Do Australian Border Force officers deliberately provoke passengers?

Brucetiki

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Yesterday, I flew back from a fantastic trip to Singapore on QF292.

Upon landing in SYD, we were greeted with the infamous Passport Control touchscreens and a huge queue.

While in the queue, there was a brief moment where a touchscreen was vacant as a passenger had just left and the next passenger was heading to the screen. A passing Border Force officer decided to admonish the queue by yelling out aggressively, ‘Why is no one using that screen?’. When someone pointed out a passenger was heading to the screen, the officer disappeared from the area.

Wouldn’t the more appropriate solution be to have an officer at the front of the queue directing passengers to the next available screen. If Woolies and Coles can do this with self serve checkout, surely Border Force can do this with passport control screens.

After I used the screen I got what I thought was the printout - a copy of the passport photo that’s in my passport. Being a first time overseas traveller, I assumed this was all that needed to be printed out and proceeded to the gates and luggage collection.

I had gotten some TWG tea at Changi, and was advised by the sales rep to declare it, so I went down the declaration line where I was greeted by the Border Force officer directing passengers to the relevant lines. I show him my passport and receipt where he begins berating me for not providing him with the complete receipt - pretty much accusing me of doing this deliberately before aggressively ordering me down line 1.

I questioned this, asking why the machine would do this, and with a ‘Don’t ask question’s’ attitude barked back ‘Someone will look into this later’.

By now I’m very much biting my tongue not wanting to bite back but proceed to line 1, and decide to try humorously saying, ‘Oh the machine malfunctioned’ to the officers at line 1, who to their credit, were very kind. I mentioned the behaviour of the previous officer to them, and while they seemed indifferent to the behaviour of this officer, one officer could see I was distressed by what happened and had a bit of a conversation about the holiday while the other officer did what they needed to do to check my details.

A couple of moments later, they gave me the all clear and off to the next officer to declare the tea, and some wooden chopsticks I’d also purchased. The officers attitude was ‘Why are you bothering me with this’ before giving me the all clear to exit.

I’ve since lodged a formal complaint against the officer that berated me, but it got me thinking if Border Force officers do this deliberately to provoke people to be aggressive towards them.

I know there’s processes and what not to go through, but berating, abusing and provoking passengers because of things outside of their control is simply not acceptable. In the above example, the officer simply could’ve have said, ‘Oh looks like the machine has malfunctioned. I’m sorry about that. Just head down line 1 and they’ll sort you out’.

And the attitude with declaring things seems to be more along the lines of disappointment people are declaring items as it means they don’t get to interrogate a passenger’s luggage for not declaring something.

It just makes me wonder if this is more a deliberate ploy by officers to provoke passengers into lashing out, or if there’s such a bad culture at Border Force officers know they can mistreat passengers and get away with it.
 
It just makes me wonder if this is more a deliberate ploy by officers to provoke passengers into lashing out, or if there’s such a bad culture at Border Force officers know they can mistreat passengers and get away with it.

I can't imagine why they would do the former. As to the latter - possible. I've only had one bad experience when arriving internationally, on many dozens of trips.

Once, an 'officer' was in a very crowded international baggage collection area at Melbourne aggressively yelling at people to keep queues this way and that. Many non-Australians may have been struggling to understand why they were being yelled at.

I also sent a complaint about that and got a pro forma reply.

As I said, I don't think its common and you may have gotten an unlucky combination of officers.
 
It just makes me wonder if this is more a deliberate ploy by officers to provoke passengers into lashing out, or if there’s such a bad culture at Border Force officers know they can mistreat passengers and get away with it.
It's a matter of public record that Home Affairs (of which Border Force is a part of) has serious workplace issues.
If you feel like looking at a mountain of stats from the employees themselves you can view the results from 2023 APS Census. Of particular note is the Retention stats (page 16), with 35% of respondents indicating they wanted to leave ASAP or within 12 months. If more than a third of the workplace is looking get out, that's a pretty bad sign.
They also had the worst scores of all departments for bullying and harassment and in the 2022 census had the worst score for employee satisfaction.

Anecdotally, I know several people who've worked at Home Affairs or specifically at Border Force and no one has had positive things to say. It genuinely seems like a terrible place to work and I'm sure that comes through in the employees behaviour and public facing conduct.
 
Yesterday, I flew back from a fantastic trip to Singapore on QF292.

Upon landing in SYD, we were greeted with the infamous Passport Control touchscreens and a huge queue.

While in the queue, there was a brief moment where a touchscreen was vacant as a passenger had just left and the next passenger was heading to the screen. A passing Border Force officer decided to admonish the queue by yelling out aggressively, ‘Why is no one using that screen?’. When someone pointed out a passenger was heading to the screen, the officer disappeared from the area.

Wouldn’t the more appropriate solution be to have an officer at the front of the queue directing passengers to the next available screen. If Woolies and Coles can do this with self serve checkout, surely Border Force can do this with passport control screens.

After I used the screen I got what I thought was the printout - a copy of the passport photo that’s in my passport. Being a first time overseas traveller, I assumed this was all that needed to be printed out and proceeded to the gates and luggage collection.

I had gotten some TWG tea at Changi, and was advised by the sales rep to declare it, so I went down the declaration line where I was greeted by the Border Force officer directing passengers to the relevant lines. I show him my passport and receipt where he begins berating me for not providing him with the complete receipt - pretty much accusing me of doing this deliberately before aggressively ordering me down line 1.

I questioned this, asking why the machine would do this, and with a ‘Don’t ask question’s’ attitude barked back ‘Someone will look into this later’.

By now I’m very much biting my tongue not wanting to bite back but proceed to line 1, and decide to try humorously saying, ‘Oh the machine malfunctioned’ to the officers at line 1, who to their credit, were very kind. I mentioned the behaviour of the previous officer to them, and while they seemed indifferent to the behaviour of this officer, one officer could see I was distressed by what happened and had a bit of a conversation about the holiday while the other officer did what they needed to do to check my details.

A couple of moments later, they gave me the all clear and off to the next officer to declare the tea, and some wooden chopsticks I’d also purchased. The officers attitude was ‘Why are you bothering me with this’ before giving me the all clear to exit.

I’ve since lodged a formal complaint against the officer that berated me, but it got me thinking if Border Force officers do this deliberately to provoke people to be aggressive towards them.

I know there’s processes and what not to go through, but berating, abusing and provoking passengers because of things outside of their control is simply not acceptable. In the above example, the officer simply could’ve have said, ‘Oh looks like the machine has malfunctioned. I’m sorry about that. Just head down line 1 and they’ll sort you out’.

And the attitude with declaring things seems to be more along the lines of disappointment people are declaring items as it means they don’t get to interrogate a passenger’s luggage for not declaring something.

It just makes me wonder if this is more a deliberate ploy by officers to provoke passengers into lashing out, or if there’s such a bad culture at Border Force officers know they can mistreat passengers and get away with it.
As a former Customs (aka Border Force) officer who worked at Sydney for awhile , the answer is no for nearly all of the staff. The remaining could be quite embarrassing at times, especially when the target is from a non English speaking background. And every large workplace has its 'problem chikdren'.

However, everyone has their off days/moods for various reasons - lack of sleep due to young kids, too much to drink the night before, not having a rest/meal break for 4 - 5 hours (this was not unusual at SYD in the early AM) etc and behave in the wrong manner, myself included - not an excuse but potential reason.
 
Probably a discussion for an,other thread, but I don't really like the name "Border Force", it seems to be a confrontational name, and maybe even subconsciously contributes to a culture of aggression. Something like "Border Guards" would better represent what they do, as in guarding our border and well just seems less of a foreign name.
 
Probably a discussion for an,other thread, but I don't really like the name "Border Force", it seems to be a confrontational name, and maybe even subconsciously contributes to a culture of aggression. Something like "Border Guards" would better represent what they do, as in guarding our border and well just seems less of a foreign name.
I'm pretty sure it was changed to Border Force for just this reason, they thought that by sounding more forceful it'd be taken more seriously.
 
As another former Customs (not Border Force) person my view is much the same as Warragul. Most people are fine
Unfortunately you get a small proportion of unpleasant people in all professions.

I happily left just before Border Force was created. Over the next 10 Years or so when I talked with friends who where still working there they were universally unhappy with their experiences in the new organisation.
 
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As another former Customs (not Border Force) person my view is much the same as Warragul. Most people are fine
Unfortunately you get a small proportion of unpleasant people in all professions.

I happily left just before Border Force was created. Over the next 10 Years or so when I talked with friends who where still working there they were universally unhappy with their experiences in the new organisation.
Yes most of our experiences have been positive but there have and always will be some in BF that take their bad day out on passengers. Have seen poor behaviour when dealing with non English speakers where volume seemed to be the answer. One large group of Japanese school children at BNE trying to work out how to use the passport machines wasn’t a very good introduction to the country for them.
 
I'm pretty sure it was changed to Border Force for just this reason, they thought that by sounding more forceful it'd be taken more seriously.

I think it has more to do with the organisation taking detention & compliance functions from the previous Department of Immigration - before that they were a service.

Police are considered a force, as is obviously the ADF, and considering all three often work together (particularly in a maritime setting) it gives the perception of a somewhat equal status.

"Madam this is raw meat! You cannot take raw meat past this point, it is being confiscated!"
"Madam these eggs are also raw ... I must also confiscate those!"
"Madam this milk is also raw & is not allowed!!"

I was thinking more "It's 5pm and there's 50 people in the queue, and here you are trying to put through a full trolley. Too slow! Go to a manned checkout."
 
It may be an "own citizen" thing, but I've always found the people at the airport who check in my backside for illegal immigrants & smuggled rotting fish to be very much more affable than their equivalents overseas ... going through the same people in Singapore you feel like they're about to call one of the innumerable angry-looking men with the machine-guns over if you don't say exactly the right thing, and it felt like all UK equivalents were sick of Aussies coming into their country & having fun because that's NOT what the UK is supposed to be for.

But as per the opening sentence in this post, maybe that's because there's some sort of "the same club" feeling when you're dealing with people who're the same citizenship as you are. As another for-example I've found going through customs in Germany to be an efficient but serious affair (if not threatening like Singapore), but when I went through at FRA with my wife & her Frankfurt-region accent in German the guy was just really pleasant & welcoming & funny, chatting about her being from his region & yet having an Australian passport, even had a couple of suggestions for things to look at while there etc.
 
As a former Customs (aka Border Force) officer who worked at Sydney for awhile , the answer is no for nearly all of the staff. The remaining could be quite embarrassing at times, especially when the target is from a non English speaking background. And every large workplace has its 'problem chikdren'.

I think Border Security highlights the targeting of non-English speaking backgrounds, especially when it comes to quarantine.

While, yes, some of the things being brought in (and not declared) are absurd, when it’s people from the same regions that end up on the show, the racial profiling is pretty obvious.

In a way, it’s what also surprised me with the ‘why are you bothering us’ attitude with the items I was declaring. I wasn’t expecting anything to be confiscated, but it seems contradictory having messaging of ‘If in doubt, declare’ and then being made to feel like you’re inconveniencing someone by declaring.
 
The worst experiences I have ever had with Immigration officials has been at LHR including having a full body search when transferring from an AA flight to an IB flight requiring a change in terminals. Plus several other less than ideal interactions.
Then come the USA. Incompetence mainly but one particular nasty guy at LAX. I had used the machine,got my ticket and went up to the agent. He looked at me and said I'm not going let you enter and handed my passport back. He had just let mrsdrron through. So I went and stood behind a pole and when I saw him busy headed to a line well removed from him and had no problems. Apart from that fellow and the shambles of MIA all other US agents have been really good. As have Australia's Border Force.
 
I filled in the form for MRSTma at LHR once on bumpy landing , and after waiting a long time in the priority lane, behind lots of Indians with reams of documents, and the Sikh immigration BF person being very aggressive to the previous Australian, he said “so, madam, your profession is activist?“. We said “no, not activist but no archivist.” And he replied “well you could be an activist but I wanted to know what you were active in.” School archivists didn’t float his boat so he quickly let us through.

Then arriving in Glasgow after a few wines and several a few glasses of Henassay Paradis out of DXB, I said to the BF agent, ”oh we are here for Harry’s wedding but haven’t got our invitation yet!”. As MRSTma stood on my foot, he said “ah we like Australian sense of humour.”

And the worst experience was returning to Australia, Sydney, from LHR in the 70’s when they made me bend over and show them my seventh planet.
 
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I once gave the forks to a driver who tooted me as I jaywalked in front of his car in crowded Mort St in Braddon (ACT). He must have watched which bar I went into, then parked, then confronted me in the bar a full 10 mins later. All this whilst wearing a Border Force uniform. He said I shouldn't be jaywalking or be so rude, to which I countered that he shouldn't overreact, and that was that. Although I did churlishly thank him for his service. They clearly have anger management issues.
 
Sounds like the Sikh immigration officer I came across on our first visit to London. I had given up my QF J seat to sit in Y for most of the night beside a 90 year old who had a stroke. We were given permission to be first to land and I and Mrsdrron were let off with the patient so we for the first and last times in our lives were first through Immigration. I was greeted by -"So how are things in the Colonies," I thought of several replies but kept my mouth shut.
 
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