Border Force fiasco: how to create a public relations disaster

The Australian Border Force’s announcement that it would be combing Melbourne’s streets for visa fraud this morning has been a public relations disaster, ending in cancellation and a whole lot of bad press for an operation that wasn’t even their own.

It’s a lesson in how quickly a story can turn bad: it took a mere few hours from the announcement of the Australian Border Force’s involvement in Victoria Police’s Operation Fortitude on Friday morning for the agencies involved to backtrack and, ultimately, cancel the entire exercise.

The ABF’s bellicose language resulted in snap protests — at the place where many journalists were invited for a press conference, right across the road from an earlier event featuring Christopher Pyne at which protesters had been present, only for the press conference itself to be cancelled.

It has also invited speculation that this was one of the media-driven weekly national security “announceables” Laura Tingle reported had been requested by the National Security Committee of the cabinet in the lead-up to next year’s election.

Initially ABF stated it would join a range of agencies — Metro Trains, Yarra Trams, the Sheriff’s Office, the Taxi Services Commission and Victoria Police — “targeting everything from anti-social behaviour to outstanding warrants” in Melbourne’s city over the weekend.

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