A planned operation by the newly minted “Australian Border Force” that was thought to involve randomly checking visa papers on the streets of Melbourne was cancelled in the wake of furious protests from the people of Melbourne. The Border Force was a pet project of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, being personally launched by Abbott with much fanfare earlier this year. Mr. Abbott was quick to step back from the planned operation, denying all knowledge and implying that low-level staffers were to blame.
The operation, known as “Operation Fortitude,” was announced last Friday and was planned to take place over the weekend. It was to be a multi-agency operation in Melbourne’s busy CBD. The Australian Border Force’s press release was what sparked the outrage, as it implied that random visa checks would be conducted in the street, an action reminiscent of vigilante activities along the Mexican border.
“[Officers will be]…at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with”
“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 Australian media was quick to condemn the announcement, with the Sydney Morning Herald deriding the Border Force as a “paramilitary organisation”. Social media was quick to follow, and a flash protest was organized. Hundreds of people mobbed the site of the press conference that had been scheduled to announce the Border Force operation, leading to the cancellation of both the press conference and the operation itself.
On Saturday, after a day of uncharacteristic silence, Mr. Abbott came out swinging. According the ABC News, he denied all knowledge of the operation and categorically stated that random visa checks by the Border Force or anyone else was something that “would never, ever happen in this country”.
The Australian Border Force is a unit formed from the amalgamation of Customs and Immigration. It has come in for ridicule due to its controversial status as a “uniformed service,” a status which applies to the military. Commentators see this as an attempt to militarize an agency that performs a purely civilian function. This is widely thought to be a part of Mr. Abbott’s pre-occupation with security issues, which many see as the embattled Prime Minister’s substitute for policy and effective governance.
Almost immediately upon the formation of the Australian Border Force, social media renamed the agency the “Australian Border Farce.”
This is the latest in a long series of gaffes and missteps on the part of Mr. Abbott’s government, most of which have apparently been the fault of “low level staffers.”
[Picture via Getty images]