Home affairs officials were pressured into releasing a statement about an asylum seeker boat interception on election day by former prime minister Scott Morrison, a report has found.
The publication of the interception was unprecedented and sabotaged the protocols of Operation Sovereign Borders, making it more difficult and dangerous, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said.
The day of the federal election Australian border authorities revealed an asylum seeker boat had been turned back the previous week.
Text messages to voters about the boat’s interception were also sent out by the Liberal Party.
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Following his election, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese directed the Home Affairs department to conduct an inquiry into the matter, the results of which were released on Friday.
The report found the public statement was made at the request of the former home affairs minister Karen Andrews’ office, following a direction made by former prime minister Scott Morrison.
The department was given 15 minutes to draft and publish a statement by Ms Andrews’ office.
But when directed to publicise the statement on social media and send it to journalists, officials refused.
“Under no circumstances is the department to drop the story to selected journalists,” department secretary Michael Pezzullo said in a directive on May 21.
“The release once cleared is to be posted to our news and media site – no more and no less.”
The report also found there was no evidence to suggest departmental officials were aware of the Liberal Party tweet and SMS message to voters about the boat interception.
Ms O’Neil said the report found uniformed Border Force and Defence Force members, and public servants, “acted with integrity and at the highest standards at all times”.
The former government sabotaged protocols that protect Operation Sovereign Borders for political gain, she said.
“Their actions undermined the integrity of this complex operation, making it more difficult and dangerous,” she said in a statement.
“The profound compromise of a military-led operation is without precedent in Australia’s history.
“It was disgraceful, shameful, and characteristic of a national government which frequently pursued political interests above the national interest.”