Peter Dutton overruled advice from a senior Australian Border Force (ABF) official when he allowed a French nanny to escape deportation after being lobbied by AFL boss Gillon McLachlan.
An email trail leaked by a whistleblower to Labor senator Kimberley Kitching shows Mr Dutton approved the release of 27-year-old Alexandra Deuwel despite being told there was detail “which does not support the Minister intervening”.
Ms Deuwel arrived at Adelaide Airport on Emirates Airline Flight 440 on October 31, 2015, and was arrested by ABF officials after saying she intended to work, which was in breach of her visitor visa.
Officials cancelled her visa on the spot, deciding she was a “non-genuine visitor”.
She told officials she intended working “voluntarily” for Adelaide pastoralists Callum and Skye MacLachlan at their Barossa Valley farm.
Emails reveal she told officials she would “receive free accommodation for three months in return for helping with this family’s children, cooking and riding their horses”.
“She stated that her main goal in coming to Australia is to [do] volunteer work. Client claimed she had made an appointment with the South Australian volunteer officer to seek volunteer work,” a bureaucrat wrote.
“Client was given an opportunity to comment on why her visa should not be cancelled. In response she stated that she was doing volunteer work only for this family and was not being paid so her visa should not be cancelled.”
Callum MacLachlan is the second-cousin of AFL boss Gillon McLachlan. They spell their surnames differently.
The pastoralist’s father, Hugh MacLachlan, has donated $150,000 to the Liberal Party over the past 20 years.
AFL boss forwarded email about ‘misunderstanding’
Representations were made by the AFL boss on behalf of his cousin to Mr Dutton’s chief of staff Craig Maclachlan — no relation — to release Ms Deuwel, who was being held at the Adelaide Immigration Transit Accommodation, pending her deportation.
Gillon McLachlan’s office forwarded to the Minister’s chief of staff an email from Callum and Skye MacLachlan.
“There has clearly been a misunderstanding that she was intending to work for us when she is here to spend time with our family, as we consider her to be family,” the couple wrote.
“We live in the Barossa Valley on farm and have four kids who will be devastated not to see her.
“A girl of outstanding character and integrity. She also made many friends in Adelaide and will spend time with them.
“What can we do to have this injustice resolved and have her tourist visa reinstated before she flies out tonight?”
Mr Dutton used his ministerial discretion to grant Ms Deuwel a visitor visa on November 1, 2015.
But this was not before the Minister had received form advice from senior ABF executives to the contrary.
order Force Commander states detail ‘does not support intervention’
Assistant Commissioner of Strategic Border Command Clive Murray advised that Ms Deuwel had been “previously counselled” in May 2015 about breaching her visa conditions “and there may be some financial liability to the [department] if the removal does not proceed as the airline has been formally served”.
Ms Deuwel had last been in Australia on May 3 as a holder of a tourist visa, having worked for the MacLachlan family as an au pair in 2013 and 2014.
“SBC (Strategic Border Command) will be providing detail which does not support the Minister intervening,” Assistant Commissioner Murray said.
Nevertheless, Mr Dutton intervened and granted Ms Deuwel a three-month visa — but with conditions.
“The Minister has also asked that, if he intervenes to grant a visa, that the client be very strongly counselled that they cannot work, even do volunteer or in-kind work, and that their visa would be liable for cancellation should they do so,” a departmental bureaucrat wrote.
Documents released under Freedom of Information and marked ‘Sensitive: Personal’ dated November 1, 2015, show Mr Dutton wrote in relation to the case that “it would be in the public interest” to grant the woman a three-month tourist visa.
Mr Dutton said that his intervention was a “discretionary and humanitarian act” for someone with “ongoing needs” and that the decision was in the “interests of Australia as a humane and generous society”.
Dutton says he thought expelling au pair would have been ‘a bit rough’
On Thursday morning, Mr Dutton said he was a man of integrity and had made his decision about Ms Deuwel based on the merits of the case and not on the knowledge of the person who had referred it.
“I looked at it and thought it’s a bit rough, there’s no criminal history, she’s agreed that she wouldn’t work while I was here,” Mr Dutton told 2GB.
“As I understand it, she never overstayed the visa, hasn’t committed any criminal offences, and I thought it was an application of common sense.”
In a statement, he said ministerial intervention was only invoked where the department had made a negative decision.
“That is the very nature of a ministerial intervention power,” the statement said.
Mr Dutton’s statement repeated responses he made earlier in the week in saying he received “hundreds” of representations on individual migration matters from members of the public, organisations, and other MPs.
“There are long-standing intervention powers provided to Ministers to consider and deal with these representations,” Mr Dutton said earlier this week.
“These powers were the same under the former Labor government.
“I consider cases on their merits. Any suggestions cases are determined on any other basis, including whether I knew the individual who referred the matter, is completely ridiculous.
“There is an administrative process to be followed and it has been followed in every instance.”
Senator Kitching said the email trail showed the intervention was “anything but routine or all above board”.
“This whole affair is as dodgy as it gets,” she said.
“The Australian Border Force advised against the Minister intervening, and warned his intervention could have unknown financial consequences.
“Why did Dutton act against Border Force advice? Why did he expose the Australian taxpayer to this financial risk? Why did he put the integrity of his department and our borders at risk at the behest of a Liberal party donor?”