Airports blast Border Force over long queues, ‘inadequate’ staffing

“Airports across Australia continue to be challenged on a daily basis by inadequate border agency resourcing,” she said.

“Lengthy queuing times and poor processing experiences for international passengers leave a negative lasting impression on visitors to Australia and hurt our image as a great tourism destination.”

The arrivals queue at Sydney Airport’s international terminal as waiting times stretched for 90 minutes after an IT systems outage affected all passengers departing or arriving in Australia on Monday. Credit:Jesse Ilic

Melbourne Airport joined the criticism, saying ABF resources had not matched the 20 per cent growth in its international passenger numbers over the past two years.

“We’ve been in discussions with the Australian Border Force for many months about our concerns relating to the staffing levels available to fulfil this critical process,” a Melbourne Airport spokesman said.


Melbourne Airport had invested $50 million in its own security screening and arrival infrastructure since 2017, the spokesman said, but “investment in border processing remains a matter for the Commonwealth”.

ABF disputed the airport’s claims, and said that it had made significant improvements to passenger processing, including through the installation of automatic “SmartGates”.

“We continue to effectively manage increasing passenger volumes at international airports,” an ABF spokeswoman said.

“The Australian Border Force regularly re-aligns its resources… to manage priorities.”

The AAA’s Ms Wilkie said the ABF measured its clearance time performance using a 24-hour rolling monitor, which covered up the long delays experienced in peak periods.

Airports also had no visibility of whether ABF was meeting those targets, she said.

The Age and SMH revealed in December that ABF was slashing staff number at airports over Christmas in response to “significant budget pressure” in the organisation, which sits within Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs ministry.

The Community and Public Sector Union’s national president Lisa Newman said budgets cuts and a public service staffing cap meant there were fewer officers trying to process a growing number of passengers.

“Border Force is currently struggling to cover operational requirements on a good day, let alone when dealing with the massive systems failure as happened on Monday,” Ms Newman said.

“There has been a woeful lack of contingency planning from Border Force management.”

The ABF has been installing SmartGates at major airports which can process travellers without them having to interact with an immigration official.

About 25 million of the 43 million travellers ABF processed last year used the gates.

However not all travellers can use SmartGates, including those in family groups – which dominate travel around peak periods like Christmas, New Year, Lunar New Year, and Easter.

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