Grattan / Dutton back in spotlight after split Senate report on au pair affair

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ADAM Bandt from the Greens will try to move a no confidence motion against Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton today (September 20) after a Senate inquiry’s majority report said he had misled parliament in the au pair affair

Michelle Grattan
But the numbers are not there for the move to succeed.

The Labor-Green majority report said the Senate should consider censuring Dutton.

It found he had personal connections in the two 2015 cases, one in Brisbane and the other in Adelaide, when he intervened to grant tourist visas to two women, overriding his officials.

The officials had stopped the women, concluding they intended to work in contravention of the conditions of their visas.

The committee split along party lines. In a dissenting report, Coalition senators denounced the inquiry as “a farcical and shambolic witch-hunt”, which had come up with nothing. They said Dutton should be “commended for his prudent and diligent work as a minister”.

In March this year, Dutton, in response to a question from Bandt in parliament, said he did not have any personal connection or other relationship with the intended employer of either au pair.

But the report said that Dutton “had a clear personal connection and existing relationship with the intended employer of the au pair in the Brisbane case.” Dutton had known the man from their mutual days in the Queensland police force.

“Given his definitive answer in the House of Representatives, it is the view of the committee the minister misled parliament in relation to this matter”, the majority report said.

In the Adelaide case, Dutton had acted “expeditiously”. The request for intervention “may not have come to the attention of Minister Dutton prior to the individual’s removal from Australia if it were not for the fact it was raised through personal connections”, the report said.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, who had met Dutton several times, became involved on behalf of a cousin, with whom the au pair was to stay. McLachlan had his head of government and stakeholder relations, Jude Donnelly, formerly a Liberal staffer, contact Dutton’s office.

“Minister Dutton appears to have failed to give consideration to the damage to public confidence in the integrity of the immigration system that his actions could cause and, at best, [it] reflects very poor judgement on the part of the minister,” the report said.

Committee chair Louise Pratt, from the ALP, tabling the report, said: “Australians have a right to be rightly alarmed and upset when someone with personal connections is treated differently in the kinds of decisions that they receive from government.”

Labor’s Kimberley Kitching told the Senate Dutton should resign or be sacked, to which Liberal senator Ian Macdonald said neither would be happening.

Greens senator Nick McKim said this had been a “sad and sordid story of a rampant abuse of power.”

The Labor senators said in a statement that evidence released by Dutton’s department too late to be included “shows a level of personal service by the Minister and his office which goes above and beyond the normal level of service or occurrence when individuals enter Australia in breach of their visa conditions.

“Despite Peter Dutton’s categorical denial in parliament he knew the intended employer in the June 2015 Brisbane case, the evidence indicates Dutton’s own office let the host family of the au pair know the Minister’s personal intervention was successful.”

Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra. This article was originally published on The Conversation

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Michelle Grattan
Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra, Michelle Grattan is one of Australia's most respected and awarded political journalists.

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