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Immigration appoints comms branch head, dep sec to review detention

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has appointed a new senior executive to run its communications branch in Mark Jeffries, who has been acting in an SES Band 1 role at the Department of Defence heading up the ministerial and corporate support branch.

The Mandarin can confirm Jeffries starts in the new position — which is a promotion as he will now be a permanent assistant secretary, or branch head — on Monday.

As would any communications executive, Jeffries will have his work cut out for him in the media space, owing to the intense scrutiny attracted by ongoing public controversy over conditions in detention centres, and the increasing focus on border protection in immigration policy under both Labor and Coalition governments over recent decades.

DIBP has also just emerged from the integration process that saw it absorb the former Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and transform it into the Australian Border Force to act as DIBP’s operational arm, and is constantly the subject of negative publicity, which its secretary Michael Pezzullo has attributed mainly to political opponents of the government policy he is bound to administer.

Jeffries may want his team to clarify that the Australian flag emblazoned with the words “BORDER FORCE” (pictured) — which became a subject of social media ridicule and outrage today — is in fact just an updated version of the old CUSTOMS flag.

Earlier this week, DIBP responded rather defensively to an article reporting “concern that vulnerable asylum seekers are being forced to mix with felons and thugs”, based on figures the department provided to a Senate inquiry about the number of convicted criminals housed in the detention centres located in Australian territory.

The statement says the reporting ignores “strong steps being taken to maintain centre security and protect vulnerable detainees” and that it is “mischievous and offensive” to suggest the Australian Border Force does not take the safety and security of detainees very seriously:

“All detainees undergo a risk assessment prior to placement in the detention network. Multiple factors – including operational requirements, security and welfare issues – are carefully considered before each placement decision is made.

These placements are then reviewed regularly and high-risk detainees are transferred between detention facilities to decrease risk as needed.”

New deputy secretary drafted from Finance

The statement goes on to mention the department’s newly established Detention Capability Review Task Force, which is headed up by another new appointment, deputy secretary Jenet Connell.

Jenet Connell
Jenet Connell

Connell came across to DIBP on May 25 from the Department of Finance, where she had been chief operating officer since 2010. Previously, she held roles as executive manager of biosecurity services at the department formerly known as Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and as a group manager with the former Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.

A keen cyclist with a masters in organisational psychology, Connell moved to the federal bureaucracy after 12 years as a senior public service executive in Western Australia concerned with workplace relations and small business policy, with three years in private sector IT and web development in between.

Her new task force is charged with conducting a “fundamental review of the immigration detention network to provide assurance that it is strategically aligned, affordable, sustainable and supports capability needs now and in the future” and will work in concert with the Detention Assurance Team, which was assembled on November 10, 2014. According to DIBP:

“The DAT monitors the effectiveness of standards in place for detention service providers, and recommends action to deal with credible allegations of misconduct.

“This Task Force and the DAT, coupled with the recent launch of the ABF, and the passage of the ABF Act, will strengthen the ability of the ABF, the Department and service providers to maintain the good order of the immigration detention network.”

While DIBP and the Commonwealth workplace safety regulator Comcare both generally take offence at any suggestion they are not doing a good enough job with regard to detention centre safety, the restructured department also launched a new program called Operation Safe Centres in March.

“Operation Safe Centres is another clear example of the direct action being taken against those who engage in illegal activities or display abusive and violent behaviour in detention.

“Launched in March this year, the multi-agency Operation has seized illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia and numerous other prohibited items with the aim of ensuring all those who reside at, visit or work in immigration detention centres can feel safe and secure at all times.”

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.