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Top status for border protection supremo

The government’s proposed new border protection supremo will have the same standing as Australia’s top military and police officers.


The Australian Border Force Commissioner will command a new, front-line operational force that will enforce customs and immigration laws and protect Australia’s borders, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton told parliament on Wednesday.

The commissioner will have the same standing as other heads of key national security related agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police Commissioner and the Chief of the Defence Force, he said.

Mr Dutton was introducing legislation setting up the office of the new commissioner.

The Border Force that will come under the commissioner will include airport and port staff, immigration detention centre personnel with expanded powers to use force, and officers who investigate illicit goods and illegal visitors.

It will also include overseas-based officers working with regional neighbours to “secure Australia’s maritime zone, prevent and deter illegal arrivals and the movement of prohibited goods”.

The commissioner will also be the Comptroller-General of Customs.

In separate legislation, onshore and Christmas Island immigration detention centre officers will be given clearer grounds for the use of force.

Mr Dutton said this followed a 2011 report into disturbances at Christmas Island and Villawood detention centres.

He said centre staff now had to rely on limited common law authority to justify using force.

Under the proposed change, “reasonable force” may be used to protect a person’s life, health or safety; or maintain the good order, peace or security of the facility.

But it doesn’t allow hunger strikers to be force fed.

Officers will be immune from court proceedings provided they acted in good faith.

Mr Dutton said the centres hold an increasing number of detainees who present “behavioural challenges”.

These include a growing number of people who’ve received adverse security assessments, people convicted of serious criminal offences and members of outlawed motorcycle gangs.

Debate on the Australian Border Force Bill 2015 and the Migration Amendment (Maintaining the Good Order of Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2015 was adjourned.


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