Disclose or leave: Immigration Department workers face 'organisational suitability assessments'

Thousands of Immigration Department public servants face the sack if they fail to comply with tough new security tests imposed by their new bosses.

The Immigration and Border Protection building in Belconnen.
The Immigration and Border Protection building in Belconnen. Photo: Melissa Adams

Immigration's 8500 officials have been told they must complete an "organisational suitability assessment" if they want to work at Border Force Australia, the new merged agency combining Immigration and Customs.

The move by the Customs bosses, who are taking up many of the key posts at the top of the merged entity, comes despite all Immigration public servants already holding the "baseline" security clearances that are standard across the Australian Public Service.

But the new requirements go further, probing into past activities in the private lives of Immigration's bureaucrats and those of their families, friends and other acquaintances.

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The move comes as part of a general workplace crackdown on Immigration public servants. This also includes being breathalysed and drug tested in their offices under the tough workplace regime.

But a spokesman for the department said the organisational suitability tests were vital to a "unique operating environment" where there were "a range of additional agency-specific factors".

Public servants at the department will begin holding meetings from mid-January to discuss their bosses' decision, due to be implemented when the merged department is launched in July, with the new security environment set to be a hot topic at the gatherings.

There will also be a crackdown on second jobs, social media use and sloppy appearances among the department's public servants, as the Customs agency hierarchy tightens its grip on Immigration.

Holders of a baseline security clearance must declare any criminal or other legal matters in their past, changes to their personal circumstances and even any shift in political or religious belief or affiliation.

But under the organisational suitability rules, the public servants must disclose "criminal or high risk associations, conflicts of interest, criminal history and/or involvement in criminal or illegal activities, compliance with border-related laws, use of illicit substances [and] compliance with the Australian Public Service values".

In Customs, where OSA's have been in force since 2010, officers were told that a failure to take part in the process or getting an adverse ruling would result in employees losing their jobs, or at least being transferred to another public service department.

"For [Australian Customs and Border Protection Service] officers, both an endorsed OSA and appropriate Commonwealth security clearance are considered conditions of engagement and essential qualifications," Customs officers are warned.

Immigration officials will now have to conform to an "integrity" framework, already adopted by Customs as part of its ongoing battle against its internal corruption problems, and seen by Immigration officials as another step in what is being referred to internally as the "Customisation" of their department.

A departmental spokeswoman confirmed in a statement that the organisational suitability rules would be a mandatory requirement for Immigration staffers but would not say how many Customs officials had completed the process.

"Due to [Customs'] unique operating environment, there are a range of additional agency-specific factors which must be examined to determine whether an individual or individual's circumstances pose a risk to the mission, resources or people of [Customs]," the spokeswoman said.

"The OSA is used by [Customs] to identify and mitigate these risks, and together with a Commonwealth security clearance, provides assurance that an individual is suitable to access [Customs] assets."


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