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The no-onesies rule: common sense vs abundant caution sparks storm of fashion critiques

Onesies are not acceptable attire for work in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, it was confirmed yesterday in a slightly silly moment at Senate Estimates.

Neither are Ugg boots or thongs, or even jeans, although one suspects rebellious casual clothing aficionados may be able to slip through the net by choosing plain grey or black denim.

In a brief period of levity in yesterday’s rather serious legal and constitutional affairs hearing, DIBP secretary Michael Pezzullo confirmed he had been asked to make a determination on whether “the wearing of onesies” should be acceptable.

“I didn’t even know what a onesie was and I was shown, err, pictures of such garments,” said Pezzullo.

Committee chair Senator Ian MacDonald then interjected, wearily asking the secretary to explain what this bizarre garment was, so everyone in the room was clear.

“I had to put it out of my head very quickly, Senator, I put it out of my head very rapidly, but I guess in the old days we would have called it a boiler suit of some description,” said Pezzullo.

First assistant secretary Jan Dorrington, who is responsible for the integrity, security and assurance branch, confirmed staff have been told unequivocally that jeans — ripped or otherwise — as well as thongs and Ugg boots were also unacceptable.

“You wouldn’t imagine that many people would be rocking up to work in Ugg boots,” said Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, shocked that any rank-and-file bureaucrats could countenance such an idea.

“Uhh, you’d be surprised, Senator,” came the reply from Dorrington, echoed by Pezzzullo.

No doubt younger Australians in particular are still reeling from the shocking revelation that the man leading the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio only recently found out about the wonder of onesies. Confidence in senior government officials — indeed, the entire institution — has surely taken a knock.

Apparently, the staff consultation process over the dress code split along the familiar lines of the common sense faction, who can’t believe anybody doesn’t know what professional business dress means, versus those who think it should be spelled out in this day and age — or even better, outlawed as discrimination on the basis of fashion.

The new DIBP dress code is part of the process of reforming the department’s integrity framework, and the revelation of the no-onesies rule yesterday was certainly a boon to the online media industry, generating a swathe of click-bait articles like this one.

Pezzullo agreed with Senator MacDonald that it was “surprising” anyone could imagine it was acceptable to wear a onesie, Ugg boots or jeans to work, but said his team had decided “from an abundance of caution” that it was best to provide certainty in these uncertain times. After all, with the morality police being forced to crack down on unacceptably sexy staff members at the Australian Taxation Office last year, you can’t be too careful.

Deputy secretary Marion Grant explained that nine new integrity policies had taken effect on March 10 at DIBP and Customs, which are all but merged into a single organisation with a strong focus on border protection, to be launched on July 1.

As well as the no-onesies policy, the framework includes updated guidance on: social media and corporate electronic communications; communicating with the media in an official capacity; restrictions on outside employment; and restrictions on mobile devices at work. There are also requirements to hold and maintain a baseline national security clearance, to advise the department of certain changes in personal circumstances, and to declare conflicts of interest.

Five more elements come into effect on July 1 including requirements to report serious misconduct and “risk-based targeted integrity testing” along with more controversial measures like the introduction of “organisational suitability” assessments, requirements to declare certain associations, as well as random drug and alcohol testing.

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.