Correspondence tabled in Parliament on Monday has cast fresh doubt over Peter Dutton’s explanation about the growing au pair scandal, Labor and the Greens say.
The Home Affairs Minister is under pressure over his decision to stop the deportation of two foreign au pairs after lobbying from AFL chief Gillon McLachlan and Russell Keag, a colleague from Mr Dutton’s time in the Queensland Police Service more than two decades ago.
Mr Dutton tabled an email from Mr Keag, strongly denying he misled Parliament about his connection to the prospective employers of the women. He claimed the email, sent to his public email address, was evidence he did not have a connection to Mr Keag.
‘Long-time between calls’
“Peter, long-time between calls,” the email said, serving to add to claims Mr Dutton had misled Parliament in March when he ruled out having any connection to the cases.
“I did not have a personal connection or any type of relationship with the people involved in these matters,” Mr Dutton told Parliament.
“No reasonable person could come to the conclusion that my professional association through working in the same large public service some 20 years ago constitutes a personal connection or relationship.
“A staff member in my office asked me if I knew this person. My initial response was ‘who?’
“At no time did I speak with the Australian Border Force commissioner, the departmental liaison officer or any other member of the department regarding this matter.”
Australian Border Force boss Roman Quaedvlieg provided new evidence to a parliamentary committee on Monday, telling MPs he could have been mistaken when he said Mr Dutton’s chief of staff Craig Maclachlan had asked him about how to stop the deportation of an au pair for “the boss’ mate” in June 2015.
He raised the prospect of a new, third au pair case to explain the incorrect date.
“I distinctly recall thinking after that call terminated that it was unusual for the minister’s chief of staff to ring me directly on such a low-level transactional issue when he could have tasked the office’s departmental liaison officer which would have been the ordinary first point of contact to obtain information of an operational nature,” Mr Quaedvlieg said.
“My sense at the time was that Maclachlan was involved because of the identity or status of the prospective employer which would escalate the seniority of involvement in the minister’s office.
“I concede that I may have been honestly mistaken in anchoring that conversation to a date in June 2015, however in light of the remarkably coincidental information I will provide to you below I contend that not only is it an understandable error, but moreover renders the only logical conclusion that a second Brisbane ministerial intervention case may merit the committee’s further inquiry.”
Labor remains unconvinced by Mr Dutton’s explanations and said it will seek to extend the committee’s inquiry to allow more time to consider Mr Quaedvlieg evidence.
“The Minister for Home Affairs made a statement on indulgence allegedly to clean up having misled the house and, in doing so, misled the house twice,” Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said.
Labor is also looking for a way to refer Mr Dutton to the High Court over possible constitutional eligibility issues connected to his involvement in two Brisbane childcare centres.