Remember Operation Fortitude, when the Australian Border Force was going to check the visas of everyone on the streets of Melbourne? Except then they said they weren’t going to do that at all, it was all a misunderstanding based on a “badly worded” press release? The head of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Michael Pezzullo, is terribly sorry for all the bother. In a Senate estimates hearing today Pezzullo and ABF Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg apologised for the farce.

Pezzullo took responsibility:

“It is clear that the media release issued that morning was very badly worded, and gave rise to the impression that the ABF has general powers of questioning people in the street; it does not. I apologise for the wrong impression it created. In the end the Commissioner and I are fully responsible for the department, and the ABF, and we in the end are accountable for this regretable incident.”

Quaedvlieg said ABF was only a “secondary” agency to Victoria Police in Operation Fortitude and the release was just wrong:

“Unfortunately in the case of Operation Fortitude, the ABF release a complementary media release which was factually wrong in describing its role. This resulted in public confusion, concern, and distress, for which I apologise.”

All the recommendations of an internal review have been implemented, he said, with several staff formally counselled.

Crikey has an FOI request in to the department on the creation of the press release. It was due at the end of last month, but a 30-day extension was granted while the department consults third parties mentioned in the documents (i.e. Victoria Police).

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Peter Fray

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