Text size: A A A

Immigration names new chiefs, staff to be ’empowered’

Australian Geospatial Organisation director Maria Fernandez will join the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s senior leadership team from April 27, as deputy secretary in charge of “intelligence and capability”.

Immigration secretary Michael Pezzullo (pictured) outlined the new top structure — which includes four women in deputy secretary roles and a wealth of experience in defence, national security, intelligence and law enforcement — in a statement to a Senate estimates hearing today.

Pezzullo also confirmed that while Parliament is yet to pass legislation to enable the “integration” of Immigration with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the two would begin acting as a single organisation from March 2 with six divisions:

“As the committee would be aware, the government intends to bring together the department and the service, and to create within the department the Australian Border Force, or ABF. The ABF will act as a single frontline operational agency to enforce customs, immigration and maritime laws, and protect our border. To this end, from the 2nd of March, 2015, the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio will begin to operate in a fully integrated structure that delivers on this intention, short of the ABF being created by law.”

The announcement that Fernandez will take over from former Customs chief technology officer Randall Brugeaud, who is acting in the role and will likely go to a permanent first assistant secretary role, follows the department’s confirmation of other new deputy secretary appointments, published last week by The Mandarin. Pezzullo said today that former Customs CIO Rachel Noble started as deputy secretary in charge of policy on February 16, the same day as her Customs colleague Cindy Briscoe took up her own deputy secretary role, running the immigration status resolution group.

Michael Outram, an Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner, will begin as deputy to Customs CEO Roman Quaedvlieg on March 9. Three deputies remain from before Pezzullo’s appointment and the announcement of the merger: the department’s chief operating officer Marion Grant as head of the corporate group, Michael Manthorpe at the helm of visa and citizenship services, and Peter Vardos, who is leading a major review of the client services decision support framework.

The department has denied persistent claims that many experienced senior executives have chosen to depart as they were unwilling to support the new leadership team, the merger and the increased focus on border protection within the portfolio. But, The Mandarin has heard credible rumours that Vardos took on the review in order to step outside the day-to-day work of the new leadership team, as it builds the merged entity, for similar reasons, and intends to retire once it is complete.

Pezzullo explained that Vardos would look at:

“… how we might best improve our visa and citizenship decision-making processes, and the tools, powers and capabilities that our staff will need to use in future to facilitate the flow of more than 5 million visitors and migrants, while at the same time better protecting the community.”

The Vardos review will contain recommendations on:

“… how to strengthen the legal and policy framework to support visa and citizenship decision-making, how to support client services staff through the increased use of intelligence and data analytics, as well as a workforce strategy to invest in and build the capability of those staff.”

Pezzullo told senators he wanted to make it “abundantly clear” to them that the department’s wish was not only to help its staff to make better-informed decisions, but also to:

“… empower our officers to say ‘no’ more often, where circumstances warrant, and within the law, through better use of information, intelligence and data analytics, as well as ensuring that our staff have the training and support to make defensible, adverse decisions.”

Last week, staff were given some information about the single integrated structure that is coming into effect through a document called “the plan for integration”. Management is also “consulting staff to inform the suite of policies that will form the integrity framework for the new department”, according to Pezzullo:

“These policies are designed to protect our people, property, systems and information from infiltration and corruption. This firmer stance on integrity is not a reflection on the trustworthiness or dedication of our people, rather it reflects the fact that the mission of the department is broadening, and our staff face a broader range of threats.

“Further, the department holds a privileged place at the border, on behalf of the Australian community. Every day we make decisions that affect the safety, rights and freedoms of people as well as Australian trade and commerce. Our staff exercise considerable, and often coercive, powers with wide discretion, often under limited supervision.”

Pezzullo explained the purpose of the strict integrity regime — which has some staff reportedly annoyed — was to make certain those powers were used “reasonably, lawfully, impartially and professionally”.

The estimates hearing also heard Pezzullo and Quaedvlieg remain undecided as to where the national headquarters for their new organisation will be, although tender documents show Customs began exploring options for a major new site in Melbourne last November. When it is decided, the ABF and its training centre, ABF College, will be co-located with the headquarters.

Quaedvlieg explained that in the interim, the nascent ABF College is located at Customs House in Sydney, has “a number of hub-and-spoke campuses” at other locations and will continue to conduct training nationwide. This includes using “institutions and locations” that belong to “partner agencies, for example the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Defence Force”, he said.

More at The Mandarin: Feathers ruffled: how hawks took over the Immigration nest

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.