Statement by ABF Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg on the ABF’s role in Operation Fortitude

E&OE. Check against delivery.

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  I just want to make a quick statement and then I'll take a couple of questions and then I need to head off.

I'd like to clarify the Australian Border Force's misunderstood role in the conduct of a Victoria Police-led operation, Operation Fortitude. Operation Fortitude is an operation that was established by the Victorian Police in order to create a safe city environment within Melbourne.

The Australian Border Force is a secondary but supporting assist to that operation. Our role always was - and still is into the future - a supporting role in terms of immigration compliance. The Australian Border Force will stand by to receive the referrals from the Victorian Police where there are any immigration compliance issues to be enforced or dealt with.

There was never any intent for the Australian Border Force to proactively go out and seek immigration breaches out in Melbourne city. I'm happy to take questions.

Question: That's not what your statement said because of course you said that ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD, speaking with any individual we cross paths with. Now, that sounds rather menacing doesn't it?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  It does. And that was a press release that was cleared at a low level in the organisation. It was, in my description, clumsily worded. It's portrayed a role which was not the agreed role between ourselves and Victorian police. Internal measures have been taken to remediate that issue.

Question: It's not just clumsily worded - it's actually not within the law, is that right?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  No, well, I think it's misunderstood. Taken into context, it makes absolute, perfect, legitimate sense. But read through the layperson's eyes - which I absolutely openly acknowledge - it's clumsily worded and it's been misconstrued and it shouldn't have been worded that way.

Question: Given what you say was the actual intention for Border Force over the weekend, why would it make sense to tell everybody that you were going to be there? Because surely then people who had visa problems wouldn't go out in Melbourne on Saturday night, would they?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  No, look, these operations are run all the time, all around the country, by the state and territory police jurisdictions. They're intended to create safe environments and if we can market that in advance in terms of the increased police presence and other authorities and that creates a safe environment then that's also part of the agenda.

Question: But you weren't the lead agency on this were you?  Victoria Police were the lead agency?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg: That's absolutely correct.

Question: So why did the ABF feel the need to put out a statement when the Vic Police were [indistinct]?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  Well, as I explained to you that was a press release that was released at the lower levels of the organisation. It incorrectly construed what our role was. I've mentioned a couple of times now we are a secondary referral agency with that operation.

Question: Did Mr Smith not see the quotes that were in his name?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  Mr Smith did see the quotes that were put in his name.

Question: [Indistinct] that clumsily worded press release you've referred to was sent out a low level of the organisation. Who did it go to, who checked over the wording, and was the Minister's office at any stage involved in issuing press releases from Border Force?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  On the latter point, no, the Minister's office is not involved. The press release was circulated at a regional level in the state of Victoria.

Question: But Mr Smith isn't low level, right? And he saw the quotes that were in his name?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  The level is all relative. It's low level. I didn't see it. It's a low level in the organisation as far as I'm concerned.

Question: Commissioner, did Mr Smith say officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individuals we cross paths with?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg: We've already covered that ground. I said yes, it's clumsily worded. Any other questions?

Question: So did he say that or did he not say that?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  It's in the press release. We've covered that, it's clumsily worded.

Question: Will any action be taken against the person who wrote the press release?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  That's an internal disciplinary matter; I'm not going to intend to canvas that here.

Question: Does Mr Smith still have his job today?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg: Yes, he does.

Question: How embarrassing is it for the Border Force that this has happened?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  Oh, look, it's an unfortunate incident, and it shouldn't have occurred. Remediation will be put into place but, you know, it's not a fatal embarrassment.

Question: Have you apologised to the Victorian Police and the Victorian Police Minister because they've had to call off this whole…

Commissioner Quaedvlieg: I've had a conversation today with the Chief Commissioner of the Victorian Police Force. We're good colleagues, we have good institutional relationships. That's as far as I'm going to take that conversation.

Question: If Mr Smith is the head of Border Force in Victoria and Tasmania, and he saw those quotes, did he not understand what his own organisation was doing on Saturday night?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  Look, I think we've covered that ground. My point is that…

Question: No, sorry, I don't understand the answer.

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  …no, no we have covered the ground. The point is that Mr Smith cleared that press release, it was released at the level, it was taken out of context, it should have been better explained, it was clumsy.

Question: Well, this raises the question, though, of whether or not Mr Smith understands the Act under which he works, if he would allow something like that to go ahead?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  No, look, I can assure you he does. This was an unfortunate misconstruction of wording. It shouldn't have been the case and unfortunately it has been misunderstood.

Thank you.

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