Authorities have cancelled a joint agency operation to patrol Melbourne streets this weekend following public unrest.
The inter-agency operation between Victoria Police, Australian Border Force (ABF) and six other organisations was to include background checks and target “people travelling to, from and around the CBD” on Friday and Saturday night.
But a statement from the ABF elicited public outcry, with concerns foreigners could be unfairly targeted for racially profiled visa checks motivating a ‘snap protest’ at Flinders Street Station in Melbourne.
The offending comments in the statement described that “any individual we cross paths with” could be targeted for “visa fraud”.
More than 200 protesters gathered at Flinders Street brandishing anti-racism placards and singing songs on Friday afternoon.
Victoria Police were forced to cancel a press conference on Friday afternoon to discuss the operation due to the protests.
And then later they cancelled the entire operation to cap off a shambolic day for law enforcement agencies.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) August 28, 2015
Earlier on Friday, Greens MP for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, said the checks could threaten the city’s reputation as welcoming.
“How will the Border Force distinguish between locals, visitors and visa holders?” he told AAP.
“Will every person in Melbourne now be asked to show their papers as they move about the city? Or will they only be stopping people with certain skin colours?”
Opposition leader Bill Shorten questioned the prior publicity of the operation.
“I do hope that any of these actions are done to try and protect Australian laws, to make sure that people are not overstaying their visas, to make sure that temporary guest workers are not being exploited,” Mr Shorten said.
“If you’re going to do a blitz, I don’t know why you’d necessarily telegraph it to the media first.”
But although the ABF issued a clarification on Friday afternoon stating: “the ABF does not and will not stop people at random in the streets and does not target on the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity”, public pressure won out in the end.
“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 said in a statement.
“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.”
Social media was almost completely against the move, with Twitter, in particular, running hot.
Deploying Border Force on the streets of Melbourne on a night Collingwood play is all part of the ‘Match Day experience’ I imagine. — Titus O’Reily (@TitusOReily) August 28, 2015
Soooooo this isn’t great news for people who look like I do……….. — Ketan Joshi (@KetanJ0) August 28, 2015
– with Gigi Silk and AAP