Civil surveillance of Australia's borders began in the late 1960s using Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) aircraft to patrol the newly declared 12 nautical mile fishing zone. In addition, RAN patrol boats assisted with the surveillance and acted as a response force.
During the early to mid 1970s a number of issues began to focus the Government's attention on Australia's civil surveillance needs including:
- an increase in foreign fishing vessel activity;
- illegal immigration and people smuggling; and
- in August 1977, the Government announced its intention to declare a 200 nautical mile Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ), now known as the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), around Australia.
In the late 1970s, Australia moved closer to a coordinated civil surveillance effort when the Government made the Department of Transport responsible for coastal surveillance. The Government increased the combined military and civil surveillance commitment to 27,000 hours annually.
A substantial part of the increase came from the use of chartered civilian aircraft, while monitoring of the AFZ continued to be carried by Navy Grumman Tracker and RAAF P3 Orion aircraft.
A number of reviews in the 1980s and 1990s saw many changes to coastal surveillance arrangements culminating in the 2004 Taskforce on Offshore Maritime Security report. Several reviews of civil surveillance of Australia’s borders have been conducted.
The Northern Approaches Review, delivered to government in April 1988, provided the foundation for civil surveillance activity. The Coastwatch function was placed within what was then the Australian Customs Service due to a Government decision against the creation of a new, independent agency; see Northern Approaches Review for more information.
Following two undetected arrivals of Suspected Irregular Entrant Vessels (SIEVs) in early 1999, a Coastal Surveillance Taskforce was established by the Prime Minister to review intelligence gathering and analysis, the capability of current aircraft and equipment, and other related issues the task force may identify; see Coastal Surveillance Taskforce Review for more information.
In 2004, the Taskforce on Offshore Maritime Security reported to Parliament recognising that Customs and Border Protection and Defence have significant offshore maritime patrol, response and interdiction capabilities. As a consequence of this finding, the Joint Offshore Protection Command was created; see Taskforce on Offshore Maritime Security for more information.
In October 2005, the Fisheries Taskforce Review was developed as directed by the Government. The review sought an approach that carefully balanced the requirement for a heightened and highly visible deterrent effect through enforcement action in our maritime zones; see Fisheries Taskforce Review for more information.
In October 2006, JOPC was renamed Border Protection Command to better reflect the organisation's maritime surveillance and response role.
In his National Security Statement to Parliament in December 2008, the Prime Minister identified protecting the integrity of Australia’s border as an issue of national security. Our border protection role was reinforced in that statement by the announcement that the Australian Customs Service was to be re-named the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and be given additional responsibility to lead the whole-of-government response to maritime people smuggling.
In 2008, the Prime Minister commissioned Mr Ric Smith, former Secretary of the Department of Defence and Ambassador to China and Indonesia, to report on the best and most efficient way to coordinate Australia’s overall national security arrangements; see Homeland Security Review for more information.