aim to make Australia safer and more prosperous.

Our operating environment

Australia adopts a whole-of-government approach to its national security. Australia is a free, prosperous and harmonious society. However, it is also these aspects of our society that terrorists and violent extremists seek to harm. The threat to Australia and Australians from terrorists and violent extremists is both real and growing.

Similarly, geopolitical events, ranging from instability and conflict, through to global health crises, can lead to failed states or major armed conflict. These events create both direct and indirect security challenges to Australia, including fostering terrorism, population displacement and the irregular movement of people.

Continuing to secure our borders, while enabling the seamless legitimate movement of people and goods, will be essential to ensuring Australia remains a prosperous society.

Travel and trade patterns are becoming more complex with significant growth in the range of goods, biosecurity hazards and economic risks. The geographic area in which we operate is also expanding, with an increasing number of remote ports coming on-line. At the same time entities trying to breach Australia’s borders are becoming increasingly responsive and resilient to law enforcement interventions and tactics.
Opportunities for organised crime today are unprecedented. Increased globalisation, escalating cross-border movements of people, goods and money, emerging international markets, and rapidly developing and converging technologies provide a fertile operating environment for organised crime.

Advancement in technology offer opportunities to improve how the Australian Border Force enables and facilitates its operations, using functionality such as biometrics for enhanced entry control, expansion of automated entry systems and an evolving cyber security environment. They also present challenges through the potential for exploitation by criminal networks to compromise the security of the border and the processes and systems used to protect it.

Internet trade is also increasing its reach over global markets, presenting challenges to the traditional format of trade relationships—both licit and illicit, with an exponential growth in the volume of online purchased goods crossing the border.
The risks to the Australian community posed by the movement of illicit drugs continue to be high. The Australian Border Force continues to work collaboratively with domestic and international law enforcement agencies to disrupt organised crime groups involved in the import of illicit drugs.

The identification and analysis of illicit firearm trafficking networks is a high priority. The number of undeclared handguns detected at the border increased by almost 60 per cent in 2013-14 with several deliberate attempts at concealing handguns in international mail. 

Traditionally, illicit tobacco has entered Australia through sea cargo, however we are increasingly detecting undeclared cigarettes in international mail and air cargo.

Our approach

The Australian Border Force is focused on our national security, the protection of our community, the enforcement of our laws, including the collection of revenue, and the security of our maritime jurisdiction, resources and environment. 

We develop and coordinate our border management framework in conjunction with partner agencies to deliver Australia’s customs, trade and industry policy.

We are an intelligence-led, mobile and technologically enabled force deploying resources to provide the greatest effect, including offshore, domestically and in our maritime zone. 

We also work to counter threats ahead of the border, employing sophisticated risk assessments through our visa programmes and working with international partners to deliver enforcement outcomes.

Australian Border Force officers are uniformed and part of a disciplined enforcement body patrolling our air and seaports , remote locations, mail and cargo centres and Australia's extended maritime jurisdiction.

We have significant service and enforcement functions, including:

  • facilitating the lawful passage of people and goods;
  • investigations, compliance and enforcement in relation to illicit goods and immigration malpractice; and
  • onshore detention, removals and offshore processing arrangements.

We consider the border not to be a purely physical barrier separating nation states, but a complex continuum stretching offshore and onshore, including the overseas, maritime, physical border and domestic dimensions of the border - border continuum diagram. To protect the safety, security and commercial interests of Australia, we are working with our partner agencies to develop intelligence-based profiles of risk across each dimension of the border continuum. 

The further development of sophisticated intelligence and targeting capabilities will increasingly allow us to minimise interventions in low-risk border movements and concentrate our resources against those who attempt to breach our borders or circumvent our controls.  

Our Strategic Border Command, through a command centre with oversight of regional commands, ensures the effective coordination of border enforcement and operational activity. It maintains visibility of what is happening at the border and is able to quickly and effectively redirect effort to better manage the border.

Our Maritime Border Command, comprising both Departmental staff and Australian Defence Force members, coordinates collaborative cross-agency civil maritime security activities, including intelligence analysis, coordinated surveillance and on-water responses. This strategy encompasses working ahead of the border with international partners to provide controls for maritime security threats.

Our specialist investigation and enforcement capability is deployed against individuals, organisations or networks that seek to harm the Australian community or economy through threats, crime and abuse of border law and systems. We are focused on:

  • national security threats
  • serious or complex border crime across the border continuum, from one-off attempts to complex organised and serious crime
  • systemic vulnerabilities in the trade and migration systems

We work with partner agencies as part of Australia’s whole-of-government strategies and international commitments particularly in the areas of national security and organised crime. 

We are actively engaged in a number of international data-accessing initiatives aimed at preventing the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups.

The Australian Border Force also plays an important role in the community by enforcing and maintaining the integrity of Australia's visa programme using a range of preventative and compliance measures. 

We provide services to support people in community detention arrangements, onshore immigration detention facilities and regional processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

In protecting the border, the Australian Border Force engages regularly with a number of partner agencies including:

  • Attorney-General’s Department
  • Australian Antarctic Division
  • Australian Communications and Media Authority
  • Australian Crime Commission
  • Australian Federal Police
  • Australian Fisheries Management Authority
  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority
  • Australian Security Intelligence Organisation
  • Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Defence
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Department of Industry and Science
  • Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
  • Department of Infrastructure and Transport, Office of Transport Security
  • Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Department of Environment, and
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.