Labor and the Greens are calling on Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to publicly explain the intention of a cancelled operation involving Australian Border Force.
The multi-agency Operation Fortitude – due to take place in Melbourne over the weekend – was routine and a low-level activity, his office says.
It now admits to receiving a press release about the operation, which the force’s commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg has conceded was “clumsily worded”, but a spokesman told AAP the minister doesn’t direct operational matters.
Information came and was noted, he said on Sunday.
But Labor says Mr Dutton can’t sidestep the issue, which sparked widespread criticism after it emerged the plans included random visa spot checks.
“Peter Dutton needs to take responsibility and explain to the Australian people what was intended with Operation Fortitude,” opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles told reporters in Melbourne.
Greens Leader Richard Di Natale also wants Mr Dutton to come out of what he calls “witness protection” and get some control of his department.
“Minister Dutton is showing himself to be a bumbling and incompetent minister, who needs to step up or resign from his position,” he said.
There’s been widespread outrage at the operation, after the force initially said it would be speaking to anyone who crossed its path.
It later insisted background visa checks on individuals would be only carried out if referred to the agency.
Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop reiterated that checking people at random was never the intention, nor was it government policy.
“There was a poorly-worded press release … it was not ever going to happen,” she told Network Ten.
Ms Bishop also criticised Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who said on Saturday he didn’t want to live in a “police state”.
“Bill Shorten’s reaction is completely and utterly over the top,” she said.
But the opposition leader hit back, telling reporters in Brisbane it wasn’t a matter of whether Labor’s reaction was right or wrong.
“The real issue is Operation Fortitude has become a farce,” Mr Shorten said.
Instead of taking responsibility for the error, the federal government was throwing “some middle level, bureaucrat in a uniform under the bus”, he said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Victoria Police and the Victorian community would never support the operation as described in the Australian Border Force media release.
“You saw a very Victorian response as people literally took to the streets to protest against something that was ill-conceived … and not something supported by my government, not supported by Victoria Police and, indeed, not something that is supported by the Victorian community,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Sunday.