Peter Dutton issues furious dare
ONLY one thing could match the intensity of Peter Dutton's attacks in Question Time yesterday - his fulsome praise for one man.
As he unleashed on Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann and former Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg, Mr Dutton furiously defended Matt Stock, the former Queensland Police officer at the centre of new questions about the minister's conduct.
Yesterday morning, Fairfax Media reported Mr Dutton had pushed Mr Quaedvlieg to help set up jobs for Mr Stock and another policeman, John Lewis, in the new Border Force agency in 2014. Mr Quaedvlieg was the chief of Customs at the time.
"Any suggestion that the minister has acted inappropriately is ridiculous," Mr Dutton's office told Fairfax.
"Mr Quaedvlieg is a disenchanted individual who is bitter about his termination from the role of Australian Border Force commissioner."
Nevertheless, Mr Neumann raised Mr Stock's case in Question Time.
"It is reported the minister played a role in getting a job at Border Force for his former police officer and friend, and the same former colleague was appointed as liaison officer in his office," Mr Neumann said.
In fact Mr Stock is not, as has been previously reported, a liaison officer between the Australian Border Force and Mr Dutton's office. He is a departmental staffer, and is working for Mr Dutton as a policy adviser.
In any case, Mr Dutton leapt to his defence.
"The officer you spoke of is a decorated and distinguished officer with over 20 years of service with the Queensland Police service," Mr Dutton shot back across the chamber.
"He applied for a job with the Australian Border Force. There was no interference with that process, he went through the organisational requirements, and was employed by the ABF, and did so completely on merit.
"If you have a suggestion to the contrary, I would be happy to hear it. But I would be happy if you made the statements outside of this place."
That last part was essentially a dare for Mr Neumann to make his allegations without the protection of parliamentary privilege.
During the afternoon, a spokesperson for Mr Dutton told news.com.au the minister has known Mr Stock for over 20 years and "is not only a friend, but greatly respects his distinguished and awarded service to policing".
Mr Dutton "is not surprised he was employed by the Australian Border Force through a thoroughly independent appointment process".
That warm relationship was reflected by a personal Facebook account belonging to Mr Dutton this morning. Mr Stock was one of just 11 people on the minister's friends list.
Curiously, a few hours later, the list was down to 10 and Mr Stock's name was gone.
"It is an account the minister set up, but he hasn't used it," Mr Dutton's office told us.
Mr Dutton's public embrace of Mr Stock stands in stark contrast to his response to another of the names currently haunting him - that of Russell Kieg, another former police officer, who emailed Mr Dutton's office for help with a tourist visa case in June 2015.
After Mr Dutton's intervention in the case, the woman in question was released from detention in Brisbane.
The minister has repeatedly insisted he had no personal relationship with Mr Kieg, having briefly worked alongside him decades ago.
"I worked with that individual in 1998 and '99. I haven't spoken to him in 20 years. There were 5500 police in the Queensland Police Force when I left in July of 1999. He doesn't have my personal mobile number, he doesn't have my personal email address, he sent an email to my generic, publicly available email account," Mr Dutton said of Mr Kieg today.
"My staff came to me and said, 'I have this email.' My response was, 'Who? Who is that?'"
Mr Dutton appears to regard the unceasing barrage of questions about the au pair saga - and now the suggestions he "gave government jobs to his mates", as Mr Neumann put it - as a smear campaign by Mr Quaedvlieg, who he claims is bitter about the loss of his job.
The minister made his feelings of frustration fairly obvious this afternoon as he unleashed an extraordinary rant in Question Time.
"Again, just to dig a little bit deeper, these attacks of a personal nature are only based on lies and information of an individual which I will go into in a second," he said.
"This smear is coming from the former Australian Border Force commissioner, a man who was as commissioner sacked from his position, a man who had groomed a girl 30 years younger than himself. Discredited and disgraced.
"He has been proved already to be discredited. He is someone the Labor Party should not rely on.
"No claim that has been put by the discredited person or his mouthpieces within this parliament have been proven to be correct."
Mr Quaedvlieg was fired from his role with the Border Force after a review found his misconduct with a younger female staffer undermined his ability to do his job.
The staffer was reportedly in her 20s at the time. She was not underage.
Responding to Mr Dutton, Mr Quaedvlieg took particular umbrage with his use of the word "grooming".
There are two more sessions of Question Time left this week. They are sure to be explosive.