Labor slammed over immigration review

The opposition and Greens have seized on a damning internal review of the Immigration Department as further evidence federal Labor's immigration policy is a shambles.

The review, overseen by the Public Service Commission, has condemned the Commonwealth department and its 10,000-strong workforce for being crisis-ridden and poorly managed with workers mistrustful of each other and operating in a culture of buck-passing.

The capability review was undertaken by a panel of government and business specialists led by former mandarin Ken Matthews.

Greens senator and immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said "while this investigation has exposed the dysfunctional nature of the department for all to see, I am sad to say that [it's] been broken for a considerable time".

"Our immigration network is a disaster because the department itself is in crisis and, unfortunately, this is reflected in the government's race to the bottom with the opposition regarding refugee policy," Senator Hanson-Young said.

She believed a "toxic culture" within the department saw politics override good policy and "even the law".


The government now had an opportunity to right the review's criticism and needed to respond to the report in a way that recognised the seriousness of its findings, she said.

Newly appointed department secretary Martin Bowles has already accepted the findings and agreed there was ''significant room for improvement''.

While Mr Matthews acknowledged the department's work was complex and highly contentious compared with other departments, he found weaknesses in all 10 areas that he examined - including a lack of financial literacy among senior executives, a heavily risk-averse culture, and decisions being escalated to a small number of senior people based on their ''risk-scanning intuition''.

This in turn led to a low tolerance for error, little consultation, and low morale among staff.

The report warned the department remained at risk of ''another high-profile failure'' such as the illegal detention of Australian citizens Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon - which prompted earlier government inquiries.

Senator Hanson-Young said it was clear that ''transparent and accountable systems need to be put in place that will bring around actual change within the department, meaning that people are at the centre of decision making, not politics''.

She also said there were many dedicated and talented employees working in the department and the problems uncovered by the investigation were coming from the top.

''If the government can't be trusted to manage its own Department of Immigration, how can we trust it to look after the needs of refugee children locked up in island prisons hundreds of kilometres offshore?''

Opposition acting immigration spokesman and spokesman for justice, customs and border protection Michael Keenan said the review findings were not surprising and the result of poor immigration policy.

"The biggest challenge faced by the Department of Immigration is the failed policies of the Labor government it serves," he said.

"Labor's border failures have crashed the Immigration Department, placing it in permanent crisis mode and putting at risk the broader functions of this important agency."

Mr Keenan said the department had been central to Labor's most significant policy failure for the past five years following its abolition of ''the Howard government's successful border protection policies''.

''[The department] cannot function properly until Labor's self-induced border protection crisis is resolved - this is the most important element in reforming the agency and allowing it to properly perform its functions," Mr Keenan said.