What The Taiwanese Can Learn From The Melbourne Operation Fortitude Incident

What The Taiwanese Can Learn From The Melbourne Operation Fortitude Incident
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

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By Gnepsinned

Aug 28, 2015    09:16 am

Don Smith, ABF (Australian Border Force) Regional Commander for Victoria and Tasmania, issued a “notorious” press release saying the ABF will conduct a huge operation with police and transportation officers targeting visa inspection of pedestrians at various locations on the streets of Melbourne.

“You need to be aware of the conditions of your visa; if you commit visa fraud you should know it’s only a matter of time before you’re caught out,” he said in a statement.

Aug 28, 2015   1:27 pm

ABF’s announcement irritated the public, resulting in hundreds of people rounding up a snap rally at Flinders Street Station, Melbourne to protest against the racial discriminative operation. The protesters soon marched to the intersection of Swanston Street and Flinders Street. The jammed trains and vehicles triggered traffic chaos and upset many drivers, but the entire demonstration went on peacefully.

ABC News interviewed a woman at the scene and used the term “Orwellian,” which is derived from the book, “1984,” written by George Orwell, to describe the authoritarian behavior of the ABF. The woman said to the reporter, “This shouldn’t happen in Australia,” meaning the democratic Australian would not treat its citizens through authoritarianism.

An ABC anchor and journalist reporting live at the scene also seemed shocked because it only took four hours for the protesters to assemble after the press release was issued. The messages spread incredibly fast on Twitter and other social media platforms.

Aug 28, 2015  2:37 pm

An hour after the event was exposed to the media the ABF abruptly cancelled the visa checking operation.

Due to the accumulating complaints from citizens in Melbourne, the ABF first clarified that they will not stop people for random visa check and will hold a press conference with VicPD (Victoria Police Department) outside the Flinders Street Station to explain to the crowd the entire operation, officially named Operation Fortitude. However, the press conference was suddenly cancelled and the whole operation was terminated half an hour later.

The Australian government’s explanation is full of contradictions

The whole incident did not come to an end after the ABF announced the cancelation of the operation. Mainstream media reported on this incident in long pages, condemning the government for infringing human rights and even used “Border Farce" to describe the five-hour long event.

Roman Quaedvleig, member of the ABF committee, later admitted the press release issued that morning had “incorrectly construed what our role was… it should have been better explained, it was clumsy.”

Quaedvlieg also mentioned the press release was cleared by the lower levels in the organization, hinting that he and other high-level officers were not responsible for this event. But the press release was confirmed to bear the approval signature of the regional supreme commander, Smith, who is apparently not a lower-level officer.

Later the public started to blame the Minister of Immigration Peter Dutton. But Quaedvlieg clarified that the minister was not involved in the operation because the order was given at Victoria Region level, not from the central government. The media then asked Dutton’s spokesperson if the minister was informed of the entire project, and the office replied that the minister is not in command of regional tasks.

The media later revealed that the press release had been sent to Dutton’s office two days before the announcement as an attachment to a briefing note about the weekend operation. “It was not opened or read because it looked like a routine operation,” the spokesperson said.

The original press release mentioned, “ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with,” but in the clarification press release, they tried to play down the scope of the operation, explaining the inspection operation is said to be conducted in multiple locations, but the officers will actually be at only two locations.

After the press release was announced on the morning of October 28, the reporter interviewed with NSW Police Minister Troy Grant right away. Grant was asked if Sydney could be expected to host such joint operations in the future. He said the Border Force “already engages in NSW … so it’s just Victoria catching up.”

After the operation was cancelled, Grant’s office clarified that he was referring only to joint raids of premises, such as brothels, that have been carried out by the NSW police and immigration officials for many years.

The reporter interviewed the leader of the opposing Australian Labor Party Bill Shorten. He not only failed to condemn the operation the moment it was announced but said, “Labor obviously believes in targeting crime,” and “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." But on the next day, after the mass protests erupted and public opinions blew out dramatically, Shorten changed his attitude and began to severely criticize the Abbott government, saying it was “becoming a giant blame factory.”

What was wrong with the operation?

Operation Fortitude was the first time the border institution collaborated with transportation and police units. People living or commuting between central and suburban Melbourne might be targeted in the operation. Victoria Police Department even planned to dispatch police car, narcotics dogs and license plate recognition cars around several locations in downtown Melbourne. All of this was to crack down on anti-social behaviors, visa fraud and other crimes.

But was this wrong of the government? Of course. One of the most worrisome problems is racial profiling. Racial profiling refers to discriminatory practices used to determine suspects involved in specific crimes or illegal behaviors. The authorities target an individual’s race, religion, nationality and other aspects, and then reinforce the monitoring and examination of certain categories of people.

This kind of problem is common in immigrant countries such as the US, Canada, Australia and other counties with diverse ethnic groups. For example, in the US, an African-American teenager with dark complexion driving a luxurious car is more likely to be stopped and interrogated by the police (to see if the car is a stolen vehicle). Passengers with Middle East or Arabian countenances are prone to be stopped by custom inspectors and their luggage is more likely to be checked repeatedly. In order to crack down on illegal immigrants, immigration authorities often conduct abrupt investigation at certain grocery stores and interrogate people based on their skin color, language fluency (to see if the person is good at Spanish) and so on.

Numerous studies have shown that racial profiling is neither efficient nor does it have effects on combating crimes because the operation increases the number of inspections only on certain ethnic groups so people will see more cases that “correlates race and criminal behaviors.” Moreover, racial profiling will raise community antagonism, making it likely for minorities to not only lose faith in law enforcement agencies, but also become subjects of public humiliation and self-deprecatory. This could be a huge loss for the society.

Another problem is the gradually militarized Australian immigration system. In July, Australian government merged the former Customs and Border Protection Bureau and the Immigration Bureau into the current ABF. After the two organizations were combined, ABF officers have more power than former department officials, including the power to detain offenders and carry guns. The Australian government has also allocated AU$ 100 million (approximately US$ 73 million) to create a new hardline image for the ABF.

However, the incident this time took place only two months after the merge. Human rights lawyer, Julian Burnside, says this shows the situation is worrying.

“The alternative is then using racial profiling, which is just extraordinary. And for what? To try to find the less than one tenth of a percent of the population who they suspect have overstayed?”

“The benefit to society of these sorts of approaches seems to me to be much much less than the damage to which it does to a society by instilling fear,” he says.

Adam Bandt, member of The Greens in Melbourne, is also concerned about the impact on the city’s reputation as a friendly city for tourists.

“Melbourne shouldn’t be a place where a government officer can stop you in the street and demand to see your papers because you’re suspected of being a foreigner,” he said.

What can the Taiwanese learn from this event?

Though the operation of the Australian authorities was shocking and absurd, thankfully, most Australians and the media are in consensus that what the government did was wrong. They put a stop to the inappropriate policy in time and correctly played their roles supervising the government as citizens.

If the same scenario occurred in Taiwan, perhaps some of the people would support whatever the government did and would back up the government’s good intention of battering overstayed foreigners without hesitation. This kind of people might further argue bitterly with the protesters, but soon after the public opinions aren’t concerned about the event anymore, people might let the government continue to extent its authoritarian clutches into our civic life.

If this is the outcome, it shows the influence left by authoritarianism. Traditionally, Taiwanese people believe the only way to make the society stable and peaceful is to resort to the government’s military power or through imposing fear over the people. Too much freedom and human rights will only generate chaos. Such idea originates from the haunting curse of authoritarian in the past. People severely lack the idea of fighting for our basic human rights and help cultivate the ridiculous scenery of cheering for the perpetrators while being victims without knowing it.

To face this event with the correct mind, we should know that cracking down on terrorism and crimes should go with protecting human rights. When the government is trying to deprive the rights of citizens in the name of anti-terrorism or anti-crime, the ambiguous space between law and human rights is likely to help breed abuse of power.

Moreover, fighting against terrorism or crimes should not just rely on police enforcement or military power. They can only solve the surface of the problem but will never be able to deal with the core of illegal behaviors.

In this “Border Farce,” the Australian citizens condemned the government’s violation of people’s fundamental human rights, regardless of their political status. The power of new social media worked rapidly and prevented the government from enforcing improper policies. It also successfully displayed a good model of what a citizen of a democratic country should do. This is what the Taiwanese people should take away from this incident.

Sources:

  1. Newcastle Herald, 31/08/2015, “Border Force: eight ways the government and bureaucratic spin is riddled with holes
  2. The Guardian, 28/08/2015, “Border force join police in huge visa fraud crackdown in Melbourne CBD
  3. The Guardian, 28/08/2015, “Chaos in Melbourne as protests force border force to cancel visa operation
  4. The Daily Progress, 15/07/2012, “The noxious effects of racial profiling

Translated by June
Edited by Olivia Yang