CANBERRA – Remember that crime fighting operation in Melbourne that did not get off the ground because the Australian Border Force issued an eager statement promising to crackdown on “any individual they crossed paths with”?
It was to have been a standard Victoria Police weekend operation, with Border Force in a secondary role checking visas -- although stop and checks were not to be held in the vigorous manner that the media release indicated.
The aborted blitz in August wasn’t the newish, but well-armed agency’s finest moment.
Well, today the heads of Border Force and the Immigration Department have apologised for their role in the botched operation, which triggered protests before it was all called off. Staff have also been counselled and internal procedures “tightened.”
The head of the Immigration Department, Michael Pezzullo, has told Parliament that the statement was “badly worded.”
“(It) gave rise to the impression that the ABF has general powers of questioning people in the street. It does not,” he said.
“I apologise for the wrongly created impression.
“In the end, the Commissioner and I are fully responsible for the department and ABF and we, in the end, are accountable for this regrettable incident.”
Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg, also used his appearance at Senate Estimates today to say sorry.
“Unfortunately, in the case of Operation Fortitude the ABF issued a media release which was factually wrong in describing its role,” he said.
“This resulted in public confusion, concern and distress for which I apologise.”
He said six ABF officers would have taken part in the Border Force part of the operation, focusing on Melbourne taxi ranks and tram stop.
A review of how Operation Fortitude came not to be has led to a number changes within the Immigration Department.
“We have tightened our internal clearance processes and the visibility of media documents relating to operational activities and a number of staff have been counselled,” Pezzullo revealed.