Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has, in recent days, been on a crusade against Fairfax and the ABC, who he accuses of being on a “jihad” to bring down the government.

He repeated his comments, first made on Monday, on Ray Hadley’s 2GB show: “All I can say is the reaction to the Australian Border Force operation in Melbourne was hysterical by some of these media outlets and it’s hard to seek an explanation for that,” he told Hadley yesterday. “They [the media] run things. They don’t check with my office beforehand.”

Many journalists responded by saying they never had their calls to Dutton and his office returned, particularly if they were viewed as “unfriendly media”. In Crikey‘s experience, he’s one of the hardest ministers to get a comment from, and that’s a widely shared view among the industry.

Dutton’s difficulty with the media was again on display yesterday, at a press conference on a cocaine bust, where he was asked if his department is considering an amnesty on cancelling the visas of foreign students who testify about underpayment and other exploitation (working more than 20 hours a week can get them deported, but regular rorting of this system by 7-Eleven was uncovered by Fairfax and the ABC in recent days). Dutton gave a non-answer:

“Well, look, I think any of those matters obviously need to be properly investigated and the appropriate response be provided at the time, but there’ll be a process for that to go through and we can make comment on that in due course.”

But just before he started answering the question, the head of Border Force (the new agency combining customs and immigration) Roman Quadedvlieg quickly and quietly mutters “considering it” to Dutton, barely moving his lips. The advice, which sounds like a suggested answer and a glimpse into the Department’s thinking on the issue, is clearly picked up on Dutton’s mic, as last night’s ABC 7.30 points out in this report (around the 6-minutes-30-seconds mark). If Dutton had taken Quaedvlieg’s hint and said the Department was considering granting an amnesty, it would have given journalists a story and encouraged those considering telling authorities about their exploitation to step forward. Instead, all that was halted by Dutton’s tendency for extreme caution (at best) in his dealings with the media. And then he complains that they don’t make him look good.

Peter Fray

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