What do the Essendon Football Club and Australia’s Border Force Have In Common?

I’ve been following the Essendon Football Club since the early 1980s.  In the lead up to the 2012/2013 pre-season, I remember remarking that the Bomber’s marketing slogan, “Whatever It Takes”, was not a good look for a professional sporting organisation in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping revelations and tanking and draft tampering scandals that had erupted in Australian football codes.

Little did I know that the Bombers’ marketing slogan was that rare beast: a marketing statement that perfectly encapsulated the values of the organisation that published it.  Subsequent revelations demonstrated that, from the top down, this was a club that indeed had been doing whatever it took to achieve success, without regard for ethics or player safety.  It was a case of the marketing team reflecting values imposed from above, rather than (as is often the case) a slogan manufactured from below to give outsiders the impression that the organisation stands for something.

The Essendon example came to mind today, when I read that Prime Minister Tony Abbott had dismissed yesterday’s “Border Force” fiasco as nothing more than a poorly-worded press release.

This is a government that has stipulated that it must have at least 1 security “announceable” each week, that hypes the threat of islamic terrorism, badgers the US to “request” us to bomb Syria and has pointedly militarised Australia’s responses to the challenges posed by asylum seekers.  The Border Force was recently launched in a welter of jingoistic publicity with quasi-military overtones.  Its officers have substantially greater powers than either Customs or Immigration officials. They carry guns, gather intelligence and have the power to detain offenders.

In that context, is it any wonder that the Border Force marketing person who prepared the press release for “Operation Fortitude” felt it appropriate to trumpet that “ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with”.  This was justifiably interpreted as a threat to stop and interrogate citizens going about their lawful business in Melbourne’s CBD.  It has been reported that the press release was passed up to the office of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection before being released.

The Prime Minister implied that the Operation Fortitude press release was an isolated piece of individual hyperbole emanating from a relatively low level in the ABF.  I’m more inclined to regard it in the same light as the Essendon marketing slogan – a revealing window into a self-important and toxic organisational culture, driven from the top.

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About noonanite

Paul Noonan is a lawyer and musician based in Melbourne, Australia.
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