Dutton denies plan to spy on migrants before they enter Australia

Mr Dutton told SBS News the Federal Government would explore "whatever means" to keep Australians safe but denied the Daily Telegraph’s claim that it was planning ‘covert’ investigations.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has denied the government is planning new laws that would allow 'covert' intelligence-gathering operations to screen would-be migrants before they leave their home countries for Australia.

Earlier in the week, The Daily Telegraph newspaper ran a front-page story claiming the government was planning “covert overseas missions to ensure migrants are really true blue.”

The story was based on an interview with the top bureaucrat in Mr Dutton’s new Home Affairs department, Michael Pezzullo.

Mr Pezzullo told the newspaper the government was considering “using intelligence” to check the character of visa applicants “before you even migrate". 

At Parliament House on Thursday, SBS News asked Mr Dutton if the proposal could include covert operations.

“No,” Mr Dutton replied.

The Home Affairs Minister said any new policies on vetting migrants would be announced “in due course,” but suggested the government’s future efforts would be focused on using technology.

“There's a lot with technology, as that rolls out and as we can exchange information more freely with partners, that we'll be able to build on,” Mr Dutton said.

“We'll explore whatever means possible to find ways to keep Australians safe.”

Mr Pezzullo declined to speak with SBS News on Tuesday.

Independent MP and former Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie said the proposal sounded “wacky” and said it was “completely improper” for Mr Pezzullo to float the idea, given he is a public servant and not an elected politician.

But on Thursday, Mr Dutton defended his Mr Pezzullo’s right to comment on the matter as head of the department.

“He's perfectly entitled to speak to our policy, to our beliefs, to the government of the day's programs,” Mr Dutton said.

Earlier in the week, Labor said the plan sounded like dog whistle tactics. 

"It wouldn't surprise me that this government would use whatever dog whistle it can against potential refugees, potential migrants to this country," Labor senator Doug Cameron told reporters at Parliament House on Tuesday.

Published 1 March 2018 at 2:47pm, updated 1 March 2018 at 4:04pm
By James Elton-Pym