Plan to flood city with officers for random checks on visas prompts uproar and forces police to cancel media conference, then entire operation. Follow developments live
Well, what a Friday it has been. The Australian Border Force was plunged into a public relations disaster for the federal government after it announced a controversial operation in the Melbourne CBD. We’re wrapping up our live coverage, but here’s a short summary of where events stand so far:
The ABF announced on Friday morning it was going to conduct a major operation with police in the Melbourne CBD. The release was strongly worded and said that immigration officers would be positioned at “various locations” around the city. It added that citizens “need to be aware of the conditions” of their visas, and drew immediate concerns that it would lead to spotchecks of visas in the CBD.
My colleague Melissa Davey has just filed a further update taking in the bizarre events of today with the ABF. Here’s an excerpt from her piece:
The federal government’s Australian Border Force was forced to abandon a controversial visa crackdown in Melbourne on Friday, following sustained criticism of the operation from politicians, unions, the city council, human rights lawyers, and the people of Victoria.
Melbourne city centre was brought to a standstill on Friday afternoon after protesters flooded Flinders Street train station, which they had deliberately planned to coincide with the 2pm joint border force and Victoria police press conference officially launching the operation.
One of the questions that has arisen from this operation is the fact the ABF announced that it was conducting the compliance operation in such a dramatic way.
This lends to the obvious question about the efficacy of such an approach; surely if a person was actually at risk of breaching their visa terms, they would simply stay out of the Melbourne CBD?
The Human Rights Law Centre has also released a strong statement about the circumstances surrounding the ABF operation today:
The Human Rights Law Centre today expressed grave concerns over statements by the newly formed Australian Border Force that they would be stopping individuals in Melbourne’s CBD.
“The comments are deeply concerning. There’s simply no legal justification for border force officers to randomly stop people going about their business in Melbourne,” said Hugh de Kretser, the HRLC’s executive director.
The punters weigh in. Punctuation is quite important. But there are probably others who think it’s quite important that they not need carry their passports around the city with them.
Twitterati take to streets over poorly worded media release. Next, we march for punctuation. #youknowitmakessense
Continuing on with the political reaction, federal Labor MP Anthony Albanese has just posted a short response on Twitter to the planned operation:
Outrageous proposal for Border Force on streets of Melbourne has been withdrawn - should never have been proposed in the 1st place
To put what Roman Quaedvlieg has just said in a little clearer context: this statement was signed off at a low level of the organisation. But he said the regional commander who is quoted in the release did approve his comments.
Quaedvlieg was at pains to stress the release was sanctioned at a low level, did not represent ABF policy and that “remedial action” of some sort would be taken.
I've been told by Dutton's office that Operation Fortitude is an "operational matter" and Ministers do not direct ops.
Guardian Australia’s political editor Lenore Taylor has filed this scathing analysis of the farce that has been the Australian Border Force today:
Operation Fortitude seems to have been named using the wrong f-word. Many would work, but let’s go with Operation Farce.
Not since Tony Abbott gave Prince Philip a knighthood has the nation appeared so immediately united in calling out a truly stupid and offensive notion.
Roman Quaedvlieg is now speaking about the disastrous day for the ABF.
My colleague Daniel Hurst has been following his interview, and just sent this through from the interview:
Quaedvlieg said: “There was never any intent for the border force to proactively go out and seek immigration breaches in Melbourne city.”
Asked if the initial release sound rather menacing, he says: “It does … it was in my description clumsily worded. It was released in the lower levels of the organisation,” he says of the release that was issued this morning.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has just been speaking on the ABC, where he called on the prime minister, Tony Abbott, to condemn the operation immediately.
The ABF commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg will make a statement shortly in Canberra. It’s not clear whether he will take any questions, but the backlash today has clearly been severe enough to draw the commissioner in.
We’ll be bringing you continuing coverage throughout the press conference.
An interesting development: the ABF website appears to be mostly accessible, apart from their media releases page.
When you attempt to review their earlier statements on Operation Fortitude this is the message that now comes up:
The ABF website is experiencing some rather selective issues. Most of the site is fine, but released unavailable pic.twitter.com/4En6Rg5sP0
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has gone all out in his statement on the Australian Border Force operation, comparing it to the East German security service the Stasi, former Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin and Chilean president general Augusto Pinochet. In one paragraph.
Here’s his statement in full:
Joseph Stalin would be proud of Tony Abbott. Just as East Germany’s Stasi would be delighted with the Australian Border Force. Why even General Pinochet would be impressed.
The decision by the federal government to cancel this weekend’s security operation in Melbourne is a welcome respite, for now at least, but the government has shown its hand by planning the operation in the first place.
The Liberal Democratic senator David Leyonhjelm has also weighed in on the use of the Australian Border Force in the operation at Melbourne CBD.
My colleague Daniel Hurst has just sent through this statement from Leyonhjelm:
Either the border force are doing racial profiling, in which case they should stop it, or they are hassling everyone, and they should stop that as well. We do not need any more uniformed goons.
This indicates that the border force should be radically downsized and its workers allowed to do something useful for a living.
My colleague Melissa Davey was speaking with protesters at Flinders Street station earlier at the rally. Here’s what she learned:
Ezekiel Ox, a leader of the protest, said the turnout, despite the protest being haphazardly organised shortly before the border force press conference was due to be held, was testament to the views of the people of Victoria.
“Operation Fortitude has been abandoned, it’s been abandoned by the Abbott government, it’s been abandoned by the Victoria police, so we won’t have gestapo fascists on the streets of Melbourne this weekend harassing immigrants, harassing people of colour, harassing people speaking a second language,” he told Guardian Australia.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young is now speaking in Adelaide about the Australian Border Force Operation.
There’s questions now by lawyers as to whether this has been a breach of human rights. It’s definitely overreach by the minister, but overall it’s border farce.
It never got past the first page of the press release. The border force statement was that they were going to move into full swing today, and of course only hours later had to retract suggestions they had those powers.
What has been proven today is that the Australian people don’t want to see the politicisation of our immigration department.
Adam Bandt, the federal Greens member in Melbourne, has also welcomed the cancellation of the operation. He said the community had run the government’s “ugly politics” out of town:
Operation Border Farce came to our city and was just as quickly shown the door.
This morning we heard that the border force planned to station their officers around the CBD and ask questions of any individual they cross paths with, demanding to see people’s papers.
The shadow federal immigration minister, Richard Marles, has also released a statement calling on the immigration minister Peter Dutton to explain the disastrous handling of the operation by the Australian Border Force.
Here’s Marles’s statement in full:
Immigration minister Peter Dutton needs to come out of hiding and provide an explanation for the shambles that has seen a cross-agency operation compromised and a key government agency left red-faced.
Opposition immigration and border protection spokesperson Richard Marles said the Abbott government’s overzealous handling in announcing an upcoming joint agency operation was at best clumsy and at worst shambolic.
The Victorian police minister Wade Noonan has just released an extraordinary statement about the ABF operation. He said it was intended as a standard operation, but was mischaracterised by the federal government agency. Here’s the full statement:
The state government was notified this month that Victoria police would lead a joint-agency operation this weekend in the CBD aimed at keeping Victorians safe.
We were advised it would target antisocial behaviour and commuters to ensure people got home safely. The community’s safety and wellbeing is always the government’s priority.
Just to put things in perspective, this was a remarkably quick mobilisation of people in a short period of time.
This took one hour to organise. Remarkable. #BorderForce pic.twitter.com/RG5bRAa8pZ
My colleague Melissa Davey has all the latest with our news splash on Operation Fortitude. You can read it in full here:
A controversial operation in Melbourne by the Australian Border Force against people overstaying their visas has been abruptly cancelled following protests.
“Operation Fortitude”, due to take place on Friday night and Saturday, was called off on Friday afternoon amid chaotic scenes.
Just in case anyone was interested: This morning the Australian border force was also advertising more jobs.
The diversity of our workforce is what strengthens us. Join our dynamic team: http://t.co/PMh1dj67nf pic.twitter.com/TKzs750ufB
Unsurprisingly, it turns out you need to be an Australian citizen to actually work for the Australian Border Force pic.twitter.com/JcmqKclh4A
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has just tweeted this update following the cancellation of the operation by Victoria police.
Operation Fortitude cancelled in the City. Good decision by @VictoriaPolice.
The union representing Australian Border Force workers has welcomed news that Operation Fortitude will not go ahead. The union was contacted by border force members who raised concerns their safety would have been compromised by the publicity surrounding this operation.
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “We have been contacted by border force members deeply concerned about the way their work has been politicised raising safety concerns about the public reaction.”
The protesters at Flinders Street station are speaking now with my colleague Melissa Davey on Periscope. You can follow on here.
Anti Australian Border Force protesters have claimed victory pic.twitter.com/ouCP0JDe9C
As a point of historical reference, readers may be interested to learn that Operation Fortitude was also the codename for a key operation in the Normandy landings in 1944 that led to the end of the second world war.
The namesake led by the Australian Border Force and the Victorian police does not have quite the historical import, but no doubt will be remembered for other reasons.
To put things in perspective, this is an excellent Tweet from Will Ockenden that shows just how quickly events moved today:
10:14am #OperationFortitude announced 12:54pm ABF Clarification 2:26pm Presser cancelled 2:40pm Operation cancelled
The announcement of Operation Fortitude sparked some pretty reasonable questions about what the powers of Australian Border Force officers and police really are and what kind of information they can demand.
Here’s an explainer I prepared earlier of the six key points you need to know:
1. Do I need to hand over identification if a police officer asks me for it?Police powers vary from state to state, but in Victoria under the Crimes Act 1958 the police generally cannot require an individual to provide identification unless they believe, on reasonable grounds, that they have committed or are suspected of committing an offence, or if they can assist in the investigation of an offence.
If police request your identification, they must provide reasons for their belief to allow you to understand the type of offence and the grounds for their belief.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has just announced she will hold a press conference to discuss the cancellation of the Australian Border Force press conference.
She is scheduled to speak at 3:30pm AEST.
More people are now rallying and have entered Flinders Street station to continue to protest.
Protest at Flinders pic.twitter.com/ynQuRTvZ9f
"We shut them up. They're not having their press conference. We're claiming victory" - anti Australian Border Force protesters
There are now more than 250 protesters in Melbourne who have gathered to protest the Australian Border Force and the operation that was scheduled to go ahead this weekend.
They're here now. #OperationFortitude pic.twitter.com/7w5ZaBx1bJ
It's just been announced the #BorderForce press conference has been cancelled #abcnews #lateline pic.twitter.com/GzMyoPx1HT
Well, that was a very short-lived police operation. Victoria police have now just sent out another release after the confusion surrounding Operation Fortitude this weekend.
They said on Facebook that this decision was taken due in part to a “high level of community interest” in the operation.
Victoria Police has made a decision not to go ahead with this weekend’s Operation Fortitude.
We understand there has been a high level of community interest and concern which has been taken into consideration when making this decision.
As the protest at Flinders St station grows, we’ve now had completely conflicting comments from Victoria police about whether or not the press conference will go ahead.
Victoria police initially tweeted it was no longer being held, but Crikey reporter Josh Taylor heard otherwise.
Please be advised that the Operation Fortitude media opportunity has been cancelled. We apologise for any inconvenience.
The event is not cancelled, Victoria Police tells me. It'll be inside Flinders St station now. #OperationFortitude
Good afternoon, and welcome to our coverage of the protests that are capping off what has been a very unfortunate day for the Australian Border Borce (ABF).
Earlier on Friday, Australia’s newest super agency, which is a composite of immigration and customs, set out their plans for a major operation in Melbourne’s CBD. Continue reading...