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Dutton gave Australia ‘an underclass – his greatest legacy’, says former top official

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says reports that a secret inquiry has uncovered major loopholes being exploited by criminal gangs in the immigration system he oversaw for three years are laughable.

But as the former long-time home affairs minister begins to build an attack on the government over what he says is overbearing immigration, one Canberra insider has told The New Daily that Mr Dutton’s record managing migration was totally at odds with his tough public image on the issue. 

Victoria’s former top cop, Christine Nixon, leads a secret review into how criminal gangs, drug syndicates and human traffickers exploited weaknesses in the migration system under the previous government, a leaked report revealed on Monday. 

Mr Dutton, who ran the portfolio for more than three years, rejected the inquiry as “politically motivated and without substance”.

“The government’s got boats on the water; they’ve got people who are arriving in record numbers on aeroplanes claiming protection when they get here,” Mr Dutton said. 

“The government is barely holding our border protection policies together.

“Senior people you speak with in the Department of Home Affairs are laughing (at the idea of the critical review).”

Fallout from Dutton’s tenure

But the second-in-command of Australia’s migration system during some of the most difficult days of the Howard government told TND on Monday that it was the fallout from Mr Dutton’s tenure that was setting records. 

Though Mr Dutton suggested the government had been inundated by asylum seekers, his department fielded 10,500 more claims for asylum in the 2018 financial year than the government has in the past year.

Former immigration department deputy secretary Abul Rizvi says Mr Dutton failed to deal with that surge and get on top of a simple “scam” run by “labour traffickers” who would routinely test the department’s mettle as they scoped out loopholes. 

Though tough on those who came by sea or who were detained offshore, Dr Rizvi says the Opposition Leader did not move in response to a more immediate test that won’t soon be reversed.

Government statistics show the enforcement of visa limits and the number of inspections held at workplaces suspected of illegally employing temporary migrants both fell sharply during Mr Dutton’s full three years as minister.

 

About 90,000 asylum seekers were still in the migration system at the last election.

Many are thought to have been unwittingly seeking asylum, Dr Rizvi said, two-thirds of whom came from Malaysia and China. Ninety per cent of their applications were rejected, leaving an untold number of people on the margins of society and without the right to work.

“What my colleagues and my predecessors had for 20, 30, 40, 50 years succeeded in preventing, Mr Dutton failed [to stop],” Dr Rizvi said.  

“An underclass. That is what Mr Dutton has given us. That is his greatest legacy, the creation of a permanent underclass of unsuccessful asylum seekers.”

It’s a development he says could well never be reversed if, like America, immigration problems prove too difficult and costly to solve.

“Let’s be clear, whenever any nation or government has got into the situation we are now in – and this is completely unprecedented for Australia – no one has ever been able to get out,” he said.

Dr Abdul Rizvi was the immigration department deputy secretary under Prime Minister John Howard. Photo: Twitter

Mr Dutton’s close ally, Nationals leader David Littleproud, sought an amnesty for the asylum seekers, most of whom found work on farms.

The Opposition Leader moved swiftly onto the front foot on immigration last week after the budget included forecasts of an increase to net overseas migration after an outflow of migrants during COVID-19. 

Australia will add 400,000 migrants this year and 300,000 next year, according to budget forecasts made against the backdrop of a declining birth rate.

“It’s a giant Ponzi scheme,” Mr Dutton said on Monday. “It’s not going to deliver the houses that Labor’s talking about.

“The reality is that the government had no plan.”

‘Higher migration’ forecast

Dr Rizvi said that Mr Dutton was in the immigration portfolio when a much higher migration rate was forecast in the 2019 budget, but COVID interrupted. 

“He seems to be muddying the waters,” he said. “But for him to be pointing the finger at anyone is unbelievable.”

Mr Dutton has been criticised for questioning the basis of a migration system that critics say has largely enjoyed support from the major parties and their leaders dating back to the Menzies government. 

Former prime minister John Howard, then opposition leader, questioned whether Australia was receiving too many Asian migrants in an infamous 1988 interview.

Amanda Vanstone, the former minister for immigration in his cabinet, told TND that it would not be fair to characterise Mr Dutton’s attacks as being a break with convention or being aimed at undermining immigration itself.

Australia’s refugee intake, and from which countries it was choosing permanent migrants, were issues that had long been heavily politicised, Ms Vanstone said.

“If you’re a fan of immigration, then you would be best to keep it at a level that the public will accept,” Ms Vanstone said, recalling the words of the former Labor minister Mick Young.

“We are an immigration nation; it’s everything to us – but we have managed policy responsibly.”

Mr Dutton did not respond to written questions from The New Daily about his record overseeing immigration, or whether it had been his own shortcomings as minister that led to the compliance problems now being examined by Ms Nixon.

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