Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed he used his ministerial discretion to grant visas on public interest grounds to two young tourists who came to Australia to perform babysitting duties.
Mr Dutton was asked about his June 17, 2015, decision to grant a tourist visa to a foreign au pair during parliamentary Question Time on Monday and also referred to a second case he intervened in on November 1, 2015.
The minister insisted he doesn’t know the individuals involved.
“Our family does not employ an au pair,” Mr Dutton told Parliament.
“My wife takes very good care in my absence, I might say, of our three children. We have never employed a nanny.”
Mr Dutton said he has intervened in hundreds of cases to either grant or cancel visas and takes the responsibility “extremely seriously”.
He said he thought it was inappropriate for the two young women to be deported.
“I thought if they gave an undertaking they wouldn’t work I would grant the tourist visa, they would stay, which they did, they didn’t overstay, they returned back home,” Mr Dutton told Parliament.
In the first case, a young woman had her eVisitor visa cancelled at the Brisbane International Airport which rendered her an “unlawful non-citizen” under migration laws
AAP understands she made a phone call to a contact while detained at the airport and was “quickly” granted a new visa which allowed her to lawfully enter Australia.
A document tabled in Parliament shows the woman was granted a tourist visa (subclass 600) after Mr Dutton used his ministerial discretion to intervene in the case.
An Immigration official familiar with the visa cancellation process at the airport was “very surprised”.
“It is hard to see how the grant of the new visa … was genuinely in the public interest,” the source told AAP.
“It is not very common for visas to be granted at the border after the visa a person arrived on is cancelled.”
The source said usually people were put on the next available flight home.
In the second case, Mr Dutton intervened to grant a visitor visa (subclass 600) to another au pair which lasted three months, despite warnings from his department.
“There are clear indications that x is intending to work in Australia and thus, the grant of a visitor visa is of high risk,” said a heavily blacked out ministerial submission obtained by AAP under freedom of information laws.
The submission also had references to Brisbane and Queensland airports.
Australian Border Force noted the woman had been “counselled previously with respect to work restrictions”, when suspicions about her intentions were aroused on a previous arrival on October 31, 2015.
Analysis of ministerial discretion statements for 2015 tabled in Parliament shows the bulk of these visas are granted to asylum seekers requiring bridging or temporary humanitarian visas or former residents returning to Australia.
A former department official told AAP under the ministerial discretion powers “the minister is God. He can do whatever he likes”.
An au pair is a person under 30 who travels abroad for a temporary period and lives with a host family. They generally receive free board, meals and spending money in exchange for child care and light housework duties.
Over the past two years, Mr Dutton’s department has been trying to suppress key details of the cases and the reasons underpinning the decisions.
AAP sought access to details surrounding the cases under freedom of information laws, but documents supplied were heavily redacted citing privacy concerns.
AAP is now awaiting an outcome from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Ministerial standards under the Turnbull and Abbott governments state: “it is critical that ministers do not use public office for private purposes.”
“Ministers are required to ensure official decisions made by them as ministers are unaffected by bias or… considerations of private advantage.”
“Ministers must ensure they act with integrity – that is through the lawful and disinterested exercise of statutory and other powers available to their office.”
Mr Dutton said there has been no breach.
“In my capacity as a minister I have never acted outside the ministerial code of conduct,” Mr Dutton said in a statement to AAP.
The department’s lawyer Brooke Griffin argued at the tribunal hearing that disclosure of personal information of the au pairs, including country of origin, employer and conversations with Border Force officials, would be unreasonable because it would breach privacy and make them identifiable.
“There is no evidence whatsoever, before the tribunal, of any personal link between the minister and the affected third parties in this case,” she argued.
“Nor could it be said that the release of the personal information … will shed any light whatsoever on the allegation… at the moment it is mere speculation.”
Tribunal member Chris Puplick, a former Liberal senator, promised to make a decision on the case “reasonably expeditiously” but gave no time frame.