The Courier-Mail


Last week’s botched Bor­der Force blitz re­in­forced public per­cep­tions of in­com­pe­tence, writes Paul Syvret


BACK in 2013, on the eve of the fed­eral elec­tion, the Coali­tion re­leased a com­mu­ni­ca­tions pol­icy doc­u­ment that ef­fec­tively sup­ported the in­tro­duc­tion of in­ter­net fil­ter­ing.

The slip-up, which ran con­trary to the Coali­tion’s po­si­tion, was blamed on a “poorly worded” state­ment.

At the time, then op­po­si­tion leader Tony Ab­bott con­ceded there “was a fail­ure of qual­ity con­trol”.

“As soon as that was re­alised, it was fixed. Now I’m happy to take full re­spon­si­bil­ity, happy to take full per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity for ev­ery mis­take that the Coali­tion makes, and frankly that’s what adult gov­ern­ment is all about. The buck stops with me,” he said.

What a dif­fer­ence a cou­ple of years can make.

On Fri­day, Ab­bott’s unique brand of adult gov­ern­ment brought an in­cred­u­lous Aus­tralia the botched Op­er­a­tion For­ti­tude.

This was to be a law and or­der blitz that, ac­cord­ing to what Ab­bott now dis­misses as a “very badly worded” press re­lease from the Aus­tralian Bor­der Force, would in­volve a se­ries of visa checks on the streets of Mel­bourne.

“ABF of­fi­cers will be po­si­tioned at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions around the CBD speak­ing with any in­di­vid­ual we cross paths with,” Vic­to­rian and Tas­ma­nian com­man­der of Bor­der Force, Don Smith, was quoted as say­ing.

For good mea­sure, just in case there was any am­bi­gu­ity in that state­ment, he added: “You need to be aware of the con­di­tions of your visa; if you com­mit visa fraud you should know it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore you’re caught out.”

The mes­sage was pretty sim­ple and the con­no­ta­tions down­right sin­is­ter – of­fi­cers from a paramil­i­tary wing of our se­cu­rity agen­cies would be pa­trolling the streets of a ma­jor Aus­tralian city con­duct­ing ran­dom iden­tity checks.

So­cial media erupted in shock and anger – some­thing the likes of Twit­ter and Face­book do ex­cep­tion­ally well – with the ob­vi­ous ques­tion be­ing the pos­si­ble use of racial pro­fil­ing to de­ter­mine which cit­i­zens Bor­der Force did “cross paths with” and who may be tar­gets for iden­tity checks.

Bor­der Force is­sued a clar­i­fy­ing state­ment on Fri­day morn­ing say­ing that: “To be clear, the ABF does not and will not stop peo­ple at ran­dom in the streets ... the ABF does not tar­get of the ba­sis of race, re­li­gion, or eth­nic­ity.”

The dam­age had been done by that stage and the day de­scended into fi­asco as press brief­ings were can­celled and a flash protest formed at the Flin­ders St in­ter­sec­tion in Mel­bourne.

Ul­ti­mately the whole sorry op­er­a­tion – Bor­der Farce as it was quickly dubbed – was called off.

Since then the Gov­ern­ment and Bor­der Force chiefs have been fran­ti­cally backpedall­ing and try­ing to lo­cate some­where else for the prover­bial buck to stop.

Ac­cord­ing to Bor­der Force head Ro­man Quaed­vlieg, Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton’s of­fice “is not in­volved”.

“The press re­lease was cir­cu­lated at a re­gional level in the state of Vic­to­ria. It’s low level. I didn’t see it. It’s a low level in the or­gan­i­sa­tion as far as I’m con­cerned.”

That may be, ex­cept for the fact that the min­is­ter’s of­fice did re­ceive at least one draft of the state­ment be­fore it was re­leased but, ac­cord­ing to Dut­ton, “no one read it”.

Fur­ther, it has since been con­firmed that Quaed­vlieg’s own strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions ad­viser, Matt Wardell, was also sent a copy of the media state­ment.

Pre­sum­ably the Com­mis­sioner didn’t read it ei­ther, all of which is a bit dis­turb­ing for a depart­ment which may soon be granted the power to strip peo­ple of their Aus­tralian cit­i­zen­ship.


The other cu­ri­ous thing in this whole af­fair is why an al­legedly “rou­tine” op­er­a­tion would be the sub­ject of a media re­lease in the first place.

Usu­ally law en­force­ment agen­cies don’t tele­graph their moves in ad­vance be­cause, well, just maybe the peo­ple they are try­ing to catch might de­cide it would be bet­ter to be some­where else on the day.

In the course of this farce the Gov­ern­ment has achieved sev­eral things, not the least of which was to re­in­force public per­cep­tions of ar­rant in­com­pe­tence mar­ried to a finely honed abil­ity to avoid tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity when things go pear-shaped.

Se­condly, the whole op­er­a­tion works to spread more fear and di­vi­sion in our com­mu­nity: “illegal aliens are among us and they will be rooted out”. Put ’em in the van.

On a pos­i­tive note, though, it also demon­strates that the Aus­tralian public – and take a bow here Mel­bourne, you did us proud – will not lie supine and sub­mis­sive in the face of threats to our ba­sic free­doms.

As the Ab­bott Gov­ern­ment’s own hand­picked Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sioner, Tim Wil­son, said over the week­end: “On Fri­day, it didn’t mat­ter where you were on the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. Ev­ery Mel­bur­nian un­der­stood in a free and plu­ral­ist so­ci­ety it was their re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­fend free­doms and ba­sic de­cency for all.”

Ab­bott has said peo­ple who de­mean the Bor­der Force – pre­sum­ably by us­ing so­cial media hash­tags like #BorderFarc­e – should be ashamed.

No. They should be proud that Aus­tralians, en masse, called “bull­shit”, and drew a line in the street.

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 ??  ?? BOTCHES WITH­OUT BORDERS: Ro­man Quaed­vlieg from the Aus­tralian Bor­der Force, Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott and Immigratio­n Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton weren’t will­ing to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Bor­der Force an­nounce­ment. Pic­ture: AAP
BOTCHES WITH­OUT BORDERS: Ro­man Quaed­vlieg from the Aus­tralian Bor­der Force, Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott and Immigratio­n Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton weren’t will­ing to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Bor­der Force an­nounce­ment. Pic­ture: AAP

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