©2018 by polity.

  • Alex Wok

Ministerial Intervention in Visa Matters

In 2015, the Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton granted tourist visas to two foreign au pairs. The au pairs’ original tourist visas were cancelled upon their arrival in Australia as they were suspected of intending to work during their stay, something which was in contravention of their visa conditions. It is alleged Dutton intervened due to his personal connections with their intended employers, sparking allegations from Parliament that Dutton abused his ministerial power.

Hold on, does Dutton even have the power to grant visas like this? The answer is yes: under current law, the Minister retains a discretionary power to intervene in visa cases if they are satisfied it is in the public interest to do so (though the Minister must base his or her decision to intervene upon compelling, compassionate or humanitarian grounds put forward by the individuals affected). As such, Dutton came under fire for using his ministerial powers to benefit his personal connections. The public has further criticised Dutton for granting tourist visas to au pairs whilst the treatment of other groups such as refugees and asylum seekers, who are perceived to have more humanitarian need, are placed in the back-burner.

In August 2018, the Senate referred the allegations against Dutton for inquiry to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to determine the appropriateness of his interventions. On 19 September 2018, the Committee reported that while the interventions were within his ministerial authority, Dutton’s interventions in the au pair cases ‘do not reflect community expectations of how such powers should be used’.

The Committee did raise the concern that the Minister’s powers were too broad as they cannot be restricted by a court or tribunal. This factor affects the degree of transparency and accountability in the Minister’s decisions, leaving the question: should limits be imposed on the Minister’s powers to intervene in visa matters to ensure transparency and accountability?


Should limits be imposed on the Minister of Home Affairs’ powers to intervene in visa matters to ensure transparency and accountability?

read more:

  1. ​Liberty Victoria Rights Advocacy Project, ‘Playing God: The Immigration Minister’s Unrestrained Power

  2. Parliament of Australia, ‘Inquiry into the Administration and Operation of the Migration Act 1958

  3. The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Time to limit ministerial discretion in the immigration system

  4. ABC News, ‘Peter Dutton misled Parliament over au pair saga, Senate committee finds

  5. UNSW Newsroom, ‘Dutton’s decisions on au pairs are legal - but there are other considerations

  6. Parliament of Australia, ‘Inquiry into Ministerial Discretion in Migration Matters

  7. Parliament of Australia, ‘Inquiry into Ministerial Discretion in Migration Matters

  8. The Australian, ‘Morrison backs Dutton over au pairs

  9. The Conversation, ‘Politicians forget what public trust means - we must remind them