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Australian Border Force cuts through the fence of law and due process

  • 03 September 2015

Last week two big new productions were set for staging. The Reform Summit, jointly produced by Fairfax and News Limited and starring business, unions and social services, was judged a great success.

Operation Fortitude, was to co-star the Victoria Police and the Australian Border Force, but was aborted following bad publicity. Both were responses to the perceived paralysis in Australian politics and public life.

The Summit responded to the incapacity of Governments to introduce reforms that will ensure Australia's continued prosperity.

Representatives of unions, Social Service organisations, and business, each with their own publics and interests, agreed to the principles that should guide reform in many areas.

The Summit was a very commendable initiative. It demonstrated that rival media groups and other organisations with diverging agendas can talk together and come to large consensus. In particular it offered a chastening example to the political parties that currently emphasise their areas of disagreement. They prefer to smash through, rather than think through, the problems that will affect Australia's prosperity.

The smash-through approach was on display in Operation Fortitude, which promised to have black-clad officers of the Australian Border Force searching out people without valid visas in Melbourne. The Australian Border Force is comprised of officers of what was once known as the Immigration Department, with power to detain, carry weapons and act without clear public accountability. It is mostly let loose on asylum seekers but Operation Fortitude must have been seen as a natural extension of its remit.

The response on social media was swift and devastating, and Operation Fortitude became Operation Deny Responsibility. The smash-through option clearly had its limits. Random questioning and racial profiling of the general populace still transgress them.

Developing policy by consultation and imposing it by force are antithetical. But to implement good policies demands other approaches that were lacking at the Summit and in Operation Fortitude. Both considered separate aspects of Australian life and emphasised technological solutions. They failed to reflect on the quality of the key relationships that will constitute a good society and on the priorities needed to encourage them.

The Summit named many agreed principles that enshrined the priorities of each group in a way acceptable to other parties. But neither the inter-relationships between these principles nor the priority of the challenges that they were to meet was clear. Unacknowledged differences on these points will surely lead to conflict.

The introduction of the Australian Border Force was grounded in disrespect for