Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Committees

Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee; Report

6:04 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

This report tells a sad and sordid story of a rampant abuse of power by the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Dutton. It reveals how personal relationships and political donations can influence ministerial decisions in this country. It shows how Minister Dutton was prepared to overrule his own department and intervene to ensure that people who his department believed would be likely to breach their visa conditions if they were allowed to enter the country in fact could enter the country.

It ended up revealing far more than just the privilege of access, the power of political donations and the way that Minister Dutton handles his portfolio. It revealed Minister Peter Dutton to be someone who is prepared to lie to the House of Representatives. That lie occurred on 27 March this year when Mr Adam Bandt, the Greens member for Melbourne, asked Minister Dutton in question time—and I'll quote directly from Mr Bandt's question:

Can you categorically rule out any personal connection or any other relationship between you—

that is, Mr Dutton—

and the intended employer of either of the au pairs?

In response, Minister Dutton did categorically rule out any personal connection or any other relationship to either of the intended employers of the au pairs, by saying:

The answer is yes.

Of course, what this inquiry and other processes in this parliament revealed was that in fact an email was sent to Minister Dutton on Wednesday, 17 June 2015 just after 4 pm by a person whom Mr Dutton worked with in the Queensland police force that began like this:

Peter

Long-time between calls.

So here's Mr Dutton, on one hand, categorically ruling out any personal connection or any other relationship and then we have someone he worked with on the Queensland police force starting an email to Mr Dutton with the words:

Peter

Long-time between calls.

Even if we put aside the preponderance of all of the other evidence that has emerged through this parliament, through the Senate inquiry, through the media, as this saga has unfolded, that email right there puts a lie to Mr Dutton's claim that he did not have any personal connection or any other relationship with the intended employer of either of the relevant au pairs. Of course, what that means is that he's lied to the House of Representatives. What that means is that that is technically a misleading of the House of Representatives and, given that he has not at the first available opportunity come into the House of Representatives and corrected the record, he should no longer have the confidence of the House of Representatives as a minister. He should either resign or, if he fails to do that, he should be sacked by the Prime Minister. That's what should happen here.

Nobody in the country, I reckon, is going to expect Mr Dutton to do the right thing here, because he's built a political career on doing the wrong thing. This is actually a test for Mr Morrison, our new Prime Minister—for whatever reason he ascended to that position—who has to decide if the standard set by Minister Dutton is one that he, Mr Morrison, is prepared to walk past, because the standard you're prepared to walk past is the standard that you accept. If he doesn't sack Minister Dutton, he's sending a message to all of his other ministers that the longstanding Westminster convention—if you're caught out misleading the House you have to go—is not going to apply on Prime Minister Morrison's watch. Let's be clear: Minister Dutton lied to the House and he has to go. And, if he won't resign and do the right thing, the Prime Minister has to sack him. If Mr Morrison fails to sack Mr Dutton for lying to the House of Representatives—and by extension therefore lying to every single man, woman and child in this country—then it is Mr Morrison's reputation that is on the line.

It is true that this committee conducted this inquiry within a very short period of time. In fact, it was the view of the Australian Greens, which we expressed in our dissenting report, that the committee should in fact have requested a further extension to its reporting date from the Senate to give the committee the capacity and time to resolve discrepancies in evidence between the evidence given by the Department of Home Affairs and the evidence given by former Australian Border Force Commissioner Mr Roman Quaedvlieg. We also believe that an extension would have given the committee time to conduct an audit of documents and communications relevant to the inquiry that were generated and held by the Department of Home Affairs, which of course includes the Australian Border Force and the Minister for Home Affairs' office. We believe that, had the committee had an opportunity to do that rigorous audit of relevant documents, it would then have been in a place to invite Mr Quaedvlieg to attend a committee hearing to give evidence. Unfortunately, that wasn't ultimately the view of the committee.

What this committee did recommend in its majority report is particularly important and relevant. Firstly, it recommended that the government strengthen the minister's tabling statements to parliament on ministerial interventions by requiring the minister's statements to declare whether or not each ministerial intervention was 'made in accordance with ministerial guidelines'. I think that's a small but important step. Secondly, the committee recommended in its majority report that the Senate consider censuring the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon. Peter Dutton MP, 'for the actions examined in the report, for failing to observe fairness in making official decisions as required by the Statement of Ministerial Standards'. I'll put on the record now that the Australian Greens absolutely believe the Senate should censure the minister for that. Thirdly, the majority report recommended that the minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs 'provide, within three sitting days, an explanation to the Senate responding to the matters raised in this report'. I genuinely hope that the minister in this place representing the Minister for Home Affairs acknowledges that recommendation from the majority report and is prepared to come in and make the relevant statement—that is, make an explanation to the Senate responding to the matters raised in this report.

I only have a short time left, but it does give me an opportunity to address one more matter that's emerged through this sad saga, and that is Minister Dutton's beyond-belief claim that he in fact intervened and overrode his department to allow au pairs into Australia because he believed it was a humanitarian act. Give us all a break, Minister Dutton! He is the minister who has overseen a rampant abuse of human rights on Manus Island and Nauru. He is the minister who caused humanitarian calamity after humanitarian calamity on Manus Island and Nauru. He is the minister who fights tooth and nail in the Australian legal system to keep children who are dying away from the medical help and support they so desperately need. He is the minister who colluded with the Papua New Guinean government to order the cutting off of drinking water, food, electricity and much-needed medications for over 600 people in the Lorengau detention centre on 1 November last year. He is the minister who has overseen an offshore detention regime and an onshore detention regime based on cruel— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.

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