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Blueprint for border protection: strategy for staff mash-up revealed

Seven distinct capabilities have been identified within the recently merged customs and immigration areas, as the Department of Immigration and Border Protection embarks on a major transformation culminating in the emergence of the Australian Border Force on July 1 next year.

When portfolio budget statements came out in May, the new organisation was forecast to have 480 less staff than the two it is built from — 400 of those from the department — as a result of the consolidation and the transfer of some functions away from both in the 2013 machinery of government changes.

According to the “blueprint for integration” given out to employees on Thursday, decisions about which groups, divisions, branches and commands will make up the new organisation are yet to be made, but “high level design work” has defined the seven functional areas to start the conversation:

  • Develop policy, law and program;
  • Enterprise-wide strategy and services;
  • Specialised border capability;
  • Intelligence, risk and targeting;
  • Immigration and customs services;
  • Border control (pre-, at and post-border); and
  • Investigations, compliance, enforcement and status resolution.

A detailed plan for building the new DIBP will be released in February, based on feedback from employees. The first of two “national roadshows” have begun, with senior leaders travelling the country to discuss what has happened and what lies ahead. A second, in February, will provide staff with personalised career support.

The blueprint aims not only to inform and reassure staff, but also to stir feelings of professional pride and enthusiasm for the sweeping restructure. It explains the new DIBP will feature five career streams: policy and regulation, client services, enabling/support, intelligence, and the new Border Force.

The ABF’s commissioner will have the same standing as heads of other national security agencies like the Federal Police commissioner, Chief of the Defence Force and ASIO director-general, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison (pictured) said in May. Its Canberra headquarters will include Strategic Border Command, the National Border Targeting Centre and ABF College, which is to “deliver the same support and opportunities possible in our other federal law enforcement agencies, establishing a much overdue parity”, according to the minister.

Career opportunities in the Border Force

In the blueprint, DIBP’s strategic communications experts provide simple fictional stories to explain career opportunities in the new department. Natalie from traveller policy diligently keeps up with the integration plans, takes an opportunity for secondment and later ends up moving permanently to the new Onshore Protection policy. Her job might involve helping to “clear the current legacy caseload of illegal arrival protection applicants” or issuing new temporary protection visas, according to the blueprint. It adds:

“The reforms will also rationalise and strengthen Australia’s protection status determination processes to ensure that only those with clearly established protection needs receive protection, that a robust response is in place to respond to those who attempt to abuse the system and the overall speed and integrity of the administration of the programme is improved.”

In the next story, ambitious immigration compliance officer Jill aspires to join the ABF, and knows she has what it takes. She shares her dream with her career advisor and gets top-up training. Passing the fitness, psychological and medical tests, she wears her uniform with pride as she graduates from ABF College. She loves her exciting new life, searching aeroplanes and boats, checking visas and patrolling remote areas, but that isn’t enough for Jill. She wants to lead. Eventually, after management and leadership training back at the college, she wins a senior operational position.

The brochure points out that Border Force will need to boost capacity over time with movements across the Australian border expected to increase 23% in the next four years, student visas by 16.5%, sea cargo by 17%, air cargo by 54% and citizenship applications by 23%. It confidently asserts that the “intelligence-led, mobile and technologically enabled” Border Force will be able to boost capacity over time by “combining enforcement resources from immigration and customs, together with retraining”, and officers like Jill will also:

“… work to counter threats ahead of the border, employing sophisticated risk assessments through our visa programmes and working with international partners to deliver enforcement outcomes.”

Data, intelligence and risk-based targeting

Elsewhere, the blueprint states that through technology-enabled intelligence gathering and risk-based targeting, the ABF will be able to “intervene only against those who attempt to breach our borders or circumvent our controls”. Building on the establishment of the National Border Targeting Centre this year, customs and immigration will also combine existing information resources, to develop a single, massive data collection effort:

“This will require us to design the strategy, the processes, systems and supporting infrastructure we need to handle the ‘big data’ challenge — the ever-increasing explosion of information and data that is available in today’s world. This change will be critical for the Department to fully exploit our information holdings to identify and defeat terrorists and organised crime networks, and defend both our visa and citizenship programmes, and our border control systems against threats.”

This involves collecting and maintaining a collection of digital identities, including expanded collection of biometric data to help establish and validate people’s identities online and “as far ahead of the border as possible”, according to the blueprint:

“Building on our existing work to collect biometrics of visa applicants from a number of countries, refugees, persons in detention, and persons removed from Australia, we will explore how to take a more client-centric approach to visa applications and systems to enable a holistic view of the applicant to be established and validated.

“We will collect biometrics on a risk-tiered basis, validating elements of identity at logical touch points — including as people cross the border.

“This way, we will have a good understanding of who we are dealing with and what, if any, risk they present to national security. In the future, this verified identity will present opportunities to facilitate future travel or even applications for permanent residence or citizenship.”

A new professional integrity system is also being developed; the blueprint refers regularly to the threat of corruption by criminals like drug traffickers — an ongoing problem highlighted this year by the involvement of DIBP secretary Michael Pezzullo’s brother Fabio in drug smuggling, when the former was the Customs CEO.

The blueprint provides no detail on the new integrity system — a collaboration with the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity — but suggests it will need to be adaptable and must not stymie internal collaboration. It will also be risk-based, resulting in a framework that “layers the application of measures in accordance with the level of risk presented by the position and role and/or level of risk presented by an individual”.

Criminals and corrupt public officials targeting overseas staff, “careless use of social media” and family and friends asking for favours are listed as key integrity risks. Staff are also put on notice that illegal drug use is not welcome in the new consolidated department. Drug taking, the document argues, “exposes the taker to coercion as they attempt to conceal this behaviour from others and drug taking necessarily brings the taker into contact with criminals who manufacture, import or distribute drugs”.

The DIBP would neither confirm nor deny rumours which have reached The Mandarin that drug and alcohol testing, as introduced for customs staff in 2013, will be employed throughout the consolidated entity. Neither did it comment on the suggestion that work processes are already beginning to reflect the stricter chain of command typical of law enforcement and security agencies.

The transition to the new organisational structure is scheduled to begin this month under the auspices of the new joint executive committee, according to the timeline in the blueprint. In January, Border Force pilot operations will begin, and legislation will be introduced when Parliament resumes in February. Career plans are to be finalised in June.

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.