Karen Andrews defends 'disgraceful' election day stunt after boat report

·3-min read

Former Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has defended her role in an election day stunt which the new Labor government has labelled "shameful" and "unprecedented" in its cynicism.

A report released Friday confirmed Home affairs officials were pressured into releasing a statement about an asylum seeker boat interception on election day by former prime minister Scott Morrison.

The report included an extraordinary text message exchange, with the Morrison government demanding the statement be released as soon as possible and for specific journalists to be pre-briefed.

The PM's push defied regular conventions and stood in stark contrast to his government's previous secrecy over so-called "on water matters".

Speaking to Channel Nine on Saturday morning, Ms Andrews was keen to distance herself from accusations that her office was pressuring public servants to breach caretaker conventions.

Karen Andrews says her actions on election day were
Karen Andrews says her actions on election day were "lawful". Source: AAP

"I asked clearly for the statement to be put out in a very situational awareness type of report, so it really just stuck to the facts," she said.

"I think that it was appropriate to make sure that there was a very clear statement put out by the head of Operation Sovereign Borders and that is exactly what happened."

The department was given 15 minutes to draft and publish a statement by Ms Andrews' office, according to text message, with members of her team telling bureaucrats via text message that some in their camp were "furious" that it hadn't been released in that time frame.

Ms Andrews claimed there was no pressure placed on officials, calling the request "lawful". She also conceded the request was at the behest of the prime minister's office.

Mr Morrison urgently pushed for the announcement to be published so he could take questions about it on the morning of polling day, telling reporters that voters would need to return his government in order to stop future boat arrivals.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reportedly concocted the text message stunt. Source: AAP
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reportedly concocted the text message stunt. Source: AAP

Shortly after, text messages were sent to voters in certain electorates promoting the asylum seeker interception.

In the days after the election, Ms Andrews said she had no idea about the text messages.

"I had no knowledge of the text messages. I didn't know that they were even being contemplated," she said.

"A lot of things were happening on election day. What the party chose to do is a party matter ... it wasn't something that was endorsed by me."

On Saturday, she again denied knowing that text messages were being sent to Australians in an ostensible effort to incite xenophobia in a last-ditch effort to swing votes towards the Coalition.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil on Friday said the episode was "disgraceful, shameful and characteristic of a national government which frequently pursued political interests above the national interest".

"Their actions undermined the integrity of this complex operation, making it more difficult and dangerous," she said in a statement.

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