Protests against Australian Border Force visa checks in Melbourne August 28, 2015 28 Aug 2018

Australian Border Force (ABF) officers will check people’s visas on the streets of Melbourne this weekend as part of a police operation in the city’s CBD, the Federal Government has revealed.

Key points:

  • Border Force officers to check visas in Melbourne’s CBD
  • The agency says people will not be targeted on the basis of race or religion
  • Part of a broader operation including Victoria Police and other agencies
  • Lawyer says Border Force involvement is “unprecedented”

Officers will be positioned at various locations around the city and will speak “with any individual we cross paths with”, ABF regional commander for Victoria and Tasmania Don Smith said in a statement.

“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,” he said.

The statement said officers would work with “a diverse team of transport and enforcement agencies to target crime” in the CBD as part of Operation Fortitude.

“Tonight and tomorrow evening (Friday and Saturday) Metro Trains, Yarra Trams, the Sheriff’s Office, Taxi Services Commission and the ABF will join Victoria Police as part of the inter-agency operation,” the statement said.

“With a particular focus on people travelling to, from and around the CBD, the group of agencies will work together to support the best interests of Melburnians, targeting everything from anti-social behaviour to outstanding warrants.”

ABF says people will not be targeted on basis of race or religion

Controversial Australian Border Force visa checks, Operation Fortitude cancelled

Updated 3 minutes ago

A major policing operation planned for Melbourne’s CBD this weekend has been cancelled after a backlash over plans to include Australian Border Force (ABF) officials in the crackdown.

Key points:

  • Operation Fortitude cancelled after major public backlash
  • Border Force had planned to check visas in Melbourne’s CBD
  • Demonstrators protested against ABF involvement
  • MP compares Tony Abbott to Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin

Victoria Police issued a press release saying Operation Fortitude had been cancelled this afternoon.

Earlier, the ABF had said it would be checking people’s visas on the streets of the city centre as part of the operation, which also involved Victoria Police and other agencies.

The original announcement quoted ABF regional commander for Victoria and Tasmania Don Smith as saying officers would be positioned at various locations around the city and would speak “with any individual we cross paths with”.

The ABF then issued another statement saying: “To be clear, the ABF does not and will not stop people at random in the streets … the ABF does not target of the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity”.

More details were expected to be released in a press conference at 2:00pm, but the event was cancelled after demonstrators began assembling outside Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station to protest against the operation.

The statement about the operation’s cancellation was then issued.

“Victoria Police has made a decision not to go ahead with this weekend’s Operation Fortitude,” it said.

“We understand there has been a high level of community interest and concern which has been taken into consideration when making this decision.

“Victoria Police’s priority is the safety and wellbeing of the whole community and we will continue to work with our partner agencies to achieve this.”

‘Intended to be standard police operation’: State Government

The Victorian Government also issued a statement apologising for the “unfortunate” and “inappropriate” characterisation of the ABF.

“The State Government was notified this month that Victoria Police would lead a joint-agency operation this weekend in the CBD aimed at keeping Victorians safe,” the statement said.

“We were advised it would target anti-social behaviour and commuters to ensure people got home safely.”

The Victorian Government said Operation Fortitude was “intended to be a standard police operation”.

“We fully support the decision by Victoria Police to cancel the operation after the unfortunate and inappropriate characterisation by the Australian Border Force today.”

Senator David Leyonhjelm said the cancellation was “good news”, saying “we do not need any more uniformed goons”.

“Will they find another way to target people either through general harassment or racial profiling?” he said.

“Either the Border Force are doing racial profiling, in which case they should stop it, or they are hassling everyone, and they should stop that as well.

“This indicates that the Border Force should be radically downsized and its workers allowed to do something useful for a living.”

Under the Migration Act, an officer may require a person who the officer knows or reasonably suspects is a non-citizen to show their ID or their proof of citizenship or visa.

‘Stalin would be proud’: Wilkie

In the wake of the blunder, independent MP Andrew Wilkie compared Prime Minister Tony Abbott to former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

“Joseph Stalin would be proud of Tony Abbott,” he said in a statement.

“Just as East Germany’s Stasi would be delighted with the Australian Border Force — why, even [Chilean dictator] General Pinochet would be impressed.

“The decision by the Federal Government to cancel this weekend’s security operation in Melbourne is a welcome respite, for now at least, but the Government has shown its hand by planning the operation in the first place.

He said the community was right to protest the Government’s actions, saying it was turning Australia into a “police state”.

“The community was outraged at the prospect of the random visa checks and should remain incensed with the Government for thinking such an activity would be acceptable in the first place,” he said.

“Australia is now a police state where citizens could be stopped in the street to have their papers checked. Are we to presume the enemies of the state will start to be disappeared?

“Since the terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, Australians have been subject to countless new security law excesses, including the mandatory retention of metadata by the current government.

“To now have the prospect of the Australian Border Force “randomly” stopping people in Australia is surely the final straw.”

ABF involvement in operation ‘unprecedented’: lawyer

Before the operation was called off, lawyer Michael Bradley said the inclusion of the ABF was unprecedented.

“It looks like the Border Force is seeking to tie itself to a broader range of operations,” he said.

“It doesn’t change its jurisdiction or what it’s able to do, but this seems to be more about public perception than legal reality.”


Demonstrators gather outside Flinders Street Station

More details were expected to be released in a press conference at 2:00pm but the event was cancelled.

Leading up to 2:00pm, demonstrators assembled outside Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station to protest against the operation.