Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Operation Fortitude update - ABF and the problem of mission creep

This morning I updated the this piece, Saturday Morning Musings - Border Force and the Operation Fortitude fiasco, drawing especially from this piece by Peter Hartcher. It is, I think, a good article. Certainly I learned some new things from it.

Chatting to people, one of the common responses is that other countries have the equivalent, the implication being that so should Australia. The first time I went to mainland Europe I was struck by the presence of para-military forces.The first time to the US, the firepower on display with police and also the extremely officious customs and immigration service. Although Australia is more "armed" than say the UK or NZ, I found it very strange and a bit off-putting. Since then, we have gone down the same route and I don't like it.

All this may sound naive, but it doesn't make me feel safe. I am just too conscious of the way in which state institutions have been corrupted, co-opted in the creation of totalitarian states. There have been a number of Australian thrillers, can't remember the titles at the moment, postulating this. While I quite enjoyed them, I thought them silly at the time. Now I'm not so sure.

One of the problems of organisations like Border Force, or the police for that matter, lies in mission creep. The organisation acquires its own momentum that inexorably draws it outside the boundaries originally set. It also acquires the structure and skills to argue its case in public. A second problem in this particular case lies in the increasing risk of jurisdictional conflict between multiple bodies with overlapping powers. A third problem is that of co-option, the way in which other bodies are drawn in outside their original role, in so doing creating new mechanisms for coercion and enforcement.

Operation Fortitude was a classic case in point. A train inspector's primary role is to reduce fair evasion. Later, train safety was added. The use of train or taxi inspectors to enforce immigration law all in the name of public safety is, to my mind, a rather dramatic example of mission creep. The inability of the ABF Commissioner, or of the ABF staff involved in the fiasco, to recognise the conflicts that they were dealing with, suggests that the ABF has already become lost within the labyrinth of its mission.


Victorian Police have put on hold any future operations with Border Force until roles etc are clarified. I quote from the ABC story:

Commissioner Ashton told 774 ABC Melbourne the bungle was alarming and could not be repeated. 
I've said look we won't be doing any more operations together until we sort of understand what they might look like and what the differences are now between Border Force and what Immigration might do" 
"Until we do that we won't be doing anything further together."



2 tanners said...

For once the ALP might have nailed this one. Instead of going after the easy target of the officer responsible for the press releases, they've gone after how much training the 'Border Force' has actually had. Possibly looking to draw blood where it should be drawn, and to make people more alarmed than alert. Mission creep indeed, particularly when you don't know what your mission is!

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, 2t. Training is an issue, but the bigger issue is why the training is required and to what extent.

Anonymous said...

Would appreciate a comment from both or either of you about my underlying feeling that the problem with this (and in fact with that earlier post about 'the nanny state') is that of work expanding to fill the available space? I mean, you can't have a force of some 6,000 sitting about idle, so therefore invent further 'duties'.

Same with our public services, state and federal; how could they fill available man (person :) hours if all they did was what they did 20 years ago?


Jim Belshaw said...

It's complicated, kvd. The 6000 in Border Force are the combination of existing immigration and customs numbers. Further, those number are suffering from the same type of reduction applying elsewhere, including the mass migration of senior staff who do not like the new system. So Parkinson does not apply here.

More broadly, it seems to me from observation and some direct experience that, with exceptions relating so some activities and with the growth in the monitoring function, one of the problems is that damn few public servants have the time, the energy or indeed the continuity to think about new things or indeed expanding roles UNLESS it is playing to the latest political whim.

Anonymous said...

Just re 'the nanny state' thing, I finally found something worth a read which was referenced in one of the latest published submissions.

If you have the time have a look at this http://www.econ.canterbury.ac.nz/RePEc/cbt/econwp/1129.pdf - about 'the cost of cost studies'.


(referenced in submission #186)

Rod said...

"one of the problems is that damn few public servants have the time, the energy or indeed the continuity to think about new things or indeed expanding roles UNLESS it is playing to the latest political whim."

I think you've nailed it Jim. When public servants do try and think about new and better ways to do things it is called "discretionary spending". It is the first thing to be cut.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, kvd. That is an interesting piece. I'm going to try to finish my submission, such as it is, this weekend.

Thanks, Rod. The new things that do happen now all tend to be top down. There is little scope for bottom up ideas.

Anonymous said...

If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear - seems to be the well worn mantra by various governments. Using this umbrella statement gives them the right to pry, prod or stick their noses in whenever they want. An example of extreme Border Protection is highlighted in this video clip from You Tube "Couple Arrested At U.S. Border For Asking Questions". Many of these people are attracted to these types of quasi military style forces because they cannot get into the Police Force. We give them more powers but there doesn't seem to be any objective measure of whether or not this has any value in terms of making this a safer country. One of your readers may be able to answer this for me. Do politicians have to go through the same security at airports as the rest of us? And if not then why not.

Alex Smart

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Alex. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear is indeed a well worn mantra. What I have to fear depends on what happens later! I don't know the current position, but probably not quite. Lounges and all that.