Tony Abbott says Border Force’s Operation Fortitude was ‘over the top and wrong’

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has blamed the failure of Australian Border Force’s Operation Fortitude on a “clumsy” and “very very badly worded” press release saying the government would never stop people to randomly check their visas.

“It was over the top and wrong becasue we would never stop people randomly in the street demanding their visa details. We don’t do this sort of thing in Australia and it will never happen under this government,” said Abbott.

He added his office was not aware of the operation before its announcement.

Yesterday, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection announced that ABF officers would take part in an unprecedented operation and suggested it could include visa checks on people on the streets of Melbourne.

“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 media release read.

The operation would be focused on the city’s Metro trains, Yarra trams, taxis and the Sheriff’s offices, particularly focusing on people travelling to, from and around the CBD.

It was cancelled just five hours later by Victorian Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton following public backlash.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten described it as “one of the most catastrophically silly ideas I’ve seen this government do”.

“As more facts came to light yesterday, I don’t think there’s a single Victorian and indeed a single Australian whose jaw just didn’t hit the ground,” he said during the West Australian Labor conference.

“Truly, how dumb is this government some days?

“I fly out of Melbourne early yesterday morning and Mr Abbott goes and wrecks confidence in my home town as soon as I leave the state.”

Abbott maintains the operation was only designed to “crack down on antisocial and unlawful activity on Victorian transport hubs” and that “anyone who the Victorian Police suspected might have a visa issue would then be referred to Australian Border Force in the normal way”.

“That’s all that was ever intended yesterday,” Abbott said.

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