Scott Morrison ordered illegal boat interception announcement mid-operation on election day, report finds
The Morrison government “sabotaged the protocols” of Australia’s border security for “political gain” by publicly announcing the interception of a people-smuggling vessel on election day, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has said.
Then-prime minister Scott Morrison pressured the Operation Sovereign Borders task force to announce the interception of SIEV (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel) 915 on May 21, the day of the election, a report by Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo found.
The task force was asked by the prime minister’s office to issue a statement at 11.58am that day.
After internal wrangling, the statement was published on its website at 1.09pm that day.
Morrison had been asked about the vessel at a press conference moments before the statement was published.
“I’ve been here to stop this boat,” Morrison said.
“But in order for me to be there to stop those that may come from here, you need to vote Liberal and Nationals today.”
A text message from the Liberal Party was then sent out to voters two hours later, fashioned as a news alert.
“BREAKING – Aust Border Force has intercepted an illegal boat trying to reach Aus,” the text message read.
“Keep our borders secure by voting Liberal today.”
Pezzullo’s report, released today, noted the Morrison government’s actions were lawful, but pointed out it created difficulties during the operation.
“The detailed chronology of events indicates there was pressure placed on officials to release a public statement regarding the interception of SIEV 915 prior to the conclusion of the operational activity,” the report read.
“The pressure was exacerbated by the direction to draft and publish the statement within 15 minutes.”
O’Neil issued a scathing statement today after the release of the report.
“The former government had a duty to protect Australia. Instead, they sabotaged the protocols that protect Operation Sovereign Borders for political gain,” she said.
“Their actions undermined the integrity of this complex operation, making it more difficult and dangerous.”
She commended Border Force, Defence Force and public servants for acting with integrity and “the highest standards at all times”.
“The profound compromise of a military-led operation is without precedent in Australia’s history,” she said.
“It was disgraceful, shameful, and characteristic of a national government which frequently pursued political interests above the national interest.”