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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says he would be happy to refer allegations of suspicious Home Affairs procurement contracts to the new National Anti-Corruption Commission, but believes any investigation should include the period before he became home affairs minister.
Speaking for the first time on the issue since returning from leave, Dutton said he believed he had been “caught in the crossfire” between Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil and long-time department secretary Mike Pezzullo.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton could face some difficult questions on offshore detention contracts.Credit: AAP
The Home Truths investigation by this masthead and 60 Minutes has revealed that Australia’s offshore processing regime was marred by millions of dollars of suspect payments directed to local politicians in Nauru and Papua New Guinea – which the department failed to stop.
Among the revelations was that the Home Affairs Department handed a multimillion-dollar offshore detention contract to an Australian businessman just one month after federal police told then-minister Dutton that the man was under investigation for bribery.
Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Monday, Dutton said: “I had no involvement whatsoever in relation to the contract negotiations, the execution of the agreements. And that’s true for all of the predecessors back to 2012 … And I have nothing to hide in relation to the matter.”
Dutton said: “I’m very happy to co-sign a letter today with the prime minister referring these matters to the integrity commission. The minister obviously is at loggerheads with the secretary.
“If she wants to sack the secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, she should speak to the prime minister about that but having this tit-for-tat I feel like I’m in the crossfire of these attacks by Minister O’Neil on Mr Pezzullo … If the working relationship now is so dysfunctional between the minister for Home Affairs and the secretary, well that’s an issue for the prime minister to resolve.”
Former home affairs minister Karen Andrews last week described the department as “dysfunctional” and said Pezzullo should take responsibility.
Asked if Home Affairs could operate without him she said: “Well, no one’s indispensable.”
Pezzullo did not answer a series of detailed questions about Andrews’ comments and his leadership generally put to him last week, but replied with a statement saying he had “always acted with integrity”.
“For the duration of my tenure, I have been the subject of integrity oversight … I am proud of the record of achievements of the Department of Home Affairs and commend the committed officers who continue to deliver results,” he said.
Dutton specifically addressed a story from this masthead, based on documents tabled in federal parliament, that the Australian Federal Police’s acting commissioner told him in July 2018 that Sydney-based Mozammil Bhojani was under investigation over suspected bribes to Nauruan politicians.
Despite the verbal police warning, the Department of Home Affairs entered into a fresh contract with Bhojani’s company a month later.
“There’s been some commentary around a briefing that I received,” Dutton told reporters at Parliament House.
“I’ve checked my records. I don’t have any record in my office of having received a briefing on that matter.
“I note the response from the Australian Federal Police to the question on notice, they don’t have any detail of information that was alleged to have been provided to me.
“Obviously as home affairs minister you receive briefings on all sorts of matters.”
Dutton said it would have been “inconsequential” even if a briefing was provided as he did not involve himself in procurement matters.
“My experience in Home Affairs, from Mike Pezzullo down through to those officers who were involved in the liaison with PNG and Nauru, is that they were first-class public servants and I was very well served,” he said.
“If there are allegations to make in relation to departmental officers or third parties, they’re properly investigated by the NACC.”
Dutton said he would regard any government inquiry that examined only his tenure as minister as a political stunt.
More to come
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