UPDATE: The Senate just voted to refer Dutton’s au pair case to a Senate inquiry.

In the debris-laden hurricane that federal politics has been in the last few days, it would be easy to miss some of the smaller controversies flaring up within the wider issue of the Liberal leadership. Our most likely next prime minister — who just survived, by a single vote, a referral to the High Court over the public money his child care centres receive — has also been facing a lot of questions about some au pairs. In case, in the midst of everything, you missed that story, here’s what happened, and where it might end up.

What happened with the au pairs?

In 2015, Peter Dutton, a famously parsimonious immigration minister, granted visas to two unknown French travellers on “public interest grounds”. It happened twice, months apart. In both cases, young French travelers were detained by Border Force after revealing they intended to work as au pairs while in the country, despite that being a contravention of the tourist visas on which they were traveling. Both made a phone call while detained, and both were personally granted new visas by Dutton. In the case of the second visa, this was despite departmental advice that the au pair presented a high risk of contravening her visa requirements if she was granted another. 

Of course, the immigration minister can personally grant (or deny) a visa on any grounds they see fit, with no real oversight.

What else do we know?

Bollocks all, really. The department had been stalling and refusing to hand over any documentation — spending roughly $10,000 in the process — to the press for over a year, and when Australian Associated Press finally got their hands on the documents, they were heavily redacted. AAP took the department to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which argued identifying the au pairs was not in the public interest.

What’s happening now?

Two intriguing developments have come about in the last day. Firstly, The Guardian reported that former Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg is considering seeking to correct Hansard if it does not match his “personal knowledge” of Dutton’s intervention. Meanwhile, Labor Senator and legal and constitutional affairs committee chair Louise Pratt is referring “allegations concerning the inappropriate exercise of ministerial powers with respect to the visa status of au pairs” for a snap inquiry.

What has Dutton had to say?

When the story first broke, Dutton denied knowing the au pairs personally or professionally:

For the wider record, I do not personally know the individuals concerned, nor does my wife. They have never been associated with us in any way. We have never employed an au pair. There were two young tourists who had come in on a tourist visa and declared … [they] intended to perform babysitting duties while here. 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.

Do you know anything about the au pairs? Let us know.

Peter Fray

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