February 12, 2024
Home Affairs department secretary Stephanie Foster has refused a Coalition information request ahead of a border security grilling at a Senate estimates hearing over the release of dangerous non-citizens and the first onshore asylum-seeker boat arrival.
Ahead of key department and Australian Border Force officials appearing at a Senate estimates hearing on Monday, The Australian can reveal Ms Foster rebuffed attempts by the Coalition to seek answers on last year's bungled release of immigration detainees.
On February 2, opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson and opposition legal affairs spokeswoman Michaelia Cash wrote to Ms Foster and the Attorney-General's Department secretary, Katherine Jones, asking for the release of information ahead of this week's hearings.
Ms Foster, writing on behalf of Ms Jones, responded to the Coalition frontbenchers on Friday saying they were "not in a position to provide this information in advance of Senate estimates" and "we look forward to assisting the committee with its inquiries".
Ms Foster replaced long-serving inaugural Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo on November 28 last year.
The two-page letter from Senator Paterson and Senator Cash requested timelines and figures from the department chiefs about the release of immigration detainees in the wake of the High Court's NZYQ decision.
That decision sparked a chaotic response from the government, which released 148 dangerous non-citizens into the community including some of whom were later arrested for allegedly reoffending, despite wearing ankle bracelets. The mass release sparked a significant redirection of police resources across the country.
The Albanese government fast-tracked legislation through parliament in December to allow Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to apply to a court for Community Safety Detention Orders or Community Safety Supervision Orders.
Senator Paterson and Senator Cash told the department secretaries that if they could answer their questions ahead of the Senate hearing, it would assist in making "the most efficient use of limited time".
They asked for timelines of key dates, including ministerial decisions and briefings, concerning the conduct of the High Court litigation, approaches to other countries in relation to the plaintiff's removal from Australia, the release and granting of visas to detainees and the arrest or redetention of dangerous noncitizens.
The Coalition also sought a breakdown of individuals released from immigration detention, including their offences and convictions; where they were currently residing; how many were wearing ankle bracelets; how many had been re-detained; and how many CSDO and CSSO applications had been made and granted.
Senator Paterson on Sunday said "it is absolutely routine for senators to request factual information ahead of Senate estimates and for departments to provide it".
"It's extraordinary that the Department of Home Affairs has failed to comply with this straightforward request, and hasn't even bothered to explain why.
"The department should not implicate itself in the Albanese government's cover-up of its shocking mishandling of the High Court's indefinite detention decision." Coalition senators will also question ABF officials about the first asylum-seeker boat to illegally reach Australia in years.
Some 12 unauthorised maritime arrivals were apprehended on an isolated stretch of the West Australian Kimberley coastline in November last year.
They were transferred to Nauru within 41 hours.