“May God bless you, may God bless your work, may God bless the country you are helping to protect and prosper,” said Tony Abbott when he “launched” Australia’s new paramilitary border protection body, Australian Border Force, in June 2015. Standing by his side was the inaugural commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg.

It’s fair to say the good lord has been sparing in his blessings since then. Within two months, the spectacular debacle of Operation Fortitude humiliated the body and raised serious questions about both the role it saw for itself and its powers. The savage restrictions on free speech and whistleblowing contained within the body’s establishing legislation came under repeated assault until the government was forced to back down last October. The Australian National Audit Office found instances of the ABF using its powers inappropriately. The merger with the Department of Immigration has coincided with massive staff turnover, slumping morale, industrial action and constant rejections of the departmental executive’s paltry enterprise bargaining offer. 

[Anatomy of a clusterfuck: how Operation Fortitude went down]

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And now Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg is “on leave” pending an investigation. Until recently, Quaedvlieg was seen as a future head of one of Australia’s major police services — he unsuccessfully applied for the role of NSW Police Commissioner earlier this year.

According to Justice Minister Michael Keenan, “a matter is under consideration by appropriate authorities”. Crikey understands that the “consideration” is by an external body and that the matter pertains to a staffing issue. Other media outlets are reporting the matter relates to a relationship with a junior colleague, but that is unconfirmed at this point.

[Border Farce: Keystone Cops boxed in by protesters and own incompetence]

The reason this broke yesterday is that former Immigration communications head Sandi Logan — who has (like many us) sparred with Quaedvlieg on social media — tweeted that he had been suspended. According to Logan, some media outlets were sitting on the story — although that might have been entirely justified given the sensitivity and legal issues involved. As of this morning, ABF’s media unit still hadn’t responded to Crikey‘s (or, apparently, anyone else’s) request for detail.

Given this is, seemingly, a personnel issue, confidentiality is important. However, Quaedvlieg is one of the nation’s most senior, and important, public servants. That he has apparently been “on leave” pending investigation for some time — we still don’t know how long, but it might have been several weeks — without any announcement is utterly unacceptable from the government. Plainly it was hoping to keep the matter quiet. Not good enough.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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