Any citizen or resident who gets picked on in parliament has the right to ask for their side of the story to go into Hansard, and the former Australian Border Force commissioner wants to use it.
“I reserve my prerogative to seek recourse through the parliamentary oversight mechanisms,” Roman Quaedvlieg said yesterday afternoon, in response to an extraordinary spray from the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, in the House of Representatives.
The parliamentary privilege to speak freely allows MPs to raise or respond to important matters without fear of legal consequences. “The privilege is thus a very great one, and it is recognised that it carries with it a corresponding obligation that it should always be used responsibly,” as a handy information sheet on the citizen’s right of reply explains.
The first step is a written application to the Speaker, who decides whether it is “practicable” for the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests to consider it, and confirms it is not trivial, frivolous, vexatious or offensive. Quaedvlieg has already done that, according to one of his tweets.
My day started with a walk at Apple Tree Bay
I then read The Age & thought uh oh
I then watched QT & heard a Minister accuse me of being a sexual predator
I then heard the PM on the ABC endorsing that sledging
I’ve written to the Speaker – this is not what privilege is for.
— Roman Quaedvlieg (@quaedvliegs) September 11, 2018
The privileges committee does not decide on the truth of the statements, either in the House or in the respondent’s submission. The only decision it makes is whether the reply deserves to be published in the official record.
Two New York Times correspondents recently observed that the unflinching minister “sounds most passionate when condemning critics” and he certainly relished the opportunity to continue attacking his erstwhile enforcer, at one point running out the clock and inviting the opposition to give him more questions so he could continue the aggressive counter-attack he began on Thursday.
There was one line in particular that seemed to hit a nerve with the ex-ABF commissioner, who found it “disgusting and offensive” and asked Dutton to officially withdraw: “He was a man who had groomed a girl 30 years younger than himself.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison thinks Dutton does not need to apologise, although perhaps the 22-year-old woman described as a “girl” who had been preyed on by a middle-aged man might disagree.
Quaedvlieg swiftly responded on Twitter, calling the attacks “curious, stuttering, rambling comments” and later issued a media statement. He suggests the minister has over-reacted to his two submissions – one containing clear errors that undermined its credibility and gave Dutton powerful ammunition to attack him, and a follow-up attempting to clarify the errors and advising the committee to check the records.
“I have submitted one brief letter to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee on the au pair inquiry, with a supplementary letter two days later to correct a date anomaly,” he said.
“In my supplementary letter I have asked for a further discovery process to be undertaken to match departmental and agency records to my recollection in order to assist the Senate Committee to fulfil its obligations.
“Mr Dutton’s attacks on my character, reputation, motivations, integrity and mental health appear to have arisen from the simple actions I have described above.”
Talk to anyone in the community & put together the words ‘groomed’ & ‘girl’ & see where their mind goes, let alone an ex-police officer, let alone one who has investigated offences against children.
I picked up a coffee from my local cafe today & they were abhorred by the slur.
— Roman Quaedvlieg (@quaedvliegs) September 11, 2018
Dutton said the former commissioner was already “discredited and disgraced” after making the inaccurate claims, and had been feeding false information to the Labor party via his former executive officer at the ABF, who now works for opposition leader Bill Shorten. The Australian reports he was referring to Shorten’s senior adviser Paul Iozzi.
The minister also accused Quaedvlieg of choosing to write letters to the Senate committee investigating whether the minister had made inappropriate use of his powers to change immigration decisions, in order to avoid being “cross-examined” in a public hearing.
Of course, extended deadlines and additional hearings are routine in such inquiries and the committee could easily ask him to attend one, as it has now extended its reporting date to September 19.
“It is extraordinary behaviour from a Cabinet Minister to preemptively impugn the character and reputation of a witness attempting to engage properly in a parliamentary process which ostensibly affords the same privilege to that witness that he, Mr Dutton, comfortably shielded under today to accuse me of the criminal offence of sexual grooming,” Quaedvlieg added.
“While errors of fact can be made, and tolerated where corrected, personal smears to the tenor of those made by Mr Dutton with respect to his parliamentary statement today that I ‘groomed a girl…’ are disgusting and offensive and I call on him to formally withdraw that comment.”
The Department of Home Affairs, meanwhile, has submitted a list of answers to questions it took on notice in the committee’s public hearing last week.
It confirms that Dutton used his ministerial intervention power to grant a subclass 600 Visitor visa for the first time on June 17, 2015 – in the “Brisbane case” concerning a request for intervention from former Queensland Police officer Russell Keag that was investigated in the inquiry – and has done so on 23 subsequent occasions up to August 31 this year, with one other case delegated to the then Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, making 25 in total.
In his second submission, Quaedvlieg suggested he might have been thinking of another similar case when his errors were pointed out. However, the department said it had no evidence of any other cases, other than the two at the centre of the controversy, where the person was denied entry on suspicion they intended to work illegally as an au pair.
“Based on the information available, there were two of the 24 Visitor visa (subclass 600) grants where there were indications that the visa holders may have been engaged in work related activity as an au pair (being the Brisbane and Adelaide cases).”
Home Affairs also confirmed that sometimes, the wheels of government move surprisingly fast when a minister with extensive discretionary powers wants them to.
The longest it took for the minister to grant a visitor visa was five months, while the shorterst turnaround was just 2 hours and 40 minutes. The minister initiated the process in 18 cases, while the department sent him the other 7 cases to consider based on his guidelines.
Later, the department added an explanation of the other 22 people granted visitor visas through Dutton’s personal intervention:
“The remaining 22 people were granted Visitor visas in order to make them lawful while they applied for another type of visa, as they had indicated at the time of the intervention that they wished to remain in Australia for purposes other than tourism (for example, people who had overstayed their visa and wished to remain in Australia).
“The Visitor Visa is granted in these circumstances as an interim visa, due to its temporary nature and that it does not generally attract work rights or allow access to social security and health benefits.”
Dutton now faces new allegations of nepotism against him that emerged yesterday in the Sydney Morning Herald, with an anonymous source making detailed claims about conversations between the minister and the former ABF commissioner, in which Quaedvlieg was allegedly pressured to give two people jobs. Dutton has rejected the claims.
Top photo: Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton during Question Time in the House of Representatives in Canberra on Tuesday. AAP Image/Mick Tsikas.