Australian Border Force

The Australian Border Force (ABF) is a law enforcement agency, part of the Department of Home Affairs, responsible for offshore and onshore border control enforcement, investigations, compliance and detention operations in Australia. The Force was established on 1 July 2015 merging the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service with the immigration detention and compliance functions of the then Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Australian Border Force
Logo of Australian Border Force
Common nameBorder Force
Agency overview
Formed1 July 2015 (2015-07-01)
Preceding agencies
Annual budgetA$1.5 billion (2018)
Jurisdictional structure
Federal agency
(Operations jurisdiction)
Operations jurisdictionAustralia
Size15,835,100 km2 (Land and Marine)
Population25,144,000 (2018 estimate)
Legal jurisdictionCommonwealth of Australia and all associated maritime waters in accordance with international law
Constituting instrument
  • Australian Border Force Act 2015
General nature
Operational structure
Overviewed byAustralian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity
HeadquartersCanberra Airport
Minister responsible
Agency executive
Parent agencyDepartment of Home Affairs
Customs Houses
District Offices
Detention Centres

The ABF is a operates under the Australian Border Force Act 2015 with broadened legislative powers including the introduction of sworn officers.[2] A new uniform was introduced and following the transition there was an increase in the number of officers authorised to carry firearms.[3][4] As of 2016, approximately 15% of the Force is firearms trained which will increase by 2020 to no less than 25%.[1]

Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison announced the establishment of the Force on 9 May 2014 to be based on a hybrid of the United Kingdom Border Force model.[5][6][7]


1901–1985 - Customs

The origins of the Australian Border Force are traced back to the Federation of Australia on 1 January 1901, when the Department of Trade and Customs was formed as one of the first seven Commonwealth Departments of state. On 4 July 1901, The Honourable Charles Kingston announced that Dr. Harry Wollaston would be appointed the first Comptroller-General of Commonwealth Customs. The Customs Act 1901 received Royal Assent on 4 October 1901 as the sixth Act of Federation, giving Customs legal powers to enforce tariffs, duties and excise.[8]

The 1950s saw large changes to Customs, primarily in the creation of preventative officers; uniformed personnel charged with examining baggage of incoming passengers, searching vessels and deterring the importation of contraband into Australia. In 1957, Customs employed its first woman, Athena Antonopoulou, as an interpreter. She was credited with creating the first female uniform, as one did not exist prior. In 1969, Customs expanded its staffing to include detector dogs, to assist in sniffing out illicit substances following similar successes overseas. In December 1969, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was established within Customs, as part of responsibilities transferred by then Prime Minister John Gorton to the Department. The Bureau conducted operations against illegal drug trafficking, fraud and smuggling activities. The introduction of this Bureau saw Customs acquire broad powers in relation to drug control in a law enforcement capacity, and marked a change from the previous operations of the service.[8]

In 1972, Customs introduced the world's first computerised entry system, the Integrated National System for Processing Entries from Customs Terminals (INSPECT). Prior to its introduction, all customs entries were processed manually, marking a significant improvement in customs procedures. Similarly, in August 1974 Customs introduced the Passenger Automatic Selection System (PASS), as a standard method of alert-list checking at the airport, replacing cumbersome and time-consuming Teledex machines for sourcing passenger information. In 1975, Customs was briefly merged with the Commonwealth Police, Northern Territory Police and ACT Police to form the Australia Police (the failed precursor to the Australian Federal Police and part of the Department of Police and Customs) by the Whitlam Government. After six months of operations, following the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, the Department was dismantled, the Australia Police disbanded and the Bureau of Customs was transferred to the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs.[8]

In 1976 Customs introduced the Customs On-Line Method of Preparing for Invoices Lodgeable Entries (COMPILE) system. The system allowed for agents and importers to use visual display units and printers in their offices to connect to departmental systems. The system was so successful it was only decommissioned in 2006, with the introduction of the Integrated Cargo System (ICS). On 6 November 1980, at the recommendation of the Williams Royal Commission, the Australian Narcotics Bureau was disbanded by the Fraser government. The government re-purposed Customs as the agency responsible for enforcing federal laws relating to importation of drugs at the border. The Australian Federal Police assumed responsibility for drug enforcement operations onshore. In 1982 the Bureau of Customs was transferred to the portfolio of the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce and formally became the Australian Customs Service.[8]

1985–2009 - Australian Customs Service

On 10 June 1985, the Government of Australia formally established the Australian Customs Service (ACS) as an independent agency of the Australian Public Service within the portfolio of the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. The statutory office of Comptroller-General of Customs, responsible for administering the ACS, was also established on that date. The Australian Customs Service formally commenced operations on 1 July 1985.[8]

In August 1988, the Australian Coastal Surveillance Organisation became Coastwatch and was transferred to the Australian Customs Service. The organisation assumed the role of coordinating all civil maritime surveillance on behalf of the Australian government. In October 1998, the Australian Customs Service was transferred to the portfolio of the Attorney-General's Department. That same month, machinery of government changes removed the administration of excise duties from Customs and transferred them to the Australian Taxation Office, with 248 staff transferred by July 1999 and the end of a 98 year history of collecting excise duties on manufactured alcohol, tobacco and petroleum products. In 1999, the Australian Customs Service conducted its first support role for United Nations in assisting to establish border control in East Timor, following the 1999 East Timorese crisis.[8]

In January 2001, the Australian Customs Service celebrated 100 years of service with the Centenary of Federation.[8]

Border Protection Command (BPC) was established in 2005 as the leader and coordinator of Australian maritime security operations. It brought together elements of the Australian Defence Force, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. As part of the introduction of BPC, the Australian Customs Service and Royal Australian Navy take the lead on commanding and controlling Operation Resolute.[8]

In December 2008 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the Australian Government would be augmenting, re-tasking and renaming the Australian Customs Service to create the new Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. Royal assent was given to the changes on 22 May 2009 and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service was established thereafter, remaining within the Attorney General's Department.[8]

2009–2015 - Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

Operation Sovereign Borders was announced in September 2013 by then Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Scott Morrison and Lieutenant General Angus Campbell as a Joint Agency Task Force to bring together 16 different agencies to coordinate the whole-of-government response to illegal maritime arrivals. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service is then formally moved from the Attorney General's Department to the newly formed Department of Immigration and Border Protection.[8]

In May 2014, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison announced large changes to the border protection arrangements within Australia, through the consolidation of all frontline immigration and customs functions in a single organisation, the Australian Border Force. As a result, Regional Commands are established across Australia to provide local Command and Control functions. Each Regional Command became responsible for deployment of Border Force Officers in specified geographic areas to achieve strategic outcomes. The Australian Border Force was formally established on 1 July 2015.[8]

Organisational structure

The ABF has approximately 5800 employees across operational and support roles divided into an Operations Group and an Support Group.[1]

Operations Group

The Operations Group has responsibilities for all operational activity relating to the management of travellers, goods and cargo throughout the border continuum, through Compliance, Enforcement and Investigation activities. The Operations Group consists of the following commands:

  • Maritime Border Command is Australia's lead civil maritime security agency operating in the maritime domain, to ensure compliance with Australia's maritime legislation by foreign and domestic non-state actors. It is a multi agency task force working in direct collaboration with the Australian Defence Force responsible for civil maritime security and coast guard activities.[9][10]
  • Enforcement Command is the criminal investigations and field operations command of the ABF responsible for investigating and enforcing Australian customs and immigration laws and combating transnational organised crime within the borders of Australia.
  • Port Operations Command oversees all border protection operations at port of entry and international gateways including international airports, sea ports and international mail gateways across the state and territories of Australia through regional sub-commands. From September 2014, Counter Terrorism Units (CTU) were operating in all major international airports, who from December 2014 were granted authority to carry firearms in airports, to intercept travellers who are departing to join terrorist organisations in conflict zones such as Islamic State and to intercept returning members of terrorist organisations such as fighters.[11]
  • Operation Sovereign Borders Joint-Agency Task Force (OSB JATF) coordinates the whole-of-government effort to counter and combat people-smuggling and protect Australia's borders from maritime criminal activities. It is supported by three operational task groups: the Disruption and Deterrence Task Group led by the Australian Federal Police, the Detection, Interception and Transfer task group led by Maritime Border Command, and the Offshore Detention and Removal Task Group, led by the Support Group. OSB JATF coordinates and controls maritime operations, law enforcement, intelligence and policy functions.
  • Border Patrol and Coordination Command provides 24/7 operational coordination capability to the ABF in collaboration with regional and international law enforcement and defence partners and houses the Australian Border Operations Centre (ABOC). The Border Patrol and Coordination Command is also responsible for border protection efforts across Northern Australia alongside the Australian Defence Force Northern Command.[12]

Support Group

The Support Group has responsibility for providing planning, support and specialist services to ensure operational continuity across the border continuum and the operational management responsibility for detention services management including health, detention estate management, and regional processing and settlement.[13] The Support Group includes the following commands:

  • Strategic Border Command provides strategic coordination for the ABF including ministerial and parliamentary services, international liaison, and governance oversight.
  • Close Support Command develops the marine, aviation, and tactical capabilities of the ABF including surveillance, forensics and the Detector Dog Program.
  • Detention and Offshore Operations Command provides immigration detention services including the regional processing and resettlement program.
  • Operational Practices Command is responsible for personnel management, workforce development, and education and training including the Australian Border Force College.
  • ABF Business Services provide corporate support to the ABF and coordinate administrative compliance activities across the organisation. It maintains the link between the Department and the ABF, and is responsible for finance, property, legal, integrity, security and assurance services.
  • Surgeon General is the Chief Medical Officer of the ABF and provides high-level strategic and expert clinical advice to the Secretary of the Department and Commissioner of the ABF on portfolio health matters.

Major operations

  • Operation Sovereign Borders - A joint agency operation introduced to minimise the amount of unlawful maritime arrivals and people smuggling into Australia's border.
  • Taskforce Cadena - The Australian Government established Taskforce Cadena in June 2015 to target and disrupt the criminals organising visa fraud, illegal work and the exploitation of foreign workers.
  • Operation Fortitude - A visa checking operation was held in Melbourne in August 2015, Operation Fortitude.[14] It was cancelled following protests and community concern that racial profiling would take place.[15] In addition, concerns were raised over the immigration system's "militarisation".[16] On the day of Operation Fortitude's launch, over 200 protestors converged on Flinders Street railway station in Melbourne, at the same time as Operation Fortitude was officially launched by the ABF and Victoria Police.[17] In October 2015, talking points released by the ABF revealed that the focus of the exercise would have been taxi ranks.[18]

Passenger profiling and watchlists

The Australian Border Force uses a "big data" analysis ecosystem to monitor people and cargo entering and leaving Australia. This includes the use of machine learning capabilities across a range of analytical platforms that draw together multiple data sources to provide insights.

The Central Movement Alert List (CMAL) is an electronic watch list, containing information about individuals who pose either an immigration or national security concern to the Australian Government as well as information on lost, stolen or fraudulent travel documents. CMAL comprises two databases, the Person Alert List (PAL) and the Document Alert List (DAL). The PAL database stores the biographical details of identities of concern and DAL is a list of lost, fraudulent or stolen travel documents. PAL records are categorised according to the reason for listing the identity—the alert reason code (ARC). There are 19 ARCs with each being categorised as high, medium or low risk.

Australian Members of Parliament have expressed concerns about the lack of systematic control over data input and maintenance of the Alert List, stating that Australian citizens and visitors may suffer inconvenience or harassment due to misinformation or incorrect information being entered into the system.[19]

The Australian Border Force receives Passenger Name Record data from airlines operating into and out of Australia. PNR data is information about passengers that is held by airlines on their computer reservation system. PNR data includes approximately 106 different fields such as passenger name(s), sex, passport number, nationality, travel companions, frequent flyer Information, date and place of ticket issue, contact phone numbers, credit card number and expiry date, number of bags, seat allocation, and the passenger's full itinerary.[20]



RankNamePost-nominalsTerm beganTerm ended
CommissionerRoman QuaedvliegAPM1 July 20153 July 2017
CommissionerMichael OutramAPM3 July 2017Incumbent

Ranks and insignia

The Australian Border Force has its own rank structure. Uniformed Australian Border Force officers have their rank displayed on their shoulder epaulettes, attached to shirts, jumpers or jacket. The rank and epaulette styling is in line with many other border agencies and shares close similarities with its United Kingdom counterpart, the Border Force.

The ABF rank insignia's have four components placed against an ink navy coloured field:

ABF Front line Officer ranks and insignia

(commonly seen at Airports, Seaports, Border Patrol, Enforcement & Maritime Ops, Air Cargo, Container Examination Facility, Postal Exams, Detector Dog Unit.)

Rank Assistant Border Force Officer (level 1) Assistant Border Force Officer (level 2) Border Force Officer Leading Border Force Officer Senior Border Force Officer Border Force Supervisor
Australian Public Service (APS) level APS 1 APS 2 APS 3 APS 4 APS 5 APS 6
ABF Executive level ranks and insignia
Rank Border Force Inspector Border Force Superintendent Border Force

Chief Superintendent


(Regional Commander)

Assistant Commissioner

of the ABF

Deputy Commissioner

of the ABF

Commissioner of the ABF
Australian Public Service (APS) level EL 1 EL 2 EL 2 SES 1 SES 2 SES 3 Department Secretary/Director-General/CEO


Prior to the standing up of the Australian Border Force, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service had Officers in certain operational instances where they were armed with Personal Defensive Equipment (PDE). These Officers were generally those that worked in Enforcement Operations, Investigations, and the Marine Unit.[3] Since 1 July 2015, with the creation of the Australian Border Force came a change direction and environment. The ABF has geared itself more to a law enforcement aspect to help adapt itself with the increasing threat of terrorism, on both a global and local standpoint, people smuggling, and highly organised criminal syndicates and organisations. As a result, the ABF has begun to arm trained officers to carry firearms and PDE at all major Australian international airports.

ABF Officers are supplied with current generation Glock 17 9mm semi-automatic pistol. ASP 21 inch telescopic baton, SAF-LOK MK5 hinged handcuffs, Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) Spray.[4]

The Marine Unit is a Coast Guard which operates alongside the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in the Maritime Border Command. The Marine Unit officers are equipped with the Glock 17 pistol and Remington Model 870 shotgun.[4] The Marine Unit vessels are equipped similar to RAN vessels with the M2 Browning 12.7mm machine gun that is on loan from the Australian Defence Force.[4]

The ABF also has an aviation Coast Guard component operating a fleet of ten privately contracted Dash 8 aircraft which operate alongside the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in the Maritime Border Command.[10][21]

Allegations of corruption and misconduct

  • [2019] ABF asks Saudi Arabian women travelling to Australia to seek asylum where their male guardian is, and denied entry into Australia.[22]
  • [2017] ABF's most senior officer - commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg - is suspended pending an investigation into his conduct by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) [23]
  • [2017] ABF assistant commissioner Peter Docwra resigns during an investigation into his conduct[24]
  • [2017] Australian Border Force officers are found to be conducting unlawful searches of people and property[25]
  • [2017] A reporter from The Guardian newspaper alleged that ABF was carrying out unlawful searches at airports and at people's homes[23]
  • [2015] A Border Force officer confiscates a passenger's laptop and mobile phone at Sydney airport, demands the passcodes, then sends text messages without the passenger's knowledge or consent[26]


Border Security: Australia's Front Line is a TV series which follows the work of officers within the Department of Home Affairs, Australian Border Force, and Biosecurity, as they enforce Australian immigration, customs, quarantine/biosecurity and finance laws based on factual events.

See also


  1. "ABF 2020" (PDF). Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Australian Border Force. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 November 2016. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  2. "Australian Border Force Act 2015". Austlii.
  3. "Carriage of Operational Equipment by Officers of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service – Fact" (PDF). Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Australian Customs and Border Protection. 12 March 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 February 2017. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  4. "Immigration and Border Protection Portfolio – Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee". Parliament of Australia. Senate – Estimates. 19 October 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  5. Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison (9 May 2014). "A new force protecting Australia's borders – Address to the Lowy Institute for International Policy". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  6. Bourke, Latika (9 May 2014). "Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announces new Australian Border Force". ABC News. Archived from the original on 4 April 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  7. Barker, Cat (30 May 2014). "Australian Border Force". Research Paper Series, 2013–14. Parliamentary Library. Budget Review 2014–15: 98–99. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  9. "Maritime Border Command – Australian Border Force". Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
  10. "Department of Immigration and Border Protection – Annual Report 2015-16" (PDF). Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
  11. Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton (20 November 2015). "Rise in counter-terror unit interventions" (Press release). Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  12. Australian Public Service
  13. "Australian Border Force: Who we are". Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  14. "Protesters voice anger over Border Force visa checks". ABC News. 28 August 2015. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  15. Mills, Alana Schetzer and Tammy (28 August 2015). "Border Force: Operation Fortitude cancelled as protesters take to Melbourne's CBD streets". The Age. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  16. Davey, Melissa (28 August 2015). "Border force join police in huge visa fraud crackdown in Melbourne CBD". the Guardian. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  17. Davey, Melissa (28 August 2015). "'We shut them up': Melbourne celebrates border force backdown". the Guardian. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  18. Hurst, Daniel; Medhora, Shalailah (19 October 2015). "Border Force talking points add to confusion over ill-fated Melbourne operation". the Guardian. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  19. House of Representatives Committee Audit Report 35 2008–2009.
  20. Australian Government Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. Passenger Name Records: Administrative Arrangements. 2015.
  21. Mugg, Hawkins & Coyne, James, Zoe & John (13 July 2016). "Australian border security and unmanned maritime vehicles" (PDF). Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Speicial Report: 11. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
  22. McNeill, Sophie; Piper, Georgina (4 February 2019). "Women are trying to escape Saudi Arabia. Not all of them make it". ABC News. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  23. Knaus, Christopher (3 July 2017). "Australian Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg on leave amid investigation". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  24. Buckingham-Jones, Sam (14 July 2017). "Australian Border Force assistant commissioner quits over relationship claims". The Australian. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  25. Australian National Audit Office (7 April 2016). "The Australian Border Force's Use of Statutory Powers". Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  26. O'Brien, Natalie (2 August 2015). "Customs officer confiscates passenger's phone and then uses it to secretly text". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 25 November 2017.


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