The Australian Federal Police has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn on whether it advised Prime Minister Tony Abbott to cancel a visit to Deakin University amid widespread protest against the Coalition's budget last week.
Appearing in front of a parliamentary committee on Monday, the AFP's deputy commissioner for national security, Peter Drennan, said the agency did not advise Mr Abbott to pull out of the visit to Deakin's Geelong campus.
But late on Tuesday, the AFP issued a statement, ''correcting its response''. In the letter, Mr Drennan asked that the record now ''reflect the fact that the AFP did advise the PMO [Prime Minister's Office] that the Prime Minister should not attend the event at Deakin University due to security concerns''.
Mr Abbott was branded ''cowardly'' by the students' union for pulling the plug on the visit last Wednesday. At the time, Education Minister Christopher Pyne told the ABC's Lateline program that the AFP was ''concerned about our safety'' as well as ''the safety of innocent bystanders''.
Mr Drennan's evidence to the Senate standing committee contradicted that. ''The type of threat that would need to exist for us to say not to go would probably be a serious terrorist threat or a threat made by a motivated group, which was going to be violent, or from some fixated individual. That was not the case in these circumstances, so it was not a matter where we said, 'It's too dangerous for you to be there'.''
In his letter on Tuesday, Mr Drennan said the responses made to the committee were based on internal AFP briefing.
''The AFP has sought clarification from the protection officer involved, who has advised that he did recommend to the Prime Minister's Office that due to security concerns the Prime Minister should not attend the event at Deakin University,'' he wrote.
Earlier, Senator Eric Abetz said: ''Just because they don't say, 'Do not attend,' does not mean that strong advice might have been provided as to cost, as to safety as to whether or not it would be a useful thing to do.''
He said the jostling of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella at other university campuses was a factor in the decision.
Labor senator Sam Dastyari said: ''They are political decisions … you are saying that a political decision was made not to attend.''
Last week, Victorian Premier Denis Napthine said: ''I think it's a sad day for Australian democracy that the Prime Minister can't attend important events in our country because of the threatening behaviours of a small minority.''