Tue. Jul 5th, 2022

One of Scott Morrison’s final acts as Prime Minister was to instruct the Australian Border Force (ABF) to publicize an interception of a suspected asylum seeker boat on election day.

As voters were going to the polls on Saturday, the Operation Sovereign Borders Commander issued a rare statement announcing a “vessel has been intercepted in a likely attempt to illegally enter Australia from Sri Lanka”.

The ABC can reveal that the highly controversial move during the election caretaker period followed a direct request from the Prime Minister’s Office to publicly release details of the sensitive ABF operation before it had been completed.

During his final press conference – held in the early afternoon of election day – the then prime minister was asked about reports emerging that morning about a boat arrival.

About the same time as the prime minister spoke, the statement from Rear Admiral Justin Jones, the Operation Sovereign Borders Commander, appeared on the ABF’s website, warning that the Australian government’s policy on illegal boat arrivals “remains unchanged”.

An image of the backs of two Border Force officers, their organization clearly shown by signs on their backs
Australian Border Force has since returned the asylum seekers to Sri Lanka.(ABC: Avani Dias)

The unusual disclosure of operational “on water matters” is now subject to an inquiry by Home Affairs Department Secretary Mike Pezzullo, ordered this week by the new Labor government.

Officials with knowledge of the events that occurred on Saturday say the Department of Home Affairs first examined the legality of issuing a statement during an election campaign because of concerns it could break caretaker conventions and politicize the public service.


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