The Community and Public Sector Union has welcomed the cancellation of a sting that would have seen Australian Border Force workers demanding to see peoples’ ‘papers’ in the Melbourne CBD over the weekend, arguing workers’ safety had been recklessly disregarded.
“We are calling on the Federal Government to stop cynically exploiting the work of the Australian Border Force for its own political ends, potentially putting officers at risk,” CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said.
The union had been contacted by members employed by the Australian Border Force who Flood said were “deeply concerned about the way their work has been politicised” after the government chose to publicise the operation in a statement to media earlier today.
The union said that safety concerns are such that “Border Force staff are frequently instructed not to wear their uniforms in public” and Flood argued that “making [workers]a public target through this sort of hysteria is completely unacceptable”.
The highly controversial nature of some of the Australian Border Force’s work was laid bare this morning when, hours after Operation Fortitude was announced, Melbournians swarmed to Flinders Street Station, where a press conference was due to be held this afternoon.
By around 2.30, just over four hours after the government’s media release announcing the operation was issued, the entire crackdown had been cancelled.
10:14am #OperationFortitude announced 12:54pm ABF Clarification 2:26pm Presser cancelled 2:40pm Operation cancelled
— Will Ockenden (@will_ock) August 28, 2015
Earlier this morning the Regional Commander of the Victorian and Tasmanian branches of the Border Force, Don Smith, had flagged that “officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual [they]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 Border Force boss said.
But this afternoon Flood said that “is not how their work has been done in the past” and it was completely unacceptable that Border Force workers had been made “a public target through this sort of hysteria”.
“Their work is challenging under most circumstances but this adds another and unnecessary layer of difficulty to an already taxing task,” Flood said.
Melbourne’s Federal member Adam Bandt also celebrated the government backflip in the face of public opposition, which he characterised as “Tony Abbott’s ugly politics being run out of town”.
“Operation Border Farce came to our city and was just as quickly shown the door,” Bandt said.
“Within hours, Melburnians came together and stood up to Tony Abbott and his politics of division.
“The community has sent the message that Melbourne is not a place where a government officer can stop you in the street and demand to see your papers because you’re suspected of being a foreigner.”
Roman Quaedvlieg, the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force, held a press conference seeking to clarify his agency’s role in ‘Operation Fortitude’ after the publication of this article.
The Commissioner said the press release media quoted “was cleared at a low level in the organisation,” and “clumsily worded” when “read through the layperson’s eyes”.
He later clarified that none other than Don Smith, the Regional Commander of the Victorian and Tasmanian branches of Australian Border Force, approved the quotes.
You can read Commissioner Quaedvlieg’s full clarification here.