The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of Customs and Border Protection's performance in managing and coordinating enforcement operations against illegal foreign fishing in Australia's northern waters. The audit focused on Customs and Border Protection's role within the whole of government policy coordination framework; the effectiveness of its intelligence support for operational planning and policy and strategy development; its performance in planning, prioritising and administering effective enforcement operations; and its performance in measuring and reporting on the effectiveness of the program.
The program to combat illegal foreign fishing
1. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs and Border Protection) manages the security and integrity of Australia's borders. Customs and Border Protection is the lead agency responsible for the prevention of incursions by illegal foreign fishing vessels in the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (AEEZ),1 and coordinates the whole of government effort in both northern waters and the Southern Ocean.2
2. In northern Australian waters, the majority of foreign fishing vessel (FFV) incursions are historically by fishers from Indonesia targeting shark for the international shark fin market. A smaller number are apprehended targeting reef fish, and sea-bed species such as trochus and trepang (sea cucumber). From 2003 to 2006, there was a significant increase in FFV activity in Australia's northern waters. In 2003–04, 134 FFV's were apprehended. This increased by 51 per cent to 203 apprehensions in 2004–05, and then by a further 80 per cent to 367 apprehensions in 2005–06.
3. In 2005–06 and 2006–07, in response to the increase in FFV incursions, the Australian Government committed additional funding totalling $543 million to combat the problem of illegal foreign fishing in Australia's northern waters. The largest component was the appropriation in the 2006–07 Budget of $388.9 million over four years for the program titled ‘securing borders against illegal foreign fishing'. Described by Ministers as ‘an integrated whole of government plan' the program comprised additional resourcing to a number of agencies including Customs and Border Protection; the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA); the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS); the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), the Department of Defence (Defence), the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA, now DIAC); the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA); the Attorney-General's Department; the Australian Federal Police; and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP).
4. The components of the whole of government program reflect the interdependent factors identified as necessary to achieve increased apprehensions of FFVs fishing illegally within the AEEZ. These were:
- the ability to deploy vessels to respond to sightings, apprehend vessels, detain illegal foreign fishers and transport both to land;
- the availability of sufficient on-shore processing and medical facilities for detainees while they undergo initial processing;
- the capability to deal with quarantine risks of the vessels and their destruction;
- the availability of immigration detention centres to house illegal foreign fishers while repatriation arrangements are made or prosecutions underway; and
- an investigations and prosecution capacity.
5. Border Protection Command (BPC) within Customs and Border Protection is the lead organisation for security response to threats in the Australian Maritime Domain. BPC coordinates surveillance and response operations against eight recognised maritime security threats to Australia, one of which is the illegal exploitation of natural resources, which includes illegal foreign fishing. To perform this function, BPC plans and directs the surveillance coverage of aircraft provided by private contractors, and has operational control of the relevant Customs and Border Protection and Australian Defence Force (ADF) surface assets which respond to surveillance contacts.
6. The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of Customs and Border Protection's performance in managing and coordinating enforcement operations against illegal foreign fishing in Australia's northern waters. The audit focused on Customs and Border Protection's role within the whole of government policy coordination framework; the effectiveness of its intelligence support for operational planning and policy and strategy development; its performance in planning, prioritising and administering effective enforcement operations; and its performance in measuring and reporting on the effectiveness of the program.
7. The program against illegal foreign fishing in Australia's northern waters is a complex whole of government program comprising a number of agencies and interdependent activities. Customs and Border Protection, through BPC, coordinates surveillance and enforcement operations on behalf of AFMA as the enforcement authority under relevant Commonwealth legislation. Customs and Border Protection also holds certain leadership responsibilities for coordination of the program but is not formally designated as the lead agency for the program.
8. The ANAO concluded that, overall, Customs and Border Protection has effectively managed and coordinated enforcement operations against illegal foreign fishing in northern waters. As a result of the impact of additional funding on increased detection, apprehension and destruction of FFVs, there was a substantial reduction in FFV apprehensions in northern waters, from 367 in 2005–06 to 216 in 2006–07, 156 in 2007–08 and 27 in 2008–09. These apprehension numbers reflect a similar substantial decline in the number and extent of incursions by FFVs into the AEEZ and the retreat of FFV activity to waters north of the AEEZ line. All involved agencies regard the program as having been successful.
9. The outcome of the program has rested on the effective coordination of surveillance and response operations by BPC and an effective whole of government coordination structure overseen by the Strategic Maritime Management Committee (SMMC), chaired by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C).
10. The Government's expectation in 2006 was that the program would lead to a doubling of apprehensions, initially to 717 per year for the first two years, and to 650 for the final two years. The fact that the program has had the opposite effect meant that effectiveness indicators for the program required substantial revision over time, and indicates a gap in agencies' strategic understanding at that time of the drivers and dynamics of illegal foreign fishing activity.
11. Going forward, there are a number of challenges for the administration of the whole of government program, particularly in terms of program leadership responsibility, the lack of a continuing overarching implementation plan and ongoing performance evaluation of the program. Resolving these challenges will be important in ensuring there is appropriate high level direction and coordination of the program in the future, and that the program's resources and capabilities continue to be a cost-effective response to the threat. Given its specific border protection remit, and the lead agency responsibilities for aspects of the program that it has held, Customs and Border Protection is well placed to initiate action to address this gap.
12. The ANAO has also identified several areas of improvement within Customs and Border Protection, including BPC's intelligence support for policy and longer term planning and strategy development; deficiencies in the two major risk assessment processes managed by BPC; the transparency of planning and prioritisation processes for BPC's client agencies; and the definition, measurement and reporting of program effectiveness.
Key findings by chapter
Program implementation and coordination (Chapter 2)
13. Customs and Border Protection, primarily through BPC, is the lead agency for the coordination and delivery of enforcement operations against illegal foreign fishing in northern waters. Customs and Border Protection was also the designated lead agency for coordinating and reporting on program implementation to the Cabinet Implementation Unit (CIU) from the 2006 Budget until quarterly reporting ceased in mid-2007 and its subsequent provision of a closure report at the beginning of 2008. However, there is no formal designation of any specific department or agency as the lead agency responsible for continuing policy coordination and development for the program.
14. The implementation and ongoing operation of the whole of government enforcement program against illegal foreign fishing in northern waters has been effectively coordinated by Customs and Border Protection. However, there was no high level implementation plan for the program outside the context of reporting to CIU on the measures announced in the 2005 and 2006 Budgets. Following the cessation of quarterly reporting to CIU on implementation of those measures in mid–2007, there has been no ongoing overarching implementation plan for the program.
15. Notwithstanding that it has held specific lead agency responsibilities, Customs and Border Protection does not regard itself as having overall leadership responsibility for the program. This function was performed by a high-level interdepartmental committee, the SMMC, from May 2006 to March 2009, supported by PM&C as the Committee's chair and secretariat.
16. The inter-agency coordination framework provided by SMMC and its subordinate committee chaired by BPC, the Joint Agencies Maritime Advisory Group (JAMAG), worked effectively in overseeing the development of key program capabilities and addressing and resolving program coordination issues as they have arisen.
17. The cessation of SMMC in March 2009, in favour of a new committee—the Homeland and Border Security Policy Coordination Group (HPCG)—means that the program lost its leadership body at policy level. While efforts are being made to provide for continuity, the more strategic focus of HPCG means that filling the leadership gap for the program may entail the key agencies in the program, including Customs and Border Protection, taking more responsibility for its coordination. A failure to address the leadership gap risks the program losing direction and coherence, with a consequent loss of assurance that its various components remain the appropriate response to the threat from illegal foreign fishing.
18. Accordingly, the ANAO considers it appropriate that Customs and Border Protection initiate with PM&C and its whole of government partners in the program consideration of the issue of leadership arrangements for the future direction and delivery of the program.
Intelligence support for operations, policy development and planning (Chapter 3)
19. The focus of BPC's intelligence effort is predominantly operational and directed to servicing its own operational planning requirements, which is BPC's highest intelligence priority. Overall, the BPC Intelligence Centre (BPCIC) is effectively supporting those operational needs, but there is room for improvement in seeking client feedback on its operational intelligence products, and in the analytical content of those products.
20. BPCIC's illegal foreign fishing intelligence cell is currently based in the Australia Defence Force (ADF) Northern Command in Darwin, which is beneficial for its understanding of the operating environment, but detracts from its ability to support policy and longer-term planning and strategy development. A proposal under consideration to move all BPC elements located in Darwin to BPC Headquarters in Canberra will help address this deficiency.
21. There is currently no regular meeting of relevant staff from BPC, AFMA, DAFF and other interested agencies to discuss the developing intelligence picture in relation to illegal foreign fishing and the current and planned intelligence activities of each agency. In view of this, and the fact that there is room for better understanding among agencies of the nature and extent of BPCIC's intelligence responsibilities, there would be benefit in Customs and Border Protection establishing such a forum.
22. The Government's expectation in 2006–07 was that the injection of funding through the whole of government program would lead to a doubling of FFV apprehensions, initially to 717 per year for the first two years, and to 650 for the final two years of the program. The fact that the program has had the opposite effect indicates a gap in agencies' strategic understanding at that time of the drivers of illegal foreign fishing activity. While agencies' understanding of the nature of foreign fishing activity has improved since 2006, its drivers and dynamics are still not well understood.
23. Intelligence support for policy and longer term strategy development remains undeveloped within BPC in comparison to intelligence support for operational planning. Given that BPCIC carries sole responsibility within Customs and Border Protection for intelligence in relation to illegal foreign fishing, this is inhibiting Customs and Border Protection's ability to:
- contribute to the whole of government understanding of future trends and threats in illegal foreign fishing activity;
- play a stronger role in the development of policy options to meet emerging illegal foreign fishing trends and threats; and
- define and plan for its long-term capability development needs through its major internal strategic planning processes.
24. There is room for Customs and Border Protection to enhance BPCIC's intelligence services to improve support for policy development and longer-term forecasting. Existing BPCIC products with a longer term focus provide a sound basis for further developing BPCIC's longer term forecasting capacity. That capacity would be assisted if Customs and Border Protection gave consideration to extending the time horizon for relevant BPCIC intelligence products to more than one year ahead.
Planning, prioritisation and administration of operations (Chapter 4)
25. BPC takes a risk-based approach to the planning of its asset deployment and maintains two separate risk assessment tools, the Common Risk Assessment Methodology (CRAM) and the Australian Maritime Security Risk Assessment (AMSRA). CRAM is a client-based tool used to inform operational planning. AMSRA is an assessment of strategic risk meant to inform government but also has a stated function to inform operational decision-making, which creates confusion when operational priorities apparently conflict with its strategic risk rankings.
26. While both CRAM and AMSRA continue to be viable processes producing useful outputs for, respectively, operational planning and strategic decision-making, both processes have deficiencies. Customs and Border Protection recognises some of these deficiencies but has not addressed them pending the development of a new Integrated Operations Planning Process (IOPP), which would replace both CRAM and AMSRA. As the deficiencies in CRAM are longstanding, and the IOPP has not proceeded beyond a theoretical model that may take a further two years to implement, the ANAO considers that Customs and Border Protection should take early action to review its approach of continuing CRAM in its current state.
27. With regard to the processes for client agencies to task BPC, and the prioritisation of taskings by BPC, there are gaps in the transparency of BPC operational decisions impacting on client agency interests that need to be addressed. In particular, it would be beneficial to review the priority-setting processes and guidance documents for BPC with a view to:
- confirming the BPC Commander's quarterly Statement of Intent as the appropriate document to consolidate guidance on, and accountability for, strategic priorities for BPC;
- establishing a monthly statement/summary of priorities to take account of adjustments to priorities occurring within the quarterly timeframe of the Statement of Intent and their impact on operations; and
- making such documents available to the monthly meetings of the Operational Response Working Group to better inform client agencies of movements in BPC priorities and the impact of these on operations.
28. Overall, the administration of operations is managed effectively. The ANAO has made suggestions for improvement within BPC in the areas of administration, internal communications and information systems.
Program performance measurement and reporting (Chapter 5)
29. The whole of government program against illegal foreign fishing in northern waters is considered to be a success by participating agencies, given the significant reduction in FFV incursions and apprehensions. However, at whole of government level, there is a lack of a clear and agreed definition of effectiveness for the program, and this is compounded by the fact that the only stated effectiveness indicator—the doubling of apprehensions—became redundant early in the life of the program.
30. There is no regular reporting of the effectiveness of the program as a whole. Participating agencies report on their own activities independently. It is therefore not possible to assess the relative contribution to the overall performance of the program of its various components. Furthermore, as the operating environment changes with the decline in FFV incursions, the impact of resultant changes to particular components cannot be assessed in the context of the program as a whole.
31. The ANAO considers that Customs and Border Protection should work with its partner agencies in the program to establish an improved definition of effectiveness and more robust effectiveness indicators, at both the whole of government and agency level.
32. There are structural barriers to comprehensive and effective reporting of Customs and Border Protection's performance in managing and coordinating the program against illegal foreign fishing in Australia's northern waters. These stem from the multi-agency nature of BPC and its multi-tasked operations against eight maritime security threats. However, the ANAO considers that there is an opportunity to improve reporting by developing a consolidated report of BPC's surveillance and response operations, including those relating to illegal foreign fishing, and making that report publicly available through BPC's website.
33. Performance measures used by Customs and Border Protection contain weaknesses and have not been applied consistently over time. Trends in FFV sightings are one of the key performance measures used, yet the sightings dataset contains a significant amount of low quality data. To further improve its annual reporting, the ANAO suggests that Customs and Border Protection stabilise its reporting outputs to create specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed performance parameters. Data collected and used in internal management reporting is available to be drawn on for this purpose.
Summary of agency response
34. The proposed report was provided to Customs and Border Protection for formal comment. Customs and Border Protection provided the following summary response, and its formal response is shown at Appendix 2.
35. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service welcomes the ANAO's report on Illegal Foreign Fishing in Australia's Northern Waters, which concludes that, overall, Customs and Border Protection has effectively managed and coordinated enforcement operations against illegal foreign fishing in northern waters.
36. The report provides a very useful perspective on the performance of the program to combat illegal foreign fishing and will assist with the further refinement of the program to ensure the best possible approach to meeting its objectives.
37. The recommendations made in the report are of particular use in clarifying the immediate priorities for improvement of the program in the areas of program governance, ongoing performance evaluation, intelligence support and risk assessment. Work is already underway to address the recommendations.
1 Australian Customs Service Annual Report 2007–08, p. 41 and 45.
2 Australian Customs Service Annual Plan 2008–09, p. 18.