Abbott rules out random visa checks
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Saturday distanced himself from a police operation in Melbourne which was canceled amid public outrage about possible spot checks on people’s visas, saying his office had no prior knowledge of it.
The furore erupted Friday when the Australian Border Force (ABF) issued a news release saying its officers would join police and transport officials in Melbourne city this weekend to speak “with any individual we cross paths with” to identify visa fraudsters.
Abbott said, however, the government would never conduct random spot checks on people’s visas on the streets as he dismissed the press release as “clumsy” and “over the top.”
“We would never stop people ran- domly in the street demanding their visa details. We don’t do that sort of thing in Australia and it will never happen under this government,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“Unfortunately the press release was very, very badly worded but no one has been, no one ever will be, randomly stopped in the street for some kind of visa check.”
The original media release sparked anger, with protesters gathering outside Melbourne’s Flinders St. Station on Friday amid fears the operation would target those of foreign appearance.
“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,” ABF regional commander Don Smith said in the statement.
Abbott said his office had been unaware of the nature of the operation before it was announced, saying such releases went out all the time from government agencies but were at arm’s length from ministers and the executive government.
He stressed that “nothing happened here except the issue of a poorly worded press release.”
“Victorian Police, routinely, if they suspect there could be a visa issue with someone who they are questioning, they refer it on to Australian Border Force in the usual way and that’s all that was ever intended yesterday,” Abbott said.
The newly formed Australian Border Force, which is responsible for immigration enforcement, issued a clarifying statement saying it would not be “stopping people at random” to “check people’s papers.”