Trouble in Home Affairs: Coleman wants the family to stay, Dutton wants them refouled
In May 2019, newly-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison removed responsibility for the Immigration portfolio from Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, and gave it to David Coleman. The portfolio, renamed Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, remains under the umbrella of Home Affairs, and Dutton is the senior Minister.
In the matter of the family from Biloela, currently incarcerated on Christmas Island waiting for the court to decide their fate this week, Minister Coleman has had little or nothing to say even though he is directly responsible. All commentary has been handled by Dutton, despite Coleman having the same ministerial powers, and the same legal right to exercise the ministerial discretion that would allow the family to stay.
(A quick recap if you’ve been out of touch lately. Minister Dutton attempted to secretly deport Priya, Nadesalingam and their Australian-born children Kopika and Tharunicaa under cover of darkness last week. An urgent injunction forced their plane, en route to Sri Lanka, to land in Darwin, from where they were transferred to Christmas Island.)
Ministerial discretion is a legal option that allows a minister to grant visas even if the court has declared the applicants are not refugees. It also permits the minister to intervene in the matter of, for example, European au pairs arriving in Australia on a Sunday afternoon with the wrong visa, ensuring the au pairs are released from immigration detention and sped on their way to employers with the clout to get Dutton out on a weekend.
Minister Coleman is well aware of the dangers that await the family in Sri Lanka, as this tweet from four months ago confirms:
— 💧💧Jasmine MacDonald (@JasmineQuilter) September 3, 2019
It appears that Coleman has been gagged by Dutton, preventing him from publicly commenting on the current situation despite the fact that calls to Dutton’s office regarding the family are being diverted to Coleman’s office.
Coleman is also copping considerable ridicule on social media, with people referring to him as “OfDutton” and suggesting that he is “Under his eye.” It does seem as if Coleman is being forced to handle the brunt of public displeasure, while being temporary stripped of all ministerial authority and capacity to respond or act.
No doubt if this entire situation goes pear-shaped, Coleman will be held responsible for that as well, leaving Dutton with plausible deniability.
A report in The Guardian suggests tension between Coleman and Dutton, with the former “committed” to ensuring the family are permitted to stay in their community, as opposed to his senior minister’s hardline approach that will see them refouled to Sri Lanka:
Multiple sources have indicated to the Guardian that the immigration minister, David Coleman, is inclined – one source said “committed” – towards allowing the family to stay, but that he has been consistently overruled by the senior minister in the department, the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, who is adamant the family has extinguished its appeal avenues and must, by law, leave the country.
An annual employment census has ranked Home Affairs as the worst agency for staff engagement across the Australian public service. Thousands of public servants have expressed their wish to work elsewhere.
Almost 40% of those surveyed have applied for other jobs.
36% want to leave the department in the next six months.
Harassment, bullying, poor communication and substandard leadership are cited as some of the causes of employee discontent. It could well be that Coleman is a high profile victim of just such behaviour from his master.
It seems that the Home Affairs department is in something of a turmoil, which begs the question, how can this mega department satisfactorily carry out its multitude of duties, including overseeing every Australian intelligence agency and the AFP, when struggling with internal chaos and discord between its two Ministers?
That Home Affairs is such a toxic workplace should be a cause for serious concern and urgent action.
Peter Dutton has questions to answer. But don’t hold your breath. He’s a protected species and likely more powerful than the Prime Minister himself.
This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.
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