The Central Movement Alert List (CMAL,) a kind of watch list used by the Department of Immigration to manage people arriving in Australia has been criticised in a new report.

One of the main problems is that Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) staff cannot use a biometric data such as fingerprints and facial images even after millions of dollars was given to their department to make it happen.

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DIBP has been looking at using biometrics for 15 years but it is still not included in the watch list​

CMAL information is taken into account when a person applies for a visa to come to Australia, to cross its borders, or applies for Australian citizenship. It contains more than two million records and generates more than 300,000 match cases per month.

The department's attempt to set up a steering committee to improve the watch list has failed because of a lack of interest and management oversight, according to the report from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO.)

It means staff have to identify visa applicants using biographical sources which have 'a varying degree of reliability' despite $83 million being allocated for a biometric watch list and other initiatives.

The amount of biometric information Australia has collected from overseas visa applicants since 2006 would give greater certainty to staff assessing a rising number of applications and fraudsters armed with better technology, the report explains.

Just over 30 million traveller checks a year are being done and this workload is set to rise to deal 50 million by 2020.

The report points out that although there have been large improvements in the watch list, particularly in terms of the accuracy of the data gathered, the DIBP has been looking at using biometrics for 15 years but it is still not included in the list.

The report also points out that although data remains on the list for as long as 120 years, it is not subject to systematic reviews to upgrade data deficiencies which might unnecessarily inconvenience travellers.

The audit also found that the department still did not collect information showing where the watch list had been used in visa and citizenship decisions and its response to recommendations made by the ANAO in 2008 has been slow with only two out of five recommendations being implemented.

'DIBP's strategic management arrangements for CMAL still require development. There has been no strategic planning undertaken to guide the future direction of CMAL nor is there a clearly stated strategic objective for CMAL,' the report says.

'Until DIBP develops cost effective arrangements to measure CMAL's outcomes and its impact on visa and citizenship decisions, the department will not be in a position to report on the system's outcomes and its contribution to Australia's border security arrangements,' it adds.

'The audit as an opportunity to refine the performance of the CMAL and further enhance its effectiveness. As part of the multi layered approach to border security, CMAL is an integral part of the department's visa and citizenship processing,' said a DIBP spokesman.

'It is a complex system which is well embedded into immigration processes and, as identified in the audit, is effective for these operational purposes. Recommendations will be taken on board,' he added.