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Trouble in Home Affairs

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:

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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  1. Roscoe

    the people who dont want to leave Home Affairs are the ones that are a worry as to what kind of people are they?

  2. pierre wilkinson

    when our so called elected representatives announce that they have no intention to pandering to the whims of the people of Biloela, nor for that matter the overwhelming opinion of the general populace, you have to wonder just who do they represent – a rhetorical question, coal and mining interests aside.

  3. sarah

    Dutton has made up his mind and the more everybody carries on the less likely he is to change it. He will just gloat.

  4. Phil Pryor

    Enough air headed Queensland voters re-elected an unwiped anus as their rep. What could possibly flow from that?

  5. Jack Cade

    Dutton is the very embodiment of ‘dead eyes’. He is a very scary man, seemingly vindictive, even sadistic. I wonder what he offers the people of his electorate; I doubt any other part of Australia would countenance him as their parliamentary representative, yet he increased his majority, and a sizeable minority of his party saw him as leadership material.

  6. John O"Callaghan

    If left unchecked Dutton could quite easily become the Adolf Eichmann of Australia or if not hin his mate Pezullo.

  7. Kaye Lee

    Dutton piggybacked on an announcement by Christian Porter today about tougher sentences for pedophiles. Look at me caring about kids. He said “we have listened and responded to community concern”.

    When asked about the Sri Lankan family, Scott Morrison said “we can’t be swayed by the community or – the boats!”

    They are such pretenders.

  8. Jack Cade

    Johnny O’Callaghan
    Where and when has Dutton been checked? He has accumulated power steadily, and recruited old mates from the most disreputable police force in a nation of disreputable police forces.

  9. Carol Taylor

    The moment the good folk of Biloela started a grassroots campaign to have the family returned, it could be predicted what Dutton’s response would be. As per all people into power and control, the more that people tried to appeal to his better nature (does Dutton have one?), the more determined he was that NO ONE was going to tell him what to do. I’m thinking of some old psych study: attention, power and part of disjunctionality. You see it in both Dutton and Morrison, when they see themselves as being deprived of any power, their response is revenge.

  10. t t

    what a great democracy…lol

  11. Robin Alexander

    Reading comments agree with all! Reading about home affairs dept! It is very troublesome that staff leaving in droves read before? Dutton is lazy and just total turmoil in office! My god! where has Australia with fairness kindness our motto gone! Just obvious despicable hatred for less fortunate! anyone who recieves government payments? even if deserved by Age & Vets! they intend inflicting much pain! Sadistic?worship only the wealthy! Despise all others! This truly is not a government we want or need in our wonderful country!

  12. Enrico Franco

    how did Dutton accrue so much wealth as a policeman, politician

  13. Terence Mills

    Dutton chose to charter a private jet to fly this family from Melbourne to Colombo, Sri Lanka. The cost of that would be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

    I have just noticed that SriLankan Airlines have scheduled flights out of Melbourne to Colombo on a regular basis so why would Peter Dutton choose to spend our money chartering private jets ?

    There is more to this story.

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