The department’s annual procurement plan says it is considering buying “conductive energy weapons” – stun guns – and associated equipment to establish training and deployment capability for its officers.
The plan states the department is looking to buy the weapons as early as January to March 2017 and may share a purchase order with other agencies.
In comments to Fairfax Media the Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the proposal was another example of the government’s “obsessive militarisation of the immigration department”.
“First they bought new uniforms and guns, then they said officers would stop and search random people in the streets and now they want tasers,” she said.
Hanson-Young called on the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, to clarify why the weapons were needed. “Border force are out of control. Will these tasers be used on everyday Australians, will they be used on people seeking asylum?”
An Australian Border Force spokesman told Guardian Australia it had “no immediate plans” to acquire stun guns.
“The department continually explores options to improve the personal defence equipment carried by some border force officers to reduce the reliance on lethal forms of self-defence and to ensure officers can safely de-escalate situations, consistent with practices followed by other law enforcement agencies,” he said.
“Personal defence equipment is only carried by a small number of trained border force officers working in high-risk situations and only used in self-defence or to prevent loss of life of officers or members of the public.”
According to figures given to Senate estimates in October, the Australian Border Force has 1,282 pistols, 103 shotguns, and 45 machine guns.
The border force commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg, told estimates armed border force officers include those in the counter-terrorism unit at airports, customs officers in the maritime unit, the surveillance operatives, investigators and some enforcement staff.
“It is the intent to increase the number of officers who are able to use force up to and including lethal,” Quaedvlieg said. “However, we need to go through an assessment process in terms of the functions.”
Customs officers have had firearms for about seven or eight years, he said.
Quaedvlieg said some border force officers required firearms “to protect themselves and others” and there was “no intention to roll out firearms to every single officer”.
He conceded the notion of officers carrying firearms was “alien to part of the department that didn’t hitherto have an exposure to that”.
Under legislative changes which came into effect on 1 July, border force now has criminal law enforcement powers equivalent in some respects to the federal police.