Hello. I am an employee of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).

I am currently located in Canberra but have worked in a number of capacities, in Canberra, overseas and in the States and Territories. I have been a loyal employee for many years. I have welcomed the changes wrought by the Palmer and Comrie reports but I can keep silent no longer.

When is somebody going to call the incompetent, spin-obsessed executive of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC)? Will the new government, with the opportunity to reshape the department, simply carry on the soulless bean-counting of its predecessor or actually take the opportunity to effect real change?

At Budget the government announced an increase of 31,000 places in the skilled migration program for 2008-9 as well as an increase in the offshore Humanitarian program. This is in addition to the 5000 odd increase to the Skilled program it announced a few months ago. At the same time the government announced that it was cutting 10%, 10%!!! of DIAC’s Australian-based operational staff overseas and raising visa application fees, in some cases by 100%.

Mr Rudd promised that public service cuts would not be felt at the ‘coal face’, in operational areas where the guts of the work is actually done. However, instead of having the guts to ditch racist, populist garbage like the citizenship test and the ‘values statement’, the government and DIAC cuts Australian-based operational staff overseas, already fantastically overworked, by an extraordinary 10% in order to meet ‘savings targets’.

How is this going to help the country deliver with integrity and efficiency such a massive increase in our migration program? If the program can increase by 37,000 places since Labor came into power and yet within the next six weeks afford to lose 10% of the Australian-based staff employed to oversee the integrity of the program then what does that say of the previous fiscal efficiency of the departmental executive?

Any business that increases its workload by 25%, as the migration program increase represents, would presumably see an increase in staffing. In DIAC things don’t seem to work that way. You will of course be sold a line about staff savings due to eVisa etc. It’s crap — those savings have already been counted. The major workload increase will be in skilled migration. All skilled migration applicants are processed in Australia but, where necessary, applicants’ qualifications, employment references etc are checked by the relevant overseas post. The bottom line is there will be 25% more applications and 10% less Australian-based staff.

This has to mean either; significantly less checking of bona fides or vastly more protracted processing times. Either way it is bad news for an economy battling skills shortages. DIAC already has almost no resources to check the bona fides of our ‘skilled’ migration applicants (DIAC staff overseas, in the few places some still remain, have had their travel budgets virtually eliminated because of DIAC budget constraints — this for posts that often have responsibility for 10 or more countries), indeed any of our applicants.

Is it any wonder our much vaunted skilled migration program has failed to deliver results? Do not let the spin about employment figures and labour market participation fool you. Ask for figures about the numbers of skilled migrants who have ended up employed in their actual skilled occupation (ie. as an engineer not a security guard or a taxi driver) and a different story is told.

I would be interested in whether the 10% cut in Australian-based staff overseas is matched by a similar cut in staff in DIAC National Office? Somehow, from a Secretary whose first act when taking over was to appoint 40 new Senior Executives in Canberra (because, it seems, Rau was detained and Alvarez deported not because of underpaid, overworked, undertrained operational staff but because there were not enough SES in Canberra), I doubt it.

Of course this is also from a department that has already pissed literally hundreds of millions of dollars down a black hole (with more pissing to come from this budget) into an I.T. project, ‘Systems for People’, that, after more than two years of development has yet to deliver a single viable piece of functionality for staff at the front line (ie. those who actually process visa applications, throughout Australia and throughout the world.)

Again, please don’t let the inevitable spin about the number of ‘portals’ or ‘releases’ that have happened fool you. After more than two years there has been no substantive change to the systems that the overwhelming majority of operational staff use to do their job. Indeed, any SFP releases that are available are generally regarded as obstacles to be overcome rather than enhancements.

The department is currently shopping on eBay for parts to prop up its geriatric overseas I.T. system while an entire division, HUNDREDS of staff, continue to snuffle at the SFP trough. This will, in time, represent the greatest white elephant in Government IT history. One looks forward one day to the true story of how this went off the rails, as it is an extraordinary confluence of events that seems to have also sucked in the current government.

Today, 14 May 2008, all DIAC overseas staff received a general email informing them that one in every ten of their number (a literal decimation) would not be continuing their posting and many would have to leave their post (including those with families, kids in school etc) in the next six weeks. Unfortunately, in keeping with the department’s characteristically sympathetic approach to its staff, no-one was told who will be going or when and many are still yet to find out whether their lives have been turned upside down or not.

Doubtless they and their families will sleep well tonight. The question is of course, how long have DIAC executive known about these cuts? Why did it take until Budget Day to tell staff and why are some staff now given only six weeks notice to return home when DIAC executive must have been expecting this for months? How can a department, whose core philosophy is ‘well trained and supported staff’, treat its employees, who have uprooted their lives and moved overseas (in many cases with families, children in school), with such contempt? As if this were not bad enough, overseas staff then received the following email designed to send computers monitors flying into walls:

Hello

As the video producer in the Production and Digital Communications team (part of the National Communications Branch, or NatComms in Canberra), I produce Our People, the internal departmental webstreamed news program. Hopefully you have already seen episodes of the program which highlight the great work of our colleagues right across Australia. Now we would like to shift the focus to work being carried out by staff in the overseas network.

With your help, I’d like the contact details either for your post’s public affairs officer (if that’s whom you believe is our best contact point for what we need), or someone else (possibly within the Immigration team) whom you nominate as a contact, to help us produce stories about immigration activities abroad for Our People — these could be stories about the work of the ALOs, visa processing, citizenship applications, interaction with host country interlocutors, staging of special events (eg. skills expos) and etc. Another part of the post’s Our People contact person’s role would be to help us liaise with TV crews in your region with whom the post already has an existing relationship (often between the public affairs/cultural relations section and either local broadcasters and/or Australian-based crews) upon whom you/we would likely be relying for broadcast quality vision. (It may also be the case there are no such existing relationships, in which case we would work with you to establish one through existing PDC and broadcaster contacts.)

I would like to begin following up with your nominated person to discuss how NatComms can assist/guide you to getting video material that can considered for Our People, as well as photos for DIACPeople. If you could send me the contact officer’s name and relevant phone numbers (direct line[s] and mobile preferred, with all relevant country/city codes), I will initiate the first contact from Canberra in the coming days.


I look forward to hearing from you.

The department cuts 10% of its overseas staffing network then sends out this email (from ‘NatComms’ – we have an entire BRANCH devoted to Public Affairs and spin!! — how is this possible?!?!) asking overseas staff to contribute to a video production made in DIAC’s in-house studio and presented by a professional news reader (this almost beggars belief but I sh-t you not) about how great things are overseas.

Shame overseas staff are all too busy (and more so from 1 July) doing real work to assist. Maybe we need a few more Executives in Canberra to investigate why it isn’t working.

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