Australia creates new border agency

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison speaks on 9 May 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the reforms would strengthen national security and the economy

Australia has announced the establishment of a new border "super agency" that will combine operations from the customs and immigration departments.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the "sweeping new changes" would save hundreds of millions of dollars and enhance border security.

The move comes as Australia takes a tough approach to asylum seekers.

A military operation has blocked asylum boats for more than four months.

In a speech on Friday, Mr Morrison said the new border agency would be led by a civilian commissioner who would report directly to him.

It would encompass not only border protection staff but also "those involved in investigations, compliance and enforcement in relation to illicit goods and illegal visitors".

All these reforms will "both enhance our national security and create an even stronger national economy", he said.

He said the government would acquire more boats to patrol Australia's coasts and close several detention centres to save money.

Mr Morrison also told Australian media that some refugee applications by asylum-seekers held on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea had been approved.

Under current policy, asylum-seekers who try to make their way to Australia by boat are sent to detention camps in PNG or Nauru. If found to be refugees, they will be resettled there, not in Australia.

Mr Morrison said PNG was continuing to work on plans for their resettlement - as critics question whether the impoverished nation is adequately equipped to provide a new life to refugees.

Meanwhile, Australia's high court was due to hear a challenge against the Manus Island detention centre.

It has been in the spotlight since the death in February of an Iranian asylum-seeker in violence that left scores more injured.

Rights groups and the UN have condemned Australia over conditions in the camp and accused it of failing to adequately protect people in its care. Several inquiries into the February violence are underway.

Australia says its asylum policy - which is also widely believed to involve towing back boats to Indonesian waters - is aimed at saving lives.

Hundreds of would-be migrants have died trying to make their way to Australia by boat in recent years.

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