Peter Dutton used his ministerial powers to ensure an Italian au pair planning to work for a former Queensland Police colleague could stay in the country, the ABC understands.
The revelation comes just days after it emerged the Home Affairs Minister freed a French au pair from detention after AFL boss Gillon McLachlan got involved in that case.
Documents show the Italian woman, Michela Marchisio, was detained at Brisbane International Airport in June 2015 because Border Force believed she planned to work as a babysitter, in breach of her tourist visa.
Mr Dutton’s office, which has strongly denied any wrongdoing, asked the department for information about the case, and a senior officer warned “the grant of a visitor visa is of high risk”.
But on June 17, Mr Dutton overruled the officials and said granting a three-month tourist visa to the woman was “in the interests of Australia as a humane and generous society”.
On the same day, Ms Marchisio posted on social media saying “first night in Australia … FINALLY” with four packs of Tim Tams, before posting photos from Brisbane landmarks over the coming days.
The ABC understands Ms Marchisio was planning to work for Nicole and Russell Keag.
Mr Keag worked in the Queensland Police Service at the same time as Mr Dutton during the late 1990s.
It is unclear whether the Keag family lobbied Mr Dutton directly, or whether the Minister was aware of the family’s connection to Ms Marchisio.
Facebook posts suggest Ms Marchisio spent time with the family until at least August, but the ABC is not suggesting she breached her visa conditions.
“Any suggestions cases are determined on any other basis, including whether he knew the individual who referred the matter, is completely false,” a spokeswoman for Mr Dutton said.
“There are long standing intervention powers provided to ministers to consider and deal with these representations. These powers were the same under the former Labor government.”
Senate inquiry to probe intervention
Both European au pair interventions will be scrutinised by a Senate inquiry launched by Federal Labor to maintain pressure on Mr Dutton and seek a formal explanation from officials.
Before ensuring the French au pair, Alexandra Deuwel, could stay in the country, Mr Dutton was told his intervention could have financial consequences, and there was detail, “which does not support the Minister intervening”.
The Minister’s office was lobbied by Gillon McLachlan after the AFL chief was contacted by his second-cousin, Callum MacLachlan, whose family Ms Deuwel was staying with.
Callum’s father, Hugh MacLachlan, is a generous donor to the Liberal Party, although Mr Dutton’s office says he was not aware of that when the decision was made.
Mr Dutton this week strongly denied any wrongdoing and said hundreds of people including politicians and journalists lobbied for immigration ministers for visa interventions.
The Immigration Minister has wide-ranging powers to allow people into the country, even if it goes against departmental advice.
Decision based on ‘common sense’
On Thursday, Mr Dutton told Sydney radio station 2GB he approved the French au pair’s visa based on “common sense” and stressed he had “never been compromised” and never would be.
“I made decisions based on the merits of these cases, that’s exactly what I’ve done and I stand by the decision,” he said.
“I looked at it and thought it’s a bit rough, there’s no criminal history, she’s agreed the she wouldn’t work while I was there.”
In March, Mr Dutton told Parliament the two women had come to Australia on tourist visas and declared they intended to babysit while in the country.
“The decision that was taken … that those two young tourists would be detained and that they would be deported. I looked into the circumstances of those two cases and I thought that inappropriate,” he said.
Ms Keag declined to comment when approached by the ABC.