Peter Dutton is not afraid to show who is in charge when it comes to deciding who comes and goes in Australia.
In the case of letting the New Zealand Warriors NRL team into the country amid a lockdown, the Home Affairs minister has once again proven he’s the one calling the shots.
On Sunday Dutton’s office confirmed that the Australian Border Force (ABF) had granted the Warriors special permission to come to Australia.
The decision means the 36 foreign nationals are exempt from travel restrictions, enabling them to enter Australia. Separate permissions were also granted to allow an international chartered aircraft with the NRL team on board to land at Tamworth airport.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
But as Crikey readers are all too aware, it’s not the first time Dutton has flexed his ministerial muscles.
Remember the au pair scandals?
First there was the one where he used his ministerial powers to save an au pair from deportation, intervening in the issue after the AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan raised the case on behalf of his relatives. Dutton defended his “common sense” decision, but leaked emails suggested he was acting against the advice of his own department.
Then there was the one where the minister used his powers again to grant a visa to an Italian au pair who was intending to work for the family of one of Dutton’s former Queensland police force colleagues. Dutton was acting on a request from his former colleague to overturn a border control decision on the au pair, releasing her from detention and allowing her to enter the country.
Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo
Dutton used his power as immigration minister to authorise then-Labor MP Sam Dastyari to hold a private, expedited citizenship ceremony for Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo’s wife and children.
Citizenship ceremonies are usually held in public, and a Four Corners story claimed the private ceremony allowed Huang’s family to effectively skip the citizenship ceremony queue and obtain their Australian passports in early 2015.
Huang ultimately failed in his citizenship bid after ASIO objected to his links to the Chinese Communist Party. Dutton denied claims that he conferred special treatment on Huang’s family.
Oil and gas workers
Dutton used his ministerial powers to exempt specialised workers on some offshore oil and gas vessels from visas, overriding reforms introduced under the Gillard Labor government. Dutton claimed the exemption, which was ultimately overturned by the High Court, was to protect jobs and “provide certainty for the offshore resources industry”.
And then we have the NRL decision over the weekend.
Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell revealed last week that Dutton gave NRL chair Peter V’landys assurance the New Zealand team would be given the exemption, despite the national cabinet not meeting to discuss the matter until last Friday. This prompted a clarification from the prime minister.
Then on Sunday Dutton confirmed permission had been granted, saying that the ABF commissioner had carefully considered the request.
“The National Rugby League have been advised to liaise with NSW Health and NSW Police to ensure all necessary state health and quarantine requirements are met,” he said.
The decision removes the biggest hurdle for NRL games to resume on May 28 as scheduled.