$10 million splurge to rename Australian Border Force

Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the swearing in ceremony of the inaugural Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvliegn with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton last month. Photo: Andrew Meares The swearing in ceremony of the inaugural Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvliegn. Photo: Andrew Meares

The price of a department’s integration? $52,000 per public servant

What’s in a name? If you’re the newly created Australian Border Force, the answer is about $10 million – splashed on military-style uniforms and thousands of signs at airports and detention centres to create a fresh, hardline image.

The uniform splurge follows recent reports by former detention centre workers that detainees at the Australian-run camp on Nauru have not been provided proper clothing, forcing parents to cut holes in their children’s ill-fitting shoes.

Australia’s newly named paramilitary border force began operating in July, triggering the 10th rebranding of the immigration bureaucracy since World War II.

The new name drew ridicule when flagged last year, described variously by critics as “hairy chested”, deliberately threatening and a “marketing disaster”.

Costings supplied to Fairfax Media shows the government spent $6.3 million kitting out 4500 ABF officials with new uniforms, insignia, name badges, buttons and safety helmets.

Veteran public servants were reportedly unhappy at being forced to wear the military-style uniform to work after a lifetime of civilian service.

However a department spokeswoman said the new agency and its law enforcement officers must be “properly attired and well equipped”.

“It is custom and practice that uniforms and equipment for law enforcement operatives be provided by their employer,” she said.

At a Senate hearing last month detention centre workers described as “horrendous” the clothing situation for detainees at the Nauru detention camp.

“Parents actually had to cut holes in their [children’s] sneakers because their feet were growing too much and their shoes were too small,” said former worker Samantha Betts.

“Children would often ask us to help fix their thongs, which we tried to do on several occasions … with bread ties and bits of string.”

Another case worker said a pair of pink hotpants had been provided to an elderly Burmese woman to wear as shorts.

The government spent a further $3.5 million on other rebranding activities such as new livery for 300 vehicles, including boats, helicopters and other aircraft.

New signs were erected at 11 international airports and more than 700 signs were required for seaports, depots, offices and immigration detention facilities.

About 8000 “Border Watch” signs replaced the previous “Customs Watch” signs. Thousands of vessel port and date stamps were also replaced.

A spokeswoman said the money was sourced from the department’s budget allocations and came at “no extra expense to taxpayers”.

The government has said the creation of the ABF, which consolidated customs and immigration border operations, would save hundreds of millions of dollars to be reinvested into the super-charged agency.

Some department insiders were said to be unhappy at the “militarisation” of the new regime. The department reportedly faces the public service’s greatest executive brain drain since the 1980s after a quarter of its upper ranks were either shown the door or left after the merger.

Despite the millions of dollars being spent on the ABF, its employees are facing cuts to pay and entitlements, triggering an internal revolt.

Since 1945 the immigration bureaucracy has been known by various names including the Department of Labour and Immigration, Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Customs functions have also been rebranded, including in 2009 when the former Labor government dispensed with the Australian Customs Service, renaming it the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

At the time, the Coalition questioned the cost of rebranding, and asked why the name change was needed when the government could have simply absorbed border control functions into the Customs Service.

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