Media release no one read

It has been confirmed that the office of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton received a copy of the ‘badly worded’ Operation Fortitude press release, but no one read the missive that sparked outrage.

The press release, stating that “ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with,” caused outcry in Melbourne, with protestors ready to disrupt the city’s streets on Friday afternoon. As a result, the operation was cancelled.

Confirming that the press release had been received by his office, Peter Dutton said no one read or reviewed it as it was a planned, routine operation. He also said that there was never any intention for Border Force officers to carry out visa checks.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his office had no knowledge of the joint operation between Australian Border Force and Victoria Police, stating, “I want to make it absolutely crystal clear, as far as this Government is concerned, people will never be stopped in the street randomly and asked for their visa details,” he said.

“That’s the sort of thing that would never, ever happen in this country.” He added, “Nothing untoward happened except for the issue of a poorly worded press release.”

The badly-worded press release was issued by Victoria Police, and quoted the Commander for Victoria and Tasmania, Don Smith, directly as saying, “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.” 

Opposition leader Bill Shorten refused to accept that by not knowing of the operation, the Prime Minister could absolve himself from any blame. “The blame starts at the top. Leadership’s about taking the bad news as well as the good news,” Mr Shorten said. “Stop blaming the people in uniforms for what goes wrong and start taking some responsibility.”

While Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles said Mr Dutton’s explanation simply wasn’t good enough. “This is an astounding admission which portrays an incompetent minister,” Mr Marles said.

“Now that we know that this did go through the minister’s office, it only heightens the need for the minister to come out of hiding and face the Australian people.”

Is this just a storm in a tea cup? Should the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers be held responsible for a badly-worded press release? Does the strength and speed of the public reaction demonstrate the power of social media?