/ 26 September 2023

The Home Affairs boss is in the hot seat…

Image: Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo in Washington DC. Photo by Sydney Phoenix/US Department of Homeland Security via Wikimedia Commons
Image: Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo in Washington DC. Photo by Sydney Phoenix/US Department of Homeland Security via Wikimedia Commons


The Home Affairs departmental boss Michael Pezzullo has stood aside from his powerful job after text messages obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald/Age/60 Minutes showed he was secretly lobbying to influence the former Coalition Government. The problem is that departmental secretaries – the top public service administrators/advisers who implement the decisions of the government of the day – aren’t there to push their own political views. But 5 years of private text messages have revealed that it’s what Pezzullo seems to have done. That’s led PM Anthony Albanese to say it’s appropriate that Pezzullo stand aside while the hundreds of messages are investigated.


Those are good questions. Pezzullo worked for Labor previously, including with leader Kim Beazley. But he’s really a career defence/security policy wonk who worked his way up the ladder. And when the super-department of Home Affairs was created in 2017 (pulling together customs, immigration/Border Force, the Federal Police, anti-money laundering agency AUSTRAC, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and national security agency ASIO), Pezzullo was appointed to lead it. So he’s kind of a big deal… As for the messages, Pezzullo’s chatting with Scott Briggs, a Liberal insider with a hotline to former PMs Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison. And from what’s been published, the pair talk about Cabinet appointments and ministers’ performances – Pezzullo also advocates for more aggressive restrictions on press freedom in Australia. So, like, way out of his remit as an impartial public servant…


The official investigation is off and racing – it will be conducted by a former Australian Public Service Commissioner Lynelle Briggs (note: no relation to Scott…). There’s no word yet on how long it will take, but Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil says the process will be “expedited”. What Peter Dutton has to say would usually be notable because he’s the leader of the opposition – but in this case, it’s particularly noteworthy because he was the first Minister for Home Affairs with Pezzullo as his departmental secretary… Dutton said that during his time working with Pezzullo, he “conducted himself in a thoroughly professional way”. But Greens Immigration spokesman Nick McKim put the boot in, saying that Pezzullo has “shown complete contempt for the principle of accountability” and that his “time as a senior public servant needs to end”.

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