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The Australian Border Force (ABF) delivers outcomes across the border continuum, from the facilitation of legitimate trade and travel through to immigration and customs enforcement to support national and border security. The Secretary is the Accountable Authority for the ABF. The ABF is positioned within the Department for budgetary, employment (with the exception of the statutorily appointed Commissioner) and administrative purposes, but retains operational independence. The ABF gives effect to departmental policies across frontline border law enforcement, civil maritime security, immigration compliance, enforcement and detention, and customs activities to protect Australia’s borders and advance national prosperity.

The ABF works domestically and internationally to secure Australia’s air, maritime and land domains, and to identify, mitigate and respond to threats before they reach the physical Australian border. The ABF’s frontline officers play a crucial role in managing the movement of goods and people across Australia’s borders, balancing the needs of facilitating legitimate trade and travel while protecting Australia’s border security.

Through a strategy and intelligence-led approach, the ABF focuses its capability into operational and tactical responsibilities. This positions the ABF as a global leader in border enforcement to protect Australia’s borders and ensure our customs and border processes can meet today’s challenges and future requirements.


Figure 3 – The ABF at a glance

This Figure depicts relevant statistics related to People and goods, Investigations and compliance, and Detention.


The ABF’s organisational structure at 30 June 2020 is shown in Table 2 below:

Table 2 – Australian Border Force organisational structure

 Support, Operations, Immigration Detention and Customs.


As at 30 June 2020:

Photograph of Michael Outram APM, Commissioner of the Australian Border Force
Michael Outram APM, Commissioner of the Australian Border Force

Michael was the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force and the Comptroller-General of Customs, both statutory appointments reporting to the Minister for Home Affairs on the operational performance of the Australian Border Force. Supported by the Department of Home Affairs, he led the Australian Border Force in protecting Australia’s border and enabling legitimate travel and trade. He also oversaw Australia’s customs service and immigration. enforcement functions.

Photograph for Justine Saunders APM, Deputy Commissioner of the Operations Group, Australian Border Force
Justine Saunders APM, Deputy Commissioner of the Operations Group, Australian Border Force

Justine was responsible for providing high-level strategic direction across all operational activities around the border, including the management of travellers, goods and cargo, as well as enforcement of maritime operations. Justine led civil maritime security and responses to border-related threats, and provided specialist investigation and enforcement capabilities.

Photograph of Kaylene Zakharoff, Deputy Commissioner of the Support Group, Australian Border Force
Kaylene Zakharoff, Deputy Commissioner of the Support Group, Australian Border Force

Kaylene was responsible for delivering operational continuity through strategic planning and support to achieve the ABF's operational outcomes. This included leadership of the ABF’s workforce and maritime capabilities and specialist support to operations, including the Detector Dog Program and technical teams.

Photograph of Claire Rees, Group Manager Immigration Detention Group, Australian Border Force
Claire Rees, Group Manager Immigration Detention Group, Australian Border Force

Claire was responsible for end-to-end management of Australia’s immigration detention network and detention operations. This included contract management for onshore detention, individual detainee health case management and child wellbeing.

Photograph of Dr Bradley Armstrong PSM, Group Manager Customs Group, Australian Border Force
Dr Bradley Armstrong PSM, Group Manager Customs Group, Australian Border Force

Bradley was responsible for customs policy. This included customs-related legislation, regulatory frameworks, compliance settings, industry engagement and border modernisation. Bradley was also responsible for addressing anti-slavery through a supply-chain regulatory function.

Changes to the Executive Team

The following changes in the ABF leadership occurred during 2019–20.

  • Mandy Newton finished in the position of Deputy Commissioner Operations in June 2020.
    • To fill this position, Justine Saunders moved into the role of Deputy Commissioner Operations from the position of Deputy Commissioner Support. Kaylene Zakharoff moved into the position of Deputy Commissioner Support from Group Manager Immigration Detention. Claire Rees was appointed acting Group Manager Immigration Detention.


The Australian Border Force continues to mature as a modern, professional and disciplined border law enforcement agency, and is a critical partner within the Home Affairs Portfolio. Since 1 July 2015, the ABF has continued to shape and modernise Australia’s trade and travel systems to protect our borders while facilitating legitimate trade and travel.

I want to acknowledge and celebrate our success over the past twelve months. Our officers have worked very hard to protect our borders and I continue to be impressed by the tremendous innovation and resilience that they display each day in a dynamic and challenging environment.

2019–20 was unlike anything previously experienced. With bushfires and COVID-19, our functions, priorities and responsibilities changed rapidly to perform roles never previously undertaken. As Australia’s operational frontline border law enforcement agency and customs service, we continue to evolve and adapt to assist in Australia’s pandemic response and the recovery of our economy and our communities.

For the first half of the financial year, we experienced strong growth in trade volumes and travel numbers underpinned by a vibrant tourism and travel sector. This is in stark contrast to the second half of the year where unprecedented travel restrictions saw traveller numbers reduce and our borders become a frontline of defence against a global pandemic.

The challenges that we have faced have shown our adaptability in times of crisis. What we have delivered this year sets up a strong platform to manage the challenges and uncertainties ahead of us.

Our response to COVID-19

The ABF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily through the rapid implementation of Australia’s border controls, has been a critical factor in slowing the introduction and spread of the virus throughout Australia. Given Australia’s geographical proximity to the outbreak, it was those early decisive actions that have put us in a much stronger position than other nations around the world.

Following Australia’s first confirmed COVID-19 case on 25 January 2020, the ABF worked quickly with partner agencies, airlines and industry partners to implement the Government’s decisions and strengthen our border measures. Many of these changes were unprecedented and were implemented within hours of each new measure being announced.

As the situation overseas started to deteriorate, the ABF played a key role in bringing Australians home on Government-assisted repatriation flights from China and Japan. More than 700 people were evacuated from Wuhan, China and after disembarking the Diamond Princess in Tokyo, the ABF worked with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Department of Health to facilitate these passengers to board flights, clear customs and immigration processes mid-flight, and then transfer to North West Point on Christmas Island or Howard Springs in Darwin to undergo quarantine before returning home.

The quick establishment of quarantine facilities at North West Point and Howard Springs demonstrated our capability, agility and close working relationships with partner agencies in what were unique and challenging environments.

Working ahead of the border, ABF officers engaged with airlines to ensure travellers who had been in high risk countries or were unwell did not board flights to Australia. Officers helped screen passengers arriving in Australia, handing out fact sheets and isolation declaration cards to incoming travellers, and referring unwell people to biosecurity officers.

Alongside the Department, the ABF implemented a new regime to manage an exemptions process which permitted international travel in a limited set of circumstances. This process was consistent with relevant health advice and the public messaging for Australians abroad to return home. Since the introduction of travel restrictions thousands of applications have been processed often within very tight timeframes. This has required a significant and sustained surge of officers from across the organisation.

On 15 March 2020, a ban on international cruise ship arrivals was announced by the Government, with exceptions for approximately 32 vessels that were already en-route to, or in, Australian waters at the time of the announcement. In the weeks following, a sustained and targeted ABF effort saw the departure of all 32 international flagged cruise ship vessels and their approximately 20,000 crew from Australian waters. The last vessel to leave an Australian port was on 28 April 2020.

While this year has seen unprecedented travel restrictions, Australia’s borders have not closed. Air and sea cargo continues to arrive into Australia with goods that the country relies on. The ABF has kept the economy moving as much as possible, while maintaining our commitment to ensuring our borders remain strong.

Through the implementation of strengthened export controls, the ABF played an important role in stopping the export of critical medical supplies and personal protective equipment, including 700,000 face masks, 45,000 gloves and 9000 sanitiser products including disinfectant wipes and bottles of hand sanitiser. Through the efforts of ABF officers, we continue to ensure critical supplies stay in the country for the benefit of all Australians.

Sustaining border protection outcomes

The work carried out by the ABF has not stopped as a result of COVID-19. Our borders remain strong. It is business as usual when it comes to detecting illicit substances, stopping illegal imports and preventing worker exploitation.

We continue to target the black economy and criminal syndicates taking advantage of COVID-19 to circumvent border controls and import prohibited and illicit goods. We have surged officers at air and sea ports, to examine sea containers, items sent through the mail centre and air cargo consignments. We are still detecting and stopping illicit goods coming into Australia.

The ABF continues to reinforce the integrity of Australia’s migration system by identifying, disrupting and deterring facilitators responsible for systemic and deliberate exploitation of foreign workers. In 2019–20, Operation BATTENRUN has targeted unscrupulous labour hire intermediaries and those exploiting foreign workers through issuing warnings and infringement notices, and at the more serious end visa cancellations, detention and removal from Australia.

COVID-19 has impacted our ability to remove unlawful non-citizens from Australia. The number of removals undertaken has contracted this year due to offshore travel restrictions and limited availability of commercial flights. This places additional pressure on the immigration detention network and has a significant impact on detention populations.

We have put in place comprehensive measures to protect those accommodated at immigration detention facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes a range of protective and preventative measures in accordance with the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) National Guidelines for the Prevention, Control and Public Health Management of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Correctional and Detention Facilities in Australia. The ABF will continue to monitor and adjust its COVID-19 response arrangements to the advice provided by health officials and through any updated CDNA guidelines.

Looking forward

The modernisation of our trade systems and regulations remains a priority. Over the next 12 months, the ABF will continue to focus on a transformative modernisation agenda, which will support Australia’s economic recovery and contribute to the restoration of productivity and growth.

Existing trade processes and systems are inefficient and are not meeting the needs of the community and industry. Businesses must navigate numerous regulatory agencies with multiple platforms and systems. Efficiency is further hampered by a reliance on manual processes that are not supported by digital solutions.

Simplifying trade systems and regulations at the border will support the Australian economy and its crisis response through trade – while helping prevent movement of goods that undermine community safety, lead to exploitation or enable trade-related fraud.

Whether on the front line or in a support role, all ABF officers and staff have performed their role with professionalism, commitment, diligence and compassion throughout 2019–20. While the future of international travel is uncertain, we are ready to respond to the challenges ahead of us. The work and planning undertaken to date, will see the ABF continue to play a vital role in Australia’s COVID-19 response and economic recovery.