19 Sep 2018

    "We May Never Know" What The Go With The Au Pairs Was

    The home affairs minister sought to ensure an Italian woman was not to be held in immigration detention.

    Mick Tsikas / AAP

    Emails and other documents released by the Department of Home Affairs reveal that home affairs minister Peter Dutton wanted departmental help in granting a visa to an au pair stuck at Brisbane Airport in 2015 within one hour.

    The documents were released by the Senate committee looking into Dutton's decision to grant visas to two au pairs – an Italian woman in Brisbane, and a French woman in Adelaide – in 2015.

    The Italian woman was set to be deported after she arrived in Australia in June 2015 and border officials determined she was here to work on a tourist visa.

    Dutton had claimed he had no personal connection to the au pairs, but it was later reported that the Italian woman was set to work for a man who was a former Queensland Police Service colleague of Dutton's 20 years ago, Russell Keag.

    Keag emailed Dutton's office to seek assistance getting a visa for the au pair. In the new set of emails released on Wednesday, Dutton's departmental liaison officer (who had their name redacted) told officials in the department at 6:33pm on June 17, 2015 that Dutton needed a submission to intervene and grant a visa to the woman, and that Dutton needed it "preferably in the next hour" as the minister was due at a 7:30pm meeting.

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    Other records contained in the release reveal that officers examined the woman's mobile phone when she landed in Australia and found text messages suggesting she would earn extra money as a babysitter for a "bit of cash to fund fun".

    "Extra money for fun is always welcome," the au pair replied.

    Other messages indicated that the purpose of her trip was to travel to Australia to work as an au pair.

    The woman was ultimately granted a tourist visa that day at 9pm, and the department liaison officer pushed to ensure she was not held in immigration detention that evening.

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    The Labor-majority committee report tabled in the Senate on Wednesday recommended the Senate censure Dutton for misleading the parliament in relation to personal connections to the case, given his link to the former Queensland police officer.

    Dutton has denied any personal connection save for working for QPS at the same time, despite the email from Keag suggesting they had spoken on the phone in the past.

    The committee found Dutton's actions "do no reflect community expectations" on how the power to grant visas should be used.

    In tabling the report, committee chair, Labor senator Louise Pratt, said that "we may never know" the whole story behind the au pairs saga, but suggested it might be why assistant minister David Coleman now has responsibility for immigration under Dutton.

    The dissenting Coalition report said there was no evidence of wrongdoing, and "that not only is there no smoking gun, there is in fact no gun."

    Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

    Contact Josh Taylor at josh.taylor@buzzfeed.com.

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