Sat, Sep 01, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Au pair scandal hits Australian politician who toppled leader

AFP, SYDNEY

An Australian minister was yesterday under mounting pressure to formally explain why he personally intervened to help au pairs from France and Italy after their tourist visas were canceled.

Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, the driving force behind a bitter Liberal Party coup that unseated Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister last week, has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

However, the scandal is deepening, with an Australian Senate committee inquiry due to scrutinize his decisions next week at the request of opposition politicians.

In the first case, Dutton, then immigration minister and known for his support of hardline policies, used his discretionary powers to free a Frenchwoman from detention in November 2015 and allow her to stay in the country.

The move was made after an appeal to his office by Australian Football League boss Gillon McLachlan, documents released under transparency laws showed.

The woman was reportedly planning to work as a live-in babysitter for a relative of McLachlan, but did not have the proper paperwork when she arrived.

National broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Corp and other media said Dutton’s intervention also helped a wealthy family that was also a Liberal Party donor.

The opposition Labor Party has been demanding to know whether their political donations influenced his decision to free the woman.

A second case emerged on Thursday involving an Italian au pair.

That woman was detained at Brisbane Airport, also in 2015, because Australian Border Force officials believed she planned to work as a babysitter in breach of her tourist visa.

Dutton overruled the decision, which benefited the family of a man he used to work with when he was a police officer before entering politics, according to leaked documents cited by local media.

Critics have contrasted the cases with Dutton’s unwavering commitment to keeping asylum seekers in overseas detention under Canberra’s immigration policies.

However, Dutton yesterday insisted that they were “common-sense” decisions.

“I make a decision that I believe is in the best interest of our country. I do it every day with visas,” Dutton told commercial radio 2GB. “That’s the whole reason for ministerial intervention, because you believe the department has made a decision that is not right.”

He added in a separate statement that he has dealt with hundreds of representations over immigration matters every year.

“I consider cases on their merits. Any suggestions cases are determined on any other basis, including whether I knew the individual who referred the matter, is completely ridiculous,” he said.

However, Labor immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said the public would be stunned by the “troubling pattern” of interventions.

“It’s not about the powers, it’s about the process,” Neumann said, adding that most people would have expected the au pairs to be “put back on a plane and deported.”

Dutton launched a leadership challenge against moderate Turnbull last week, but was defeated by Scott Morrison in the race to become prime minister.

Senior Labor lawmaker Anthony Albanese suggested that the leaks about the au pair cases were “payback for his role in wrecking the Liberal Party last week.”

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