A series of emails has revealed the scramble made by Peter Dutton’s office and senior bureaucrats to have two au pairs due to be deported released from Immigration detention.
The Department of Home Affairs has released 169 pages of documents relating to Mr Dutton’s au pair interventions over the granting of tourist visas to the nannies.
The redacted documents paint a picture of a bureaucracy and staffers trying to get approvals for the au pairs to stay in the country as a flurry of emails is exchanged between key players right up until the last minute.
They reveal that in the case of the Italian au pair employed by Mr Dutton’s former Queensland Police colleague, senior officials were called upon late into the evening to make sure the young woman did not spend the night in immigration detention.
“This is urgent. The Minister requires this submission tonight (preferably in the next hour as he has an appointment at 7.30pm),” a senior department official notes.
This was despite paperwork showing the Italian au pair received texts from an unknown person which indicated she was likely to breach the terms of her tourist visa.
“From [redacted] on [redacted] ‘I don’t know if you are keen or not to earn some extra cash while you are here occasionally babysitting for friends?? Can put the word out for you if you are and a few friends would use you occasionally?? Locally?? Bit of cash to fund fun.”
She responded: “Perfect! … and for baby sitting … Sure! Extra money for fun is always welcome!”
After the visa was granted, the minister’s office reportedly rang the family of Russell Keag to inform them that the woman would be released so they could pick her up at the airport.
“The Minister’s office is contacting [redacted] hosts at the moment to advise them of this outcome.”
Department did not ‘think it appropriate that the Minister intervene’
In the Adelaide au pair case involving Alexandra Deuwel, the documents show staffers arranged for Mr Dutton to receive a printed copy of a ministerial intervention from Strategic Border Command while he was waiting in the lounge of Brisbane Airport for a 9.45pm flight to Jordan.
“This will be very tight, but we’re on it,” a senior department liaison officer writes to Mr Dutton’s chief of staff, Craig Maclachlan, at one point.
At one point, the department warns that taxpayers may have to bear the cost of the French woman’s deportation flight if her case was overturned, because it had already been scheduled for 10.35pm that night.
The emails show the au pair also told officials she had planned to volunteer with “disadvantaged children” while here and would engage in horse work at a polo event, and she did not think that was a breach of her visa conditions.
At 8.31pm that evening, an Australian Border Force duty inspector specifically writes that the department did not “think it appropriate that the Minister intervene”.
They make it clear that Border Force staff were concerned the childcare worker would breach her tourist visa given she had been counselled before.
She had also indicated she would receive accommodation from the South Australian pastoralists in exchange for caring for their children, something she believed was actually volunteer work.
In the case of Ms Deuwel, staffers realised after “the aircraft doors were closed behind the Minister” on Mr Dutton’s flight to Jordan that he had not signed one page of the relevant paperwork, but sought to implement the minister’s intention regardless, given his intent was clear.
Then, when the tourist visa could not be entered into the computer system, they sent emails making sure Brisbane staffers were aware a visa had been granted and the au pair could be released from detention.
They then emailed Mr Dutton three days later and requested he sign the document after the fact and backdate it to the Sunday.
Such was the effort of staff going above and beyond to make sure the French au pair was released, that an email was sent from one saying “thankyou soooo (sic) much”.
It is not clear who that email is from, other than it was one of a string of communications flying to and fro between bureaucrats and the minister’s office.
Another email said: “Sorry about all of this. Your team are awesome. Wish everyone else’s was too!”
They suggest officials were confident the visa would be granted with phrases like the decision “once made”, and staffers working out how the au pair would be released before Mr Dutton had officially decided to intervene.
“The Minister has also asked that, if he intervenes to grant a visa, that the client be very strongly counselled that they cannot work,” a liaison officer writes in another email.
This was despite the fact that at 4.30pm that Sunday a senior departmental liaison officer informed Craig Maclachlan in Mr Dutton’s office that it would take up to 24 hours to prepare a submission for the minister on his options for ministerial intervention, yet ensuing emails show it was made within the next five hours.
Senate inquiry into au pair interventions labelled a witch hunt
The documents have been released as part of a Senate inquiry into Mr Dutton’s handling of the ministerial interventions.
Minister Dutton has described the inquiry as a witch hunt.
“They thought they had a star witness who proved to be discredited. There is no third case, as referred to by one of the witnesses,” he said.
“They haven’t provided the evidence and that was clear in the inquiry. It will be a political report with political recommendations.”
He said queries come to his office through a variety of ways.
“The two issues … don’t deviate from normal practice,” he said.
“I look at matters on their merit. There was no cost to the commonwealth. That’s already been established.”