Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee; Report
I present the report of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee on the allegations concerning the inappropriate exercise of ministerial powers with respect to the visa status of au pairs and related matters, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee. I move:
That the Senate take note of the report.
This afternoon, in tabling this report, I confirm that the evidence before the committee shows that Minister Dutton had both a personal connection with the intended employers of au pairs and misled the parliament in claiming otherwise. The report reads:
It is the view of the committee that Minister Dutton had a clear personal connection and existing relationship with the intended employer of the au pair in the Brisbane case. 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.
Minister Dutton was asked in the other place to categorically rule out any personal connection or relationship between the intended employer of either au pair. He began his answer saying, 'The answer's yes. I haven't received any personal benefit. I don't know these people.' This was a categorical denial that Minister Dutton had a personal relationship when his public comments, since this evidence heard during this inquiry, prove otherwise.
If he had no personal connection, then this request for intervention would have gone through the same procedures as any other ministerial intervention, the majority of ministerial interventions which go through the email accounts that everyone else is directed to when they undertake a request for a ministerial intervention. There is no basis for the minister to be able to say that he had no personal connection when the very genesis for this request came through his office because of his personal connections, not through the normal procedures of the department that people are directed to in order to request a ministerial intervention.
On that basis, there are serious and very substantial concerns about Minister Dutton's use of his ministerial powers to grant tourist visas to au pairs. I believe, and the committee has found, this undermines the integrity of Australia's immigration program. The reason there has been so much public interest and public debate about this is Australians have a right to be alarmed and upset when someone with personal connections is treated differently in the kinds of decisions that they receive from government. The report says:
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, reflects very poor judgement on the part of the minister.
As chair of the committee, I want to highlight to the chamber today that we received outstanding questions on notice from the Department of Home Affairs mere hours ago, this morning. We had 169 pages of evidence provided to the committee today, the day we were required to adopt our final report, meaning we could not consider the evidence and include it in our final report. But if we look at the evidence that we received—and I encourage people who have taken a public interest in these matters to look at those answers on notice—it confirms substantially the level of personal connection and the high level of intervention and cooperation by the minister's office with the parties asking for intervention to see these extraordinary cases being intervened in by the minister.
This evidence includes explosive emails from Minister Dutton's own Department of Home Affairs, and it demonstrates the high level of personal service the minister and his office gave in these cases, and which goes, I find, above and beyond the realms of belief. The failure of the Department of Home Affairs to provide this evidence to the committee in a timely manner is unacceptable, and characteristic, I think, of the minister's dismissive approach to this entire inquiry. I would have thought that the minister's officers, representing him in this inquiry when we heard evidence from them last week, should and could have had this information at hand when we held our hearings. Instead, I thought they came to those hearings with a view that they did not want to look too hard for the evidence so that they could obfuscate answering those questions as much as possible.
The inconsistencies presented in the department's evidence, the multiple clarifications of errors or inconsistencies in that evidence and the department's own admission that it was required to search through deficit legacy systems, including paper based records, leaves the committee in significant doubt as to whether all the relevant ministerial interventions have been captured by this inquiry. So, given this haphazard evidence, we may never know the full story or the full intentions of the minister. On that note, I wonder if that is perhaps why the new Prime Minister has stripped responsibility for Australia's immigration program away from Minister Dutton.
We can see from the evidence before the committee that, despite Minister Dutton's categorical denial, he knew the intended employer in the June 2015 case. The new evidence received today shows that Mr Dutton's own office reached out to the host family of the au pair and let them know directly that the minister's personal intervention was successful. Of all of the extraordinary humanitarian cases that require ministerial intervention, I can't but think that this is an extraordinary level of personal service provided by the minister's office and that it underscores the personal nature of those connections. It's definitely not consistent with the testimony provided during the inquiry by other migration agents about how these things are done.
In the same case, a senior departmental liaison officer in Minister Dutton's office stressed that the au pair should not be held in immigration detention. The email states, 'We also need to ensure that,' the redacted name, 'is not held in detention overnight.' Frankly, this is not a normal occurrence for someone who has had their visa cancelled at an Australian airport. If the Australian Border Force suspects you of defying the conditions of your visa, you are normally removed from the country on the next available flight.
The late released evidence shows that in the November 2015 Adelaide case the individual involved was in Australia to work as an au pair and to work for her host family at polo events. The Australian Border Force, the operational arm of the minister's own department, put forward evidence that showed that they disagreed with ministerial submissions, stating that they thought it was inappropriate for the minister to intervene. We had to fight very hard to get that evidence before the committee in terms of drilling down into those questions, and it was very clear that the government was very reluctant for that evidence to come to light. The duty inspector at the command centre emailed, stating:
The ABF does not agree with the content or think it appropriate that the minister intervene.
The individual in this case was already on a flight about to be deported from Australia and was offloaded from that flight before the actual ministerial intervention took place. How extraordinary is that?
I note Minister Dutton also missed signing the decision instrument for his ministerial intervention. So it's very clear today that this evidence, handed over—because the committee asked for it—by Minister Dutton's own department, further reinforces the view provided by the committee in this report that Minister Dutton acted to grant visas to au pairs at airports because he was helping out those with contacts—his mates. (Time expired)