Australia and the issue of border security
6 Mar 2015|
Border protection: Australian style

Why is ASPI starting a border security program? Why is border security important to an island country with no land borders? Where and what is a border in a globalised world?

In the past a bureaucrat probably would have answered those questions by talking about the border in terms of revenue, trade or regulation. Alternatively, an academic may have talked about the border in terms of the boundary of sovereign authority and the quickening tempo of globalisation. A military commander might have focused more on Australia’s 35,876 kilometres of coastline, with its corresponding maritime and air approaches. And a politician most likely would have discussed the border in terms of maintaining public confidence in government.

I think it’s safe to say that national borders are not obsolete constructs, despite the thickening strands of global connectivity. But simple answers no longer do justice to the complexity of the border security policy challenge.

On average, 626,000 air passengers, 661 ships, 22,931 ship crew, 21,000 sea passengers, 25 recreational craft, 588,000 air cargo consignments, and 55,000 sea cargo consignments arrive in Australia each week. There is an increasing array of diverse and complex non-state threats that move through or manifest at the border amongst those ever-expanding flows—including international terrorism, transnational serious and organised crime threats, and global health and quarantine challenges. Added to this is the new challenge of screening passengers leaving Australia to identify those who are potentially travelling to fight in foreign conflicts or participate in terrorist activities.

The provision of border security involves far more than creating a capability focused solely on keeping our borders secure from potential terrorists, illegal immigrants and illicit contraband. Border security policy deals with a unique operating space, where extraordinary measures are often required to provide a sense of security, whilst simultaneously maintaining the sense of normalcy that will allow economic interactions to flourish.

With the continued increases in people, information, commodities and value streaming across physical and virtual borders, the ability to regulate or control those flows in an absolute sense is declining. And hunting for potential threats, risks and harms at the border has becoming an activity not too dissimilar to searching for a needle in a perpetually expanding haystack.

All those changes are driving us towards limited rather than absolute control and encouraging governments to look for new ways of re-establishing control at their borders. ASPI’s Border Security Program is an attempt to stimulate thinking in this important area through the generation of new ideas and the exploration of policy options.

ASPI relishes the chance to work more closely with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) to explore issues relevant to managing the border continuum. The primary focus of Border Security Program will be much broader than how to secure the border. One of the key research challenges for the program will be clearly defining what border security, as an outcome, looks like in the Australian context. More broadly, the program will focus its border security research on how security policy can be used to support and facilitate legitimate trade and travel and to protect the Australian community from a range of border risks.

Efforts are already underway to finalise a research agenda focussed upon key policy questions. In general the research agenda will explore how border agencies can adapt and innovate to meet the challenges of their evolving operating context, develop further understanding of how border security threats impact on national security, and analyse how border agencies should be structured in the future.

John Coyne is a senior analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Tim J Keegan.