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Customs Uniform Controversy - Past and Present

Customs is in the process of completing the change to the new 'uniform' and corporate wardrobe.  It is probably fair to say that many of those who wear either, do so only because they are either required to do so (in the case of the uniform) or because the first issue was free of charge (in the case of the corporate wardrobe).  

There is a school of thought which says that neither dress style lends any credibility to the remnants of the law enforcement role that Customs Officers perform in Australia.  Some people believe that both the uniform and the corporate wardrobe are more reminiscent of school uniforms than law enforcement apparel.  On the other hand, many of our female officers seem very pleased with the fashion orientation of the corporate wardrobe.  

It is interesting to note that just as every other law enforcement agency in Australia has moved to placing rank insignia on the epilettes, Customs has moved to the collar.  A criticism of the old uniform was that the rank insignia made more-senior uniformed officers look like 'Portugese Admirals' - with all the gold braid, etc..  On the other hand, the new collar insignia are so small as to be almost completely useless in separating junior and senior officers unless one is standing within a metre of the officer.  

On the 'positive' side, one visitor to Australia was heard to comment that there is no problem telling who the Customs Officers are in the Passenger Hall.  They are the people wearing those hideous blue shirts!

It seems that this particular battle over uniforms has been won (or lost depending on your point of view), but the war will inevitably go on.  If you have any doubts that it will be protracted, then perhaps you might be interested in reading this excerpt from the December 1994 edition of 'The Customs Officer(4th Division)' at page 37....

    The following comment concerning the new Customs uniform is submitted for publication in the News Letter.   My criticism is not intended to offend those responsible. It is submitted on a constructive basis and may serve to illustrate that clerical officers are not qualified to organise and direct a project of this nature.

    It was anticipated that the new uniform would be of a design and colour, original to Customs (Australian), styled in a manner which would enable conversions to suit varying climatic conditions without the loss of respect which it demands and embracing all those features necessary for a law enforcement uniform - individual, and rank identification for public and Departmental benefits.
    Instead. we have been blessed with a uniform. the design of which is not capable of commanding public respect, is a colour consistent with other uniforms worn by non law-enforcementCommonwealth bodies, has numerous conversion styles, does not possess any individual identification and has a rank idcntification which must be considered a joke.  In actual fact, the word rank must be regarded as an adjective in this instance.
    The Special Services area which comprises the bulk of Customs uniformed staff, have been constantly reminded that they are a law enforcement unit and must regard themselves as such. This being the case, one would have expected the design, colour and conversion styles would have been in keeping with proven law enforcement demands, and of a type which would command the respect desired. It is very doubtful if shorts would assist in achieving this requirement.
    Staff in the Special Services area are also the only officers in the main, who have true, individual designations which could be identified by insignias similar to Police. The remainder are Clerks or Clerical Assistants and only possess local designations in some instances. it could be said, that there does not exist any real need for them to have any rank insignias.  Identification of officers per the medium of numerals is also a necessity in any uniformed law enforcement organisation.
    There is also a very real need for some measure of discipline in connection with the use of uniforms. With such a variation of styles as is included in the new uniform, the attitudes and actions of some elements, in the absence of any regulations within the public service structure relative to uniforms etc., would result in the uniformed section of Customs generally being regarded as a circus.
    In conclusion, the new uniform can only be regarded as being clerically oriented. This is particularly evident in the rank identification area. Howevel, this is not surprising when it is considered that clerical staff constituted more than 90% of the Uniform Committee, although they would represent less than 10% of Customs Uniformed Staff.

One is left to wonder how Keith Hair would feel about the Customs of today, let alone the uniform and corporate wardrobe!  If you have any views one way or the other, please let us know and we will be only too happy to post them on this site.  We are looking for a balance of views and are sure that there are probably many officers who actually like the new apparel.  So come on and have your say!
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