The federal government has said it would never condone random visa spot checks.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his department had no prior knowledge of the operation in Melbourne, which was cancelled following protests and criticism of his government.
He said nothing untoward had happened except the agency’s issuing a poorly-worded press release, describing it as a mistake and “over-the-top”.
“We would never stop people randomly on the street and demand their visa details,” he told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.
Such operational news releases were often issued under the authority of agency officials and not the government.
“That all happens at arm’s length from ministers, at arm’s length from the executive government,” the prime minister said.
Government frontbencher Simon Birmingham said it was up to Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg to figure out what went wrong.
“It’s really now up to him to get to the bottom of how this mistake occurred within his agency,” he said on Saturday.
But Labor demanded the government take responsibility for the “quasi police state” plan rather than shifting blame on the agency.
‘Like the Prince Philip decision’
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described the saga as one of the government’s most “catastrophically silly” ideas.
“It’s like a uniformed version of the Prince Philip decision,” he told reporters in Perth.
The initially-circumspect Labor leader stepped up his criticism a day after the operation was abandoned, saying it took some time for the full ramifications to sink in.
“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.”
Former independent MP Tony Windsor, who is considering a return to politics, accused the government of orchestrating a deliberate fear campaign to distract the public.
“I’ve got no doubt that some of these people in Abbott’s government hope that something goes wrong domestically – that they can taunt a Muslim into doing something,” he said.
Mr Abbott dismissed as “a bit of hyperventilation” accusations the operation was part of a political plan to shift the public focus on national security announcements.
Meanwhile, the union representing the agency’s officers will take safety complaints to the government and the Immigration Department.
The CPSU is concerned workers have been potentially put at risk for political aims.
Mr Abbott also defended the agency against ridicule, saying anyone who demeaned officers should be ashamed.
“The idea that they should be pilloried on the basis of a badly-worded press release just shows that some people readily get things completely out of proportion.”
– with AAP