15 February 2023

AFP staff dissatisfaction highlighted in Senate Estimates

| Andrew McLaughlin
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AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw at a meeting

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw was appointed to the role in 2019. Photo: AFP.

An Australian Federal Police (AFP) 2021 staff survey has revealed a litany of “damning” opinions about the service’s culture, particularly its leadership, administration, and recruitment and promotion practices.

The results were revealed during Monday’s Senate Estimates hearings.

Senior AFP officers were grilled about the survey as part of a wider range of topics, including the repatriation of the families of Islamic State fighters, a national firearms registry, human trafficking, child sexual exploitation through social media, and the possibility of the deployment of AFP officers to Alice Springs.

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In his opening statement to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Commissioner Reece Kershaw – who was appointed to the role in July 2019 – briefly summarised the AFP’s efforts and main areas of focus over the past 12 months.

“The past year has highlighted how the AFP’s unique international network significantly contributes to Australia’s first line of defence,” Commissioner Kershaw said in his opening statement.

“One of our points of difference from state police is our international network where we have postings in 33 countries. These postings, with our international partners, enable the AFP to pursue offshore criminals who target Australia.”

Despite these and other positive comments by the Commissioner, the survey results showed that barely half of the survey’s 5000 respondents – some two-thirds of the AFP’s workforce – had faith in the organisation’s leadership, nearly 70 per cent had negative or neutral opinions about fair recruitment and promotion decisions, and that only 20 per cent felt positive about the AFP’s administrative processes.

Other metrics revealed that 61 per cent of respondents thought the service’s leadership operates with integrity, just 31 per cent recorded positive thoughts about the technology and innovation in use, and just 17 per cent were satisfied with the level of risk-taking in the AFP.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge: “No organisation can work effectively with these kinds of results.” Photo: Screenshot.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge labelled the results “damning”.

“That’s a pretty damning conclusion from your workforce on things like innovation, isn’t it, commissioner?” he said.

“I would have been shattered.”

Commissioner Kershaw defended the results and highlighted that it wasn’t unusual for serving police officers to want innovation to occur faster.

“There are some cultural issues there that we are dealing with, and we are adjusting our risk appetite to make sure those people that do want to innovate [can do so].”

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Senator Shoebridge said the survey results only came to light through the Estimates process.

“It is no wonder the AFP didn’t voluntarily publish this survey and we had to squeeze it out of them through budget estimates,” he said.

“Hidden in the survey is a really troubling fact that only a quarter of the staff surveyed thought recruitment and promotion at the AFP was based on merit. No organisation can work effectively with these kinds of results.”

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In response to questions, AFP chief operating officer Charlotte Tressler said the service was looking at a range of initiatives to address the survey results, that this would be an ongoing practice, and that there had been some “modest improvements” noted in the 2022 iteration of the survey.

“We are … streamlining processes and looking to improve wherever we can,” she said.

“That is, of course, an ongoing exercise. That work will never be done and that is something that we’ll continue to work on.

“Change takes time, but there were some … we did see some real positive shifts that will continue to build on into the future,” she added.

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David Pickford4:21 am 22 Feb 23

Nothing has changed in 40 years; in the 80s just 4 years on from the formation of the AFP the two most commonly used phrases were “TJF = The Jobs F@#&ed” and “NAFI = No Ambition F@#&all Interest”. The only surprise out of the report is that the percentage of officers thinking adversely of the job wasn’t higher. Even back then promotion was believed to be based on political correctness, brown nosing and educational qualifications rather than abilities. Political influence was also rife with one investigation into the criminal links between a certain politician famous for his ties and the “mafia” squashed because he was a “great mate” and an “upstanding politician”.

Senior management often defend the survey and their administrative results no matter how poor. People have given up responding to staff surveys for a nil result and other staff are compelled by their senior management who looks at response rates so as to ‘encourage” their FAS and AS to lift their area’s response rates. Just have to look at Michael Pezzullo’s recent Senate Estimates, RBA Philip Lowe’s – it wasn’t just me there is a Board response, and if you can find Kathryn Campbell hiding over in Defence another one who presided over multiple administrative failures – by her admission. Everyone else’s responsibility but not theirs. These people are Morrison appointees which should tell you something. If it had been more junior public administrators they would have been shown the door. Albanese should have shown some backbone and cleared our the previous Government’s baggage. Maybe Katy could do something about it?

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