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Australia's Migration System Needs To Go Through Security

By John Coyne

Now is the time to put aside moral panic and clinically stocktake the situation.

The recent revelations by Fairfax Media and the ABC that our immigration system is being undermined by corruption has both disturbed and outraged many.

The ABC and Fairfax journalists reported that there were employers creating fake jobs for a fee so that foreigners could get permanent residency -- essentially false paperwork in exchange for cash. Fixers arranged for corrupt employers to provide paperwork for the fake job and visa sponsorship in fields such as commercial hospitality, trades and IT.

The report claimed this rorting has taken place on some of the nation's biggest mining and infrastructure projects. An employee of Murphy Pipe and Civil claimed he had identified 30 employees at his workplace that appeared to be in breach of migration laws -- stating that they were often aided by Federal Government-licensed migration agents.

More disturbing for the general public were the claims that since last July, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has referred more than 100 allegations to the nation's corruption watchdog.

In a time of such great geopolitical uncertainty, it's surprising that this issue has joined only two other national security issues to have rated a mention during the election campaign. The other two issues are border security and submarines.

Findings that there's corruption problems with the migration visa system is, to some extent, old news. Organised crime groups will deliberately seek out, groom and manipulate insiders to undermine border controls.

In the past, both immigration and customs officials have been investigated, prosecuted and sentenced for committing criminal offences in relation to their duties. These incidents have included staff becoming involved in drug importations, unauthorised access to official information, dealing in sensitive departmental information, and 'selling' visas.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIPB) has established a law-enforcement-style professional standards program to develop its integrity and professionalism. The program follows the Integrity Commissioner, Michael Griffin's playbook by designing in corruption resistance, building an integrity framework that responds to the risks of subversion, and publicly demonstrating a focus on integrity.

The Australian Border Force Bill 2015, along with measures such as random drug testing, implemented a prescriptive accountability regime that created a framework to swiftly and decisively deal with serious misconduct.

The real problem arising from last week's revelations isn't so much the corruption of DIBP staff. It's the widespread criminality and system vulnerability present in Australia's visa regime. There's a strong temptation for policy makers to rapidly implement policy on the run in the face of such reporting. But this urge needs to be resisted. Now is the time to put aside moral panic and clinically stocktake the situation.

There are now calls for the establishment of an independent inquiry, even perhaps a royal commission. But we're yet to have any independent evidence and intelligence-based assessment of the scope of the problem.

The Australian Crime Commission's (ACC) role is to reduce the threat and impact of serious and organised crime on Australia and the Australian economy. The ACC is an independent body, and is well equipped with a strong mandate and the capabilities to clinically dissect Australia's visa system. The ACC's power to compel witnesses to give evidence on themselves and others under investigation will be invaluable in discovering the vulnerabilities of our immigration system. The ACC should undertake a special operation on the Australian visa immigration system. This would gather intelligence on our visa vulnerabilities to inform the government's visa reform processes.

The Labor Party has proposed that the confiscated proceeds of crime be returned to consolidated revenue. But any ACC visa special operation should be funded with the confiscated proceeds of crime.

Right now, the Australian public needs reassurance that its visa and migration system has integrity. The quickest and most efficient way to provide such assurance is to have the ACC shine a bright light on migration.

John Coyne is Senior Analyst, Border Security, with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Originally published: The Huffington Post. 05 July 2016

Originally published by: The Huffington Post on 05 Jul 2016