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Corruption In Australian Border Force Is Devastating News For Public Trust In Law Enforcement

Especially in light of the importance that government has placed on domestic security in recent weeks.

10/08/2017 9:46 AM AEST | Updated 10/08/2017 9:46 AM AEST
Australian Border Force
"The challenge for ABF is just as much about maintaining the Australian people's confidence in its probity, as it is about the provision of security outcomes."

Corruption, in any of its various forms, is like an organisational cancer for law enforcement agencies. Today's revelations that one or more Australian Border Force (ABF) officers have been working with organised crime figures is devastating news for the Australian law enforcement community. And without doubt it will impact on the trust between our law enforcement agencies for some time to come.

Today Fairfax is reporting that "alleged corrupt insiders have been helping an alleged crime syndicate run by Sydney's Jomaa family since as early as 2003, and at least since 2008, compromising Sydney Airport and Port Botany".

For law enforcement agencies public trust and confidence are essential to the delivery of agency outcomes. And integrity and professionalism are the capabilities that deliver public trust and confidence.

In this environment of increased accountability, even so much as the appearance of something as 'not quite right' leads to public speculations about ABF impropriety.

Unsurprisingly, then, the challenge for ABF is just as much about maintaining the Australian people's confidence in its probity, as it is about the provision of security outcomes. So this alleged case of corruption is a serious issue: especially in light of the importance government has placed on domestic security during recent weeks.

In the past, both immigration and customs officials have been investigated, prosecuted and sentenced for committing criminal offences in relation to their duties. These incidents have included staff becoming involved in drug importations, unauthorised access to official information, dealing in sensitive departmental information, and the 'selling' of visas.

In the not-so-new ABF, staff perform functions that have an increased level of accountability because of the dual responsibility of more direct and discretionary access to government's coercive power, making them even more attractive targets for subversion.

Collectively, this serves as a reminder to all of the threat that corrupt 'trusted insiders' pose to our border security. Bitter experience has also shown that criminals will deliberately seek out, groom and manipulate insiders to undermine border controls.

ABF is now subject to a different and higher level of accountability due to its enforcement roles. In this environment of increased accountability, even so much as the appearance of something as 'not quite right' leads to public speculations about ABF impropriety.

To develop its integrity and professionalism the ABF has established a law enforcement style professional standards program. The program follows the Integrity Commissioner Michael Griffin AM's play book by designing in corruption resistance, building an integrity framework that responds to the risks of subversion, and publicly demonstrating a focus on integrity.

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Unsurprisingly the Australian Border Force Bill 2015, along with such measures as random drug testing, implemented an increasingly prescriptive accountability regime that creates a framework to swiftly and decisively deal with serious misconduct.

TheAustralian Border Force Bill 2015 set a strong foundation for the ABF Commissioner to deliver an enforcement strategy. Nevertheless, with the magnitude of this change, staff are still trying to manage the complex transition in their role from public servants to enforcement officers. This process has involved a lot more than a name change and a new uniform, rather a drastic change in their role and accountabilities.

The ABF's retrofitting an enforcement accountability regime to a public service agency required a substantive shift in cultural thinking among staff on what integrity and professionalism mean. While this change is ongoing, so is the threat from trusted insiders.

Initial ABF staff responses to changes to the accountability regime revealed that the drivers for the accountability changes have not always been fully understood. But these latest allegations will no doubt reveal to many the stakes at play in the ABF.

While ABF has moved swiftly to address this latest issue internally, for the sake of external law enforcement community relationships it may be timely for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity to undertake a more substantive review of these cases, if they have not done so already.

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