SYDNEY: Australia Friday said it would create a new border protection agency merging operations from the customs and immigration departments, potentially saving the government hundreds of millions of dollars.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said it would be led by a civilian commissioner who would report directly to him as the government looks to build on its success in halting boat-people arrivals.
Australia has adopted a hardline policy against asylum-seekers entering its waters on unauthorised boats with its military-led Operation Sovereign Borders preventing any new arrivals in more than four months.
Under the policy, boats are being turned back to Indonesia, where most originate, while anyone that does arrive is sent to camps on remote Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island in the Pacific for processing. They are denied resettlement in Australia.
"This is a reform measure that would bring together the customs and immigration operational offices into the Australian Border Force," Morrison told ABC radio of the new super agency.
"Now what that will do is ensure we have an integrated presence on our border to not just be dealing with people-smuggling but the full range of threats.
"And every cent we save by doing this, we'll be reinvesting back into this agency to make it an even stronger agency."
The move is in line with a recommendation in a recent National Commission of Audit commissioned by Prime Minister Tony Abbott's conservative government.
The agency, which is expected to be up and running by the middle of next year, will remove duplication and potentially save the government hundreds of millions of dollars.
"We're talking about a civil agency, a law enforcement agency which deals just not with the customs challenges as the current Australian Customs and Border Protection Service does but the immigration challenges as well," Morrison added.
"It brings together enforcement officers, investigation officers, those working beyond our borders, those working at sea, at the airports, sea ports, into an integrated agency that's focused on one thing and that's protecting our most important, I'd argue, national asset - our border."
Australia is holding hundreds of people on Manus Island and so far none have been resettled as refugees in PNG, although Morrison revealed this was about to change with immigration officials recently handing down their first decisions.
He did not reveal how many people were involved, but said about half of the cases examined were deemed to be genuine refugees, meaning they would be released from the camp into the community.
"The resettlement package that is being worked on by the Papua New Guinea government, that will come forward to their cabinet next week I understand," said the minister, who has just returned from a trip to the poverty-stricken country.
Tensions at the camp, which the United Nations has condemned as "harsh", boiled over earlier this year with rioting leaving one person dead and dozens injured. -AFP