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Estimates Hearing

Michael Pezzullo
Department of Immigration and Border Protection
Verbal opening statement to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee

22 May 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to table a written opening statement, which we’ll do during the course of these opening remarks. The Commissioner and I will make some very brief opening remarks that summarise elements of our tabled statement.

The Department and its enforcement arm, the Australian Border Force, continues to face significant volume growth across all trade, travel and migration categories. Most of this growth is occurring at double-digit rates. This means that we have to carefully balance the allocation of our resources (whether they be our officers, systems or equipment) against diverse priorities, which flow from law and policy, in the face of evolving threats and often-changing risk parameters. We have to deliver against service delivery standards and expectations, within reasonable timeframes—while protecting the community and securing our borders—and while also containing costs and reducing our workforce levels in line with Government directions.

In the most recent budget, the Government made it clear that it expects the Department to find over the budget and forward estimates years (that is, 2017–18 through to 2020–21) just under $1 billion in cumulative productivity measures, efficiencies and cost containment measures. The only way in which this will be able to be achieved is through a significant programme of business transformation and automation, the concurrent re-training and upskilling of our workforce, and the adaptation of that workforce to very high-end technologically-advanced working environments and systems.

The clerical-administrative model of the last century (which saw public servants working largely on paper files) will be replaced by a digital model where case and other tactical information is held in shared data repositories (including cloud-based systems), and where artificial-intelligence (AI) enhanced programmes will prompt cases and other specific information to human analysts and decision-makers.  

I doubt very much that we will get to these matters over the next two days as the Committee explores other matters of interest and concern, but I did want to lay before the Committee the background context for many of the measures of reform and modernisation that we are pursuing (e.g. through new systems, new headquarters buildings and an upskilled workforce), because without such a contextual explanation I am at a loss to understand how it is that this Committee can properly scrutinise what we are doing with the public monies that are entrusted to us.