The criticism of Peter Dutton over the au pair visas was bizarre in three respects. First, one of the frequent complaints about ministers is that they are automatons, blindly doing what they are told to do by their departments and never showing an ounce of independence or the wit to make up their own minds. I wish I had a caffe latte for every time some know-all in the media or a broken-down academic complained that ministers fail in their duty by not working things out for themselves and exercising their own judgment. Yet here we have a clear case where minister Dutton did exactly that, over-ruled his department and made his own decision to issue visas to the au pairs, a power given to him by the law. So if they would just shut up and think for a minute, his critics might reflect that what the minister did was exactly the conduct they claim to be perfect ministerial practice. Secondly, for bare-faced chutzpah, the Labor party must take the prize, because asking for ministerial intervention in immigration cases has been stock-in-trade with the socialists for decades.
On the figures produced by Dutton, Labor MPs are forever sucking up to ministers to obtain a favourable result in immigration cases they take up for constituents. Moreover, they are far more active in doing so than Coalition members, because they are more active in multicultural circles than the Coalition. (Senators on either side do very few immigration cases, and little electorate work of any sort, preferring to spend their time huffing and puffing on senate committees). But not only are Labor members active beneficiaries of ministerial intervention, but so far as I can tell, the Labor party invented it. Again, this is part of the same process where they big-note themselves to their local ethnic organisations which in some case are virtually branches of the party. After all, and with the background that some ethnic leaders had in the politics of their former homelands, they would naturally ask what was the point of being in the party at all, if they could not swing a visa or an Order of Australia every now and again? It came to me as a great shock, with my delicate background and ingrained sense of doing the right thing, to find as an MP that this was how it was done.
But I was soon initiated into the holy rites of how to write a letter to a Labor party minister for immigration and get not only direct intervention but a favourable result. The way it worked was that if, in the salutation at the beginning of my letter, I wrote ‘My dear minister’ in the usual bureaucratic style, he would know it did not matter to me one jot or tittle whether the visa I was requesting was granted or not. If I opened up with ‘Dear Mr Jones’ the minister knew I was making a personal plea, but that I would not kick up a fuss if it were rejected.
But if I launched my representation with ‘Dear Joe’ and, especially if I put it in handwriting, the minister would know that this was Defcon 1, the nuclear option, and a matter of life and death that I should win this case for my constituent. The unwritten rules of the international brotherhood of politicians with winks, nods and funny handshakes clicked in and the visa was granted.
The assumption, of course, was that when the electoral caravan moved on, in its never-ending search for true democracy, our minister for immigration would show the same courtesy to Labor MPs as their minister had shown to us. But for the ALP now to argue against ministerial intervention is the grossest betrayal of a well-established constitutional convention I can imagine.
The third bizarre feature is that it should be the Greens who are at the forefront of the attack on Dutton for expanding employment opportunities for European au pairs. The Greens should be on the side of Mimi and Fifi. After all, the Greens’ leader, Senator Di Natale, employed three au pairs not so long ago. He vigorously defended their employment, and paying them only $150 a week, as they were allowed to live on the Di Natale estate and eat with the family instead of in the ser-vants’ hall, an honour they appreciated immensely. Some mean-spirited observer at the time said this made the Di Natale household sound like a cross between a Dickensian workhouse and Downton Abbey. But I thought he made out a good case for his employment arrangements, as he also did for taking his ‘manny’ to Canberra at the taxpayers’ expense, on the ground that it was an opportunity for that gentleman to ‘experience family life in Australia.’ And if the Greens, comprised mainly of the guilt-ridden rich, cannot have servants, who can? More au pairs, please!
I have also noticed in the media some undeserved criticism of both sides of politics for sending a representative to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. It is described as a ‘perk’ because it is awarded to troublemakers as an inducement to keep them quiet. No-one who has actually been on this trip could describe it as a perk, as it is quite burdensome. (The Greens would probably argue that the lucky recipients should take a valet with them, at taxpayers’ expense). And in my opinion it should be compulsory for every MP and senator to attend at least once in their career. It might give them a clue as to what a waste of money and an engine for hatred the UN has become. What else could they conclude when the most important order of the day is whose turn it is to accuse Israel of genocide, or, when I was there, whether Yassar Arafat should be allowed to bring his revolver into debates in this haven of peace and harmony.
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