Institute of Public Administration Australia address

Let me be clear. The AFP is a great organization - in fact we are more than that. We are an organization that is central to the national security of Australia, we are central to the confidence that the Australian community has in government and their safety, we are a national institution that should, and does, demonstrate leadership. The reforms and changes I want to discuss today are not about fixing the AFP. I want to discuss what will make us the best agency we can possibly be.

We are also an organization that I am immensely proud of, will defend against criticism, and whose members deserve the support and encouragement of their leadership – both from me, and from government. This is something I am passionate we both deliver upon.

And that is why August 22, 2016 was a good day for the AFP. It was the day I released the report by Elizabeth Broderick into Culture and Inclusiveness in the AFP. A day on which we decided not to take the easy path, but to show leadership as an organization and say that - as good as we are - we can be better. And being better starts with being prepared to look deep within ourselves and ask difficult questions.

It is not that the AFPs culture was terrible. In fact, Elizabeth found that we had an organization that was engaged, motivated, passionate about our role and ready for change. Our attrition rate is low and we know that our members enjoy the work that we do - after all it is important work.

In 2016 we were again voted the top public sector employer – and 9th for all Australian employers – for LGBTI inclusions.  So we are clearly getting some things right.

But equally, over time we became complacent. We had allowed bad behaviour to become normalised and not to be questioned. I do not think the AFP is alone in that space - in fact I would challenge all government sector leaders to ask honest questions of their own organisations. We can not pretend that this is not a broader reaching issue.

While the report launched on 22 August created some terrible headlines, and contained many facts and statistics that I am not proud of - the real benefit of the report lay deep below those headline grabs. The real substance of the report pointed to elements of our culture that had been allowed to slip to a point where members were no longer prepared to question bad practice, sloppy process, biased systems and bad behaviour. This was accepted as normal - and that for me, as Commissioner - is the terminal part of the report.

Essentially - this report was about how we treat each other - both as individuals, but also as an organisation. It was about respect – for ourselves and for each other.  Left unaddressed, these normalised behaviours would eventually be the undoing of an otherwise outstanding organisation.

And this is my key theme - The AFP is a structured and disciplined organisation - but reliance by leadership on structure and discipline to change organisational culture will always fail.  What we must do is focus on the role of integrity, identity, and organisational health to build culture.

Fundamental to this is identifying, accepting and driving the role that diversity plays in culture, organisations and society.

At its very best, and as a core principle, policing is a reflection of the community. We should be a reflection of society. Policing organisations are often the earliest indicators of societal change - we usually see it before others have even recognised it.  That is how adaptable crime has become.

Now I could give you many reasons why achieving gender parity - as an example - is imperative for an organisation. The law says we need to address the issue, company bottom lines say we need to address the issue, talent management objectives suggest we should address the issue, capability goals tell us we should address the issue, even our moral compass tells us we should address the issue. For the AFP, each and every one of those drivers is relevant and in isolation should be enough to motivate any organisation for change. They all played a strong role in my motivation.

But there are also very practical reasons for change in the AFP. Diversity of thought being one of them. Crime has become increasingly complex and the traditional law enforcement solutions and responses are beginning to be shown for their limitations. We need new thinking. Thinking that reflects the community’s expectations and its diversity of view. While gender is the focus for much of the work the AFP is currently doing, in truth this is simply the starting point. If I can not achieve greater parity in the AFP for a group that represents over 50% of the community - how can I hope to build a culture that encourages diversity of thought, language, education, skills and culture? The list could go on. An inclusive culture that more appropriately reflects the community we serve, and the challenges we face.

We have not been sitting on our hands these last few years, and many of the changes we need to make were evident before Elizabeth did her review – but we needed a unity of purpose and fresh ideas if we were going to be successful.  Elizabeth’s report did just that. It has galvanised us into action.

We have already instituted many changes, and many more are certain to follow. Core amongst these reforms are principles designed to: improve leadership at all levels; remove notions of nepotism and cronyism from our system; reform our promotion systems and our performance evaluation models; to strengthen transparent – and consistent – decision making especially on questions of mobility and deployment; to introduce an all roles flex model; and, ensure we have the best mechanisms possible to attract and retain talent.  

Many of the reform initiatives are common sense – why wouldn’t we make sure we maintain regular contact with members who are on long term leave, taking a break to raise a family, or taking time out to learn new skills and alike?  Why wouldn’t we want to ensure that a member’s journey through the AFP sees them receive the very best opportunities to excel, progress and achieve their own goals? Why wouldn’t I want to ensure that we are treating symptoms of bigger problems – such as unplanned absences from the workplace – early and comprehensively?

The immediate change we made was to introduce the AFP Safe Place concept.  Modelled on successful concepts seen elsewhere, the safe place is just that – it is ‘victim focussed’ and provides holistic support and advice if members are experiencing, have experienced or are aware of sexual assault, sexual harassment, serious bullying and harassment within, or connected to, the AFP workplace.

The Safe Place provides an opportunity for members to be heard, provided with various options and to assist members with a way forward. The irony of the Safe Place concept is that it mirrors so much of how modern police, ourselves included, treat victims outside of the organisation.  But we had not developed our internal practices to match. The lived experience for too many of our members was to be victimised through the internal processes we asked them to go through.

In the five short months since the safe place commenced operation we have seen many members reach out to not only report bad behaviours, but also to seek advice on how to avoid bad situations, how best to manage poor performance, and how to manage workplace conflict appropriately.  In that time the Safe Place has received 167 referrals and over 120 phone calls for advice. Of the 167 referrals, over 40 have already been resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant.  Some are historical, others contemporary – but all are relevant and we are vastly improving our responsiveness.    The safe place has facilitated many story telling sessions designed to give members the opportunity to share their story safely, and to give members of the AFP executive in particular a true sense of the corrosive impact poor behaviours have. These stories are not always the worst of the worst – sometimes they can be behaviours that would otherwise go unnoticed – but which have enormous individual impacts. 

It is still early, but feedback has been positive.  I have received comments from members about feeling empowered to call out bad behaviours, about feeling valued and about feeling supported. 

These are small steps – but important confidence building steps.  I never thought this change would occur overnight – or be easy.

Of course, the other major reform that we had already instituted prior to the report was the introduction of gender targets.  I acknowledge that it was a controversial move, yes.  But I believe it is entirely necessary for one very simple reason - if we are not prepared to set change in motion, then we cannot expect anything to improve.

The AFP has previously tried to address gender inequity across the organisation – at least in terms of balancing the numbers.  But despite best efforts, and I suspect best intentions, nothing ever changed. So I am forcing the change.  We have introduced gender targets and gender based policies across all of our business including recruitment, course opportunities and promotions.

Now, I can hear the quiet gasps.  This isn’t fair.  This isn’t meritorious. And I know that many women will argue with me because they don’t want to be seen as being successful simply because they are female.  I understand all of that.

But it is fair   –   what is not fair about correcting 200 years of systemic biases that created a patently unlevel playing field?  Let everyone get to the start line at the same time and in the same place, and then let competition thrive for positions or opportunities. We all joke about women needing to be twice as good, to prove themselves twice as much – just to compete or to advance.  Well in truth, it’s not really a joke, this is the reality for a great portion of our community.

There is nothing contradictory about being a merit based organisation with gender targets and policies.  We have claimed to be a merit base organisation since our inception –  but if we are honest our practices have not served our diversity well. If that is true then we need to redefine what we mean by merit.  It’s not about looking in the mirror each day and saying ‘I’ll take two more of those thanks…’ Merit is about making sure the best person gets the job free of conscious or unconscious biases, and regardless of whether they followed the same path as you, or achieved the same things you did. 

That is not merit, that is replication, and in the AFP – as I suspect is similar within many organisations – merit has effectively maintained the status quo. For merit to exist, we must ensure that everyone gets an equal chance to compete and that we are being open-minded and inclusive about the outcome.

I am not naive to the concerns of many women across the AFP who feel uncomfortable with these changes.  However, the truth is – I need courageous women to stand with us on this journey.  And, I must say, if the early signs of women coming forward and putting their hands up is any indication of their willingness to participate – then we are in good shape.

Gender targets and policies are not designed to discriminate. The path for promotion or opportunity still exists, just as it did before; only now the competition will be on a level footing. We need to rethink what has led us to the position we are in. This is about changing our personal attitudes and organisational systems to ensure that the best talent moves through the organisation, not just the traditional talent. Those two talent types are often different. It is, at the end of the day, about ensuring that we genuinely do have the best person in the right job at the right time.

To those who are sceptics of the change I ask two things: firstly that you take a moment to consider the position of prejudice that your opposition likely comes from, and secondly that you don't wait me out.  This change will continue and we will see it through.  I make no apology for the fact that it will upset some people – change always has its detractors.

I also understand why this opposition exists.  Human nature will always view change through the impact on the individual – and some times this may seem like an unfair impact, or that a rightful passage has been made harder.  But we must rise beyond that – these reforms should lift everyone to compete equally and be the best they can be.

Real change, genuine change, is not easy.  And the hardest part about these reforms, about accepting our limitations and acknowledging where our culture is letting us down, is the implicit knowledge that we have all been a part of this in some way. I have been a part of the AFP for over 27 years. I am as much a part of the culture we are leaving behind as I am a part of the culture we must establish. Looking deep into your own history is confronting.

So let me briefly turn to a broader change discussion and leave you with a few thoughts about other aspects of the AFP transformation agenda.  As I said earlier, culture is not created simply by structure and discipline – I believe it is created by integrity, identity and organisational health.

Our integrity is strong.  We are a policing organisation whose foundation is built upon open, transparent and accountable operations; and, this is where our legitimacy lies.  The nature of AFP business means we will attract criticism because what we do is so often controversial, but our integrity is strong and today is not the day to unpack that any further.

In this, the 100th year of Commonwealth policing, I am seeking to reimagine the AFP of the future. A look back at that 100 years shows that policing at the Commonwealth level has changed many, many times. Different agencies have been created, merged and folded, all the while Commonwealth remits and expectations continued to change.

In the nearly 40 years since the formation of the AFP, it has evolved from a smaller agency with a sharper remit, to a $1 billion plus business with a broad range of responsibilities.  Our place within the Australian psyche and our place within the Australia policing framework is assured and mature.  We have developed a strong history of success by rising to challenges and quickly responding to new threats to Australia and its people.  It is a strong heritage of which all AFP members and the Australian community should be proud. I know I am.

The pace of change in society, however, is rapid and we can not hope to simply evolve in response the environment around us – we must be more pre-emptive in shaping the organisation of the future.  This will underpin our identity going forward.

That is why we commissioned the AFP Futures Paper.  The Futures Paper is not about predicting the future of crime, but about making informed judgements about the skills, capabilities, and focus areas the AFP will need to prioritise in order to meet future challenges.

This journey commenced with the release of the Strategic Context Paper and the capability-focused restructure of the AFP in mid-2015.  Since then the consultation work surrounding this paper has informed elements of a broader transformation.

It is fair to say that many of our stakeholders were surprised by the true breadth and depth of the AFP’s operations and responsibilities.  These span local, national and international policing, making the AFP unique amongst Australian law enforcement agencies and somewhat unique world-wide. Depending on who you ask, you will get a different response about who we are and what we do.

This is largely because the current operating environment for the AFP is as dynamic, as it is complex, as it is broad.

Our scan of the agency’s future operating environment makes it clear that it will be more of the same, only harder and faster with a technological edge compounding our challenges. We need to adjust our focus to ensure that we are ready to meet these challenges and are driven by our capabilities, technology, skills, people and our adaptability.

This glimpse into the future AFP, coupled with our own internal reforms for inclusiveness and organisational health are just some of the many bodies of work we have underway.  Work continues towards a foundational capability plan, technology roadmap, a future orientated education strategy and a workforce plan – all based upon the work we have done to review, reform and reshape ourselves.

And while I am unable to talk about it publically just yet, the AFP was also recently subject of a Functional Efficiency Review; a review that I welcomed and embraced.  For me the process of going through such an exercise, a process that saw our business and our operating model scrutinised by external reviewers,  was illuminating and encouraging.  It has highlighted a number of issues that were not unexpected – and simply underscores the need for the AFP to continue on this transformation journey.

Everything I have spoken about today is within our power as an organisation to shift or to adjust – we just need to make sure we have a plan and a vision for how it can be done differently. We need to refine our focus, understand the demands on the organisation and make sure our investment is where it needs to be. Important to remember however, is that this may not always be in the visible end of the AFP, but it will make us better at the important work we do.

I know all of this sounds like a lot of reviews, well it is!  The thing I am proudest of is the fact that the AFP continues to perform and achieve incredible results to protect Australians even while we are prepared to look internally at how we can do things better.  2016 was a tough year in many ways, we looked inside more than most organisations are ever prepared to do, but it has set us up well to take the organisation forward in both a business and a culture sense.

At the end of the day, we are a police force.  We are, and should always be, judged by our operational results.  But complacency is our enemy and we will achieve our best operational results when our culture, our identity and our organisational health is where it should be.

And this is where I will finish – by coming full circle - when you strip away the horrible headlines and disappointing figures of the Culture and Inclusiveness report delivered by Elizabeth Broderick and delve into the underlying causes of why our culture is not what it should be. We find that at its core are signs of people under pressure, stressed and tired. This is a message that was emphasised in the results of the FER.  

As Commissioner, as a CEO of any organisation, organisational health and culture has to be front of mind.  A well trained, equipped, diverse, inclusive and skilled workforce is what we must strive for.  If we can do that, and the operational results will take care of themselves.

Thank you.

Commissioner Andrew Colvin