The Australian Financial Review understands that a promise by former
Labor leader Bill Shorten to adopt Home Affairs if elected, but subject
it to a review, was based on concerns by such agencies as ASIO and Australian Federal Police that they were unhappy with the merger
because it was affecting their operational ability.
The new home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally would not comment on these concerns but cited separate problems identified by the federal Auditor-General as reasons Labor would watch carefully the operation of the merged super department before deciding whether to adopt it if it wins the next election.
"The auditor says the government has not yet realised the benefits of the merger and over the next three years we'll be keeping watch on the performance of the department,'' she said.
"The government hasn't yet demonstrated the full benefits of the merger."
Recent audit reports have identified problems with the processing of citizenship applications, the administration of a biometric identification project and a reduction in operations by patrol boats to save fuel.
The audit office is investigating the department awarding $423 million in contracts to the obscure firm Paladin to provide services to asylum seekers on Manus Island.
This year, ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis used a Senate estimates hearing to condemn what he believed was the politicisation of advice supposedly from his department.
In an attempt to damage Labor's push to facilitate the medical evacuation of sick asylum seekers, Department of Home Affairs advice was leaked. It drew, in part, from ASIO advice.
Mr Lewis called the "leak" seriously damaging and all but suggested it came from the government in order to damage Labor.
"ASIO does not and will not use its position to influence the national debate on security-relevant issues through unauthorised disclosures," he said.
"ASIO's advice is provided to agencies to assist with policy development, and there are strict controls on how that advice is managed and disseminated, and breakdown of these controls are seriously damaging."
'Too big for one minister'
The department was created in December 2017 and merged key agencies including AFP, ASIO, Immigration and Australian Border Force. It has an annual budget for this year of $6.95 billion.
"This department is in a mess,'' said one source.
"It's too big for one minister [Peter Dutton] and one [departmental] secretary [Mike Pezzullo] to deal with.''
Before the election, Mr Shorten, when asked whether he would keep Home Affairs, said: "Initially, and then we're going to review it.''
"It was a significant restructure. I think it's prudential to see if the benefits, or the promised benefits of the new structure, have materialised or not."
The decision by new Labor leader Anthony Albanese to give the shadow ministry to Senator Keneally provoked a furious response from Mr Dutton. He said his new rival was unqualified for the job and he cited her previous comments in which she was critical of some aspects of asylum seeker policy, including boat turnbacks.
Senator Keneally rejected assertions she would be "soft'' on borders. She said it was Mr Dutton who had lost control of the borders and the portfolio in general.
"This is evidenced by the explosion in ‘airplane people’ arriving into Australia, the blowout in the number of people on bridging visas, multi-year waiting lists for partner visas and citizenship application backlogs, and audit report after audit report identifying failings and mismanagement within the department,'' she said.