The Australian Border Force received the last of eight Cape Class patrol boats at the start of this month, on time, and seemingly on budget, with not a whiff of a press release, no minister or PM photo opportunity. Why the silence in a government that reportedly wanted weekly national security announceables up until the election? A tipster told us that the delivery, while announced by ship builder Austal, was kept on the down low because the Australian Border Force was transferring two of the eight boats to the navy, because they couldn’t recruit staff to run them. The Cape Class patrol boats require more crew than the existing Bay Class patrol boats, with 18 instead of 10 crew members, and a National Audit Office report in December last year noted that the department has already experienced issues with crewing the Bay Class patrol boats in recent years.
The ANAO report recommended that Border Force improve its workforce planning, and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service “develops an appropriate strategic workforce plan to address future workforce requirements”. We asked the Border Force if boats had been transferred to the navy and why, but didn’t receive an official response by deadline. With Border Force and the navy sharing resources like patrol boats, it’s just one further sign that the new agency is a paramilitary force that should be on your radar.