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Morrison's final act: PM ordered election-day release about stopping asylum-seeker boat

Politics

Just hours before Australians went to the polls last weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered the release of information about the interception and turnaround of an asylum-seeker boat to Australia’s north.

 

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The Operation Sovereign Borders Commander, usually gagged over “on water matters”, released a statement announcing that a “vessel has been intercepted in a likely attempt to illegally enter Australia from Sri Lanka”, the ABC has reported.

The ABC report claims the order to release the information was as the result of a direct request from the Prime Minister’s office.

Morrison used his last appearance before voting closed to confirm an unauthorised vessel from Sri Lanka has been intercepted on its way to Australia.

“I can confirm that there’s been an interception of a vessel en route to Australia. That vessel has been intercepted in accordance with the policies of government and they’re following those normal protocols,” he said.

“In the interests of full transparency in the middle of an election campaign, the Labor Party was advised of this and a statement has been issued by the border protection authorities.”

The ABC says that 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”.

New Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has described the release as “the politicisation of an asylum seeker boat” and will be subject to an inquiry.

Australian border authorities revealed, on Election Day, that the asylum seeker boat had been turned back the previous week.

Text messages to voters about the boat’s interception were also sent out by the Liberal Party.

The controversial announcement during the election caretaker period followed a request from former prime minister Scott Morrison’s office to publicly release details of the Border Force operation before it was completed, the ABC reported on Friday.

The move was an “entire abuse of proper processes” and normal protocols for the publication of boat interceptions were not followed, Prime Minister Albanese says.

“This statement was made so it could facilitate the sending of … potentially many millions of text messages to voters in a last-minute scare campaign,” he told ABC radio.

“A disgraceful act from a government which was prepared to politicise everything but solve nothing.”

The prime minister has asked the Home Affairs Department to investigate the decisions that led to the statement being released on election day.

But former education minister Stuart Robert said it was “hilarious” Albanese was criticising the former government given Labor’s own history of politicising boat arrivals.

The statement was appropriate to let Australians about the historical weakness of the Labor Party on border security, Robert said.

But he claimed to not have known the text messages to voters about the boat’s interception would be sent.

“The fact a boat turned up is a statement of fact. How the information was disseminated, you’ll need others to comment on having not been the home affairs minister at the time,” Robert told ABC radio.

On Wednesday, former home affairs minister Karen Andrews confirmed the text messages were sent without her approval or knowledge.

“I think Australian voters want to move on. The election is done and dusted, they want to get focused back on things that matter to them,” Robert said.

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