‘Unprecedented’: PM slams Morrison’s asylum seeker boat move on election day
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has delievered a scathing assessment of the actions from the Coalition after it was revealed it pressured a government agency to reveal it had intercepted an asylum seeker boat before the operation was completed.
A report by The Department of Home Affairs found the Morrison government demanded Australian Border Force release a statement it stopped a Sri Lanka vessel.
Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo released the damning document on Friday that detailed the hours leading up to then-prime minister Scott Morrison was asked about it in a press conference by a reporter half way through polling on May 21.
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Then-home affairs minister Karen Andrews - who had the power to demand a statement and the Border Force were powerless to refuse - told the agency "the prime minister wants a statement", or the words to that effect, according to the report.
She then told the commander of Operation Sovereign Border to have a statement issued to her office within 15 minutes.
A draft release was sent to Ms Andrews' office at 12:34pm but an amendment had to be made to say the boat had likely arrived "illegally" from Sri Lanka.
It then directed ABF to email select journalists - some who were on the campaign trail with Mr Morrison - about the intercept but Mr Pezzullo said it did not happen.
An official statement was the posted onto the Border Force website at 1pm prior to his press conference at Lilli Pilli Public School at 1:03pm.
Later a text message was sent out to millions of Australians, some who were yet to have their say at the polls, saying: "BREAKING: Australian Border Force has intercepted an illegal boat trying to reach Australia. Keep our borders secure by voting Liberal today."
The report flagged there was "pressure placed on officials to release a statement regarding the interception ... prior to the conclusion of the operational activity" and added "the pressure was exacerbated by the direction to draft and publish the statement within 15 minutes".
Mr Albanese was questioned by Sunday Agenda host Kieran Gilbert if he agreed with sentiments from the secretary who said the public service was preserved as the public servants did not amplify the news of the boat intercept.
"Well, the secretary acted appropriately against the pressure from the then-government," he told Sky News Australia.
"This was the final act of the Morrison government and it was one that trashed convention and sought to abuse the relationship with the public service.
"It was a disgraceful event, it shouldn't have happened and it shouldn't happen again."
Gilbert the posed whether he would consider amendments to the caretaker convention to ensure sensitive information was only released if it was a threat to life or an urgency to that magnitude that Australians had to know about.
The Prime Minister insisted he would "look at" any recommendations before he pointed to the word convention.
"Convention relies upon some element of decency and good will, that’s the nature of convention as opposed to rules," Mr Albanese said.
"Here we have a government that was prepared to trash the convention.
"The Morrison government weren’t so much conservatives because conservatives believe in respecting institutions and respecting constitutions.
"There was nothing respectful about the actions of the government on that day.
"It was opportunistic, it was unprincipled, it was unprecedented, and it shouldn’t have happened."
Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil argued the Coalition should "hang their head in shame" for its actions on election day.
“They pressured uniformed officers to break with democratic protocols that protect all of us in this country,” she said on Saturday.
“In doing so they clearly prioritised their own political interests over the national interest.”