Border Force spends big on media training after Operation Fortitude fiasco

Police watch as protesters rally inside Flinders Street Station on August 28 against    Australian Border Force officers taking part in Operation Fortitude.

Police watch as protesters rally inside Flinders Street Station on August 28 against Australian Border Force officers taking part in Operation Fortitude. Photo: AAP

You've heard of Border Force. Now get ready for Talk Force.

Following August's Operation Fortitude fiasco, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is paying a company called Talkforce Media and Communications Strategists $79,000 to provide media training to its top executives, new government documents reveal.

Talkforce trains clients to deal with "difficult media situations" and manage "controversial issues and close media scrutiny". Its full-day workshops include mock television interviews that teach clients "how to take control of an interview, even when under pressure".

<I>Illustration: Matt Golding.</i>

Illustration: Matt Golding.

"Talkforce Media and Communications Strategists can help you tailor and direct messages to your audience in order to be heard over all the competing noise that exists in this modern and technology-driven age," it says on its website.

All the department's top executives will receive the training over the coming months. The department says such "media awareness training" is common across thepublic service.

"This was an observation made in the internal review of the department's media-response procedures following Operation Fortitude," a spokesman said in a statement to Fairfax Media.

The Australian Border Force is the department's frontline operational agency.

It shot to prominence in August when it spoiled a police operation in Melbourne by suggesting it would be stopping people for random visa checks, sparking apublic backlash.

ABF commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg blamed a "clumsily worded" press release that mischaracterised the agency's role. But critics lampooned the agency on social media and labelled it Border Farce.

Talkforce has also provided media and strategic advice to the Australian Crime Commission, Australian Federal Police and the Department of Veterans' Affairs in recent years.

But the immigration contract is by far the most lucrative. According to the tender documents, the media training has already commenced and will continue until the middle of next year.

The spokesman said a standard tender process was run in the normal way and companies were evaluated based on the value for money, including price, capability and capacity to deliver the services.

Talkforce is run by former radio personality David Marshall and former journalist Kristen Connell.

The department already spends millions on its in-house spin doctors. Documents released last year showed the department and its agencies spend up to $9.2 million on communications staff salaries alone.

Labor's waste watch spokesman, Pat Conroy, said Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's tenure had hit "Monty Python-esque levels of stupidity".

"The Australian people have zero confidence in minister Dutton and wasting taxpayers' money like this only reinforces that sentiment," he said.