Quaedvlieg vs Dutton: What au pair!

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Peter Dutton's stringent visa checking procedure (Meme by @davrosz)

What is the deal with Roman Quaedvlieg and his ongoing feud with Peter Dutton over Au Pair Affair? Belinda Jones gives us the low-down.

ON THURSDAY, 6 September 2018, a war of words erupted between embattled Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and former Australian Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg. 

In this battle of former colleagues, where the pen is mightier than the sword, Quaedvlieg drew first blood. 

Events erupted on Thursday 6 September 2018 when the former ABF Commissioner wrote to the Senate Inquiry into the Au Pair Affair giving a version of events that completely contradicted Dutton’s version, given in Parliament in March 2018 under directly questioning from Adam Bandt .

To understand what’s going on here, you’ve got to understand that these two have a history, with tensions simmering for a long time, but only boiling over yesterday, 6 September.

Back on 23 December 2014, Peter Dutton was elevated to Minister for Immigration and Border Protection by then Prime Minister 28, Tony Abbott, during a cabinet reshuffle. Then Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison became Minister for Social Services. Three years later, Dutton’s responsibilities expanded when the huge Home Affairs portfolio was created by Prime Minister 29, Malcolm Turnbull.

As Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Dutton worked with Quaedvlieg in what was widely considered a very successful working relationship. Working together, these two men commanded a force of thousands of Australian Border Force personnel devoted securing Australia’s borders to ‘put the people smugglers out of business’ as Dutton would parrot to Parliament at every opportunity. The no-nonsense duo where the tough guys on the beat charged with  upholding Prime Minister No.25, John Howard’s mantra “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”.

In July 2017, Quaedvlieg was suspended on full pay, pending an investigation into allegations of abusing his position to obtain a promotion for his lover:

A few hours later, all was revealed. Australian Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg, a married 52-year-old with three children, had allegedly engaged in an affair with a much younger colleague, who was subsequently promoted.’ 

In March 2018, Quaedvlieg’s $600,000 per year position as Commissioner of Australian Border Force was terminated. In July, it was reported that the investigation was still ongoing:

'The ABC has now learned the ACLEI probe is still underway — more than a year after the Commonwealth watchdog was told of Mr Quaedvlieg's alleged misconduct.'

Quaedvlieg exited quietly, made no fuss over the long-awaited termination — well, not publicly, at least. Privately, he must have been devastated to have been terminated and, despite everything, Dutton could not or would not save him. The subsequent tensions appear to indicate the latter.  

On 31 July 2018, the former Border Force Commissioner surfaced in the media once again, in a clear indication that he and Dutton had had a falling out, a feud was brewing.  Quaedvlieg fired a warning shot across Dutton’s bow, by suggesting publicly that the deaths that had occurred in offshore detention on Dutton’s watch should be investigated in Australia. 

The Guardian reported:

'The former head of the Australian Border Force has said all deaths within Australia’s offshore immigration regime should be investigated by an Australian judge or coroner.'

Shortly after Dutton’s dual failed bids for the Liberal leadership, there was a surprise boat arrival in Far North Queensland. 

On 29 August 2018, Quaedvlieg penned an article for Fairfax Media, which he used as an opportunity to offer the beleaguered Dutton some friendly advice on how he would handle the situation:

'Somehow Dutton needs to find enough surveillance and response assets to confidently hold the north-eastern flank without diluting the primary front. Second, they need to win the PR battle, both at home and off-shore. At home because less than nine months out from a general election, the Coalition needs to protect one of its last bastions of credibility.'

Then, if two failed bids at the leadership and an unauthorised boat arrival weren’t enough to make Dutton tear his hair out, a third, more politically explosive story surfaced, with fresh details. The Au Pair Affair raised its ugly head again, prompting speculation that someone "let the dogs out on Dutton".  

The Au Pair Affair, where it was alleged Dutton had intervened on two occasions to use his discretionary powers as Minister to overturn a ABF decision to deport the au pairs and grant them a visa. While there has never been a suggestion that Minister Dutton didn’t have a right to exercise those powers, it was more a case of why did he use those powers in those two incidents when he had denied so many other well-deserving cases before and after the au pairs. It just doesn’t pass the "pub test". Dutton had previously been grilled about the au pairs by Greens MP, Adam Bandt, in the House of Representatives during Question Time on 27 March 2018. 

During this Question Time exchange, Dutton categorically stated that he had

"... no personnal connection or any other relationship between you (Dutton) and the intended employer of either of the au pairs."

A Senate Inquiry invited submissions on the Au Pair Affair.  The parliamentary inquiry beginning on Wednesday 5 September 2018 would have representatives from the Home Affairs Department, Australian Border Force and AFL boss Gillon McLachlan appearing, amongst others.

The Inquiry opened with Senators Watt, Kitching, Abetz, and others questioning Secretary of the Home Affairs Dept, Michael Pezzullo and ABF staff. Pezzullo, despite being a consummate professional public servant since 1987, frustratingly arrived "without his file" and was unable to confirm or deny many questions put to him by the senators, deferring them to be Questions on Notice. Though Home Affairs Department staff did deny that Dutton had asked Border Force to intervene, the Italian au pair in the "Brisbane" case. 

After the break, the Inquiry resumed to a phone hook-up with AFL boss Gillon McLachlan, and ex-Liberal staffer and current AFL staffer Jude Donnelly, to discuss the "Adelaide" case of the French au pair. Throughout this discussion, it was painstaking extracted that Gillon McLachlan had previously contacted the then Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison’s office to intervene in the case of an Argentinian polo player in March 2014, the response from the Department in this case was the situation had already been resolved. McLachlan also affirmed that he made representations to the Prime Minister’s Office and to Dutton’s chief of staff, Craig Maclachlan (no relation to Gillon McLachlan or Callum MacLachlan), on behalf of his second-cousin Callum MacLachlan in October 2015 for the "Adelaide" case.

The following day, Thursday 6 September 2018, Quaedvlieg wrote to the Seate Inquiry to contradict the version of events that had been given by Home Affairs officials the previous day. He stated that, in fact, his office was contacted at the time of the "Brisbane" case and was asked by Dutton’s chief of staff if anything could be done for a "friend of the boss", referring to Dutton and his former QPS colleague, Russell Keag. This information directly contradicted Dutton’s reply in Parliament to Adam Bandt on the question of whether he had a personal connection in the case.

Dutton counter-punched with a press statement claiming: 

'Mr Quaedvlieg's claims are false, misleading and clearly defamatory ... Mr Quaedvlieg is bitter about the loss of his job and it is has been concerning to hear allegations about Mr Quaedvlieg's engagement with the media and Labor over a long period of time. But the fabrication of evidence to a Senate committee takes his behaviour to a disturbing level.'

Dutton went on to say he had asked ABF Commissioner Michael Outram

'... to offer Mr Quaedvlieg any support to address his personal or mental health issues.' 

Quaedvlieg responded that he noted "with bemusement" Dutton’s comments and that he had anticipated this response and, more importantly, alluded to "another case" not yet in the "public domain" — indicating there is more to be told in this unraveling story.  

And here we are, as the week draws to a close, with Dutton in one corner and Quaedvlieg in another, locked and loaded with duelling media releases. This war of words is a long way from being over. Dutton is currently under attack on several fronts simultaneously, but perhaps the most pressing of his worries is that Parliament sits in the House next week, where he will be forced to explain the explosive revelations made by Quaedvlieg over the last days. And I’m sure Adam Bandt might also want a word with him about his "relationship" to his former colleague Russell Keag from the "Brisbane" case.

You can follow Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.

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