Visa saga: Liberals slammed over ‘special favours’ for top end of town

Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at an event on Wednesday, as the Senate inquired into visa decisions by one of his ministers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at an event on Wednesday, as the Senate inquired into visa decisions by one of his ministers. Photo: AAP

The Morrison government stands accused of “special favours” for the rich and well connected, just as it tries to win over battlers with a big pension splurge.

What’s the go with the au pairs and the polo players? That was the question Australians were asking themselves after the latest development in the Peter Dutton visa saga.

A Senate hearing on Wednesday dug up no evidence of wrongdoing but plenty of farce, with the new revelation that AFL boss Gillon McLachlan used his colleague, a former Liberal Party staffer, to not once but twice pull favours to get high-level access to the offices of Liberal Party luminaries – namely Mr Dutton, Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott – to help mates in visa trouble.

The first was for an Argentinian polo player who was a “friend of a friend” of Mr McLachlan in 2014, and the second a French au pair who had worked for Mr McLachlan’s second cousin, in 2015.

The polo player revelation was so juicy, Labor’s Murray Watt couldn’t wait to post it online. Mid-questioning, with the AFL boss still talking on a phone line from Melbourne, Senator Watt pulled out his phone and tweeted in all caps “A POLO PLAYER” followed by three horse emojis.

After the hearings, he and fellow Labor senator Kimberley Kitching, who led the day’s questioning, were careful to make no allegations of wrongdoing, but cast plenty of aspersions.

“There’s no doubt that a minister has the power under the act to intervene personally to grant someone a visa,” Senator Watt told Sky News, referring to Mr Dutton’s granting of a last-minute visa to the French au pair.

“The real question here though is whether people in high places are getting special favours from this government that the average person on the street can’t get.”

Senator Kitching added: “Very few people are able to receive special treatment and that is unfortunate.”

Even conservative commentator Chris Kenny joined in: “Still it is a bugger when the au pair is in the clink and you are due at polo.”

According to some, the whole affair sounded like a cheap murder mystery: “The curious case of the French au pair, the Argentinian polo player, the AFL boss and the Home Affairs Minister.”

Meanwhile, childcare workers were protesting in the streets for higher wages. About 7000 early education workers went on strike, with many complaining they earned as little as $20 an hour – less than a cashier at McDonald’s.

It was all poor timing for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had hours earlier revealed a massive backdown on the age pension.

On Wednesday morning he dropped the bombshell that the Tony Abbott-era policy of pushing up the retirement age – the age at which Australians can access their superannuation and be paid the pension – from 67 to 70 would be abandoned.

He did it on live TV around breakfast time, when many older viewers would have been tuned in.

The move was welcomed by the likes of industry super fund Cbus, which had long argued that workers employed in hard labour industries such as construction simply cannot be expected to work to 70.

It will reportedly cost the budget $5 billion in revenue over the “medium term”.

But by Wednesday night, it was all au pairs and polo players.

Topics: Immigration
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