Prime minister Anthony Albanese’s 22 June decision to keep controversial senior public servant Mike Pezzullo on as home affairs secretary doesn’t bode well for the hope of progressive change the nation is currently bathing in with the coming of a new Labor government.
Pezzullo was a key behind-the-scenes player during the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison governments.
Abbott appointed Pezzullo as immigration secretary in October 2014, right before now opposition leader Peter Dutton took over the portfolio. He then followed the minister to Home Affairs in late 2017 under Turnbull, and it was expected he’d join the Liberal politician in Defence last year.
“They’ve signalled bad news by keeping Pezzullo on as the head of the Department of Home Affairs. He presided over a lot of cruel and vicious policies and actions,” said People Just Like Us spokesperson Fabia Claridge.
The refugee rights advocate told Sydney Criminal Lawyers that Pezzullo is close to both Dutton and former PM Scott Morrison, “so we have to question why they have done this, and what is the scope for change in the future”.
According to Claridge, in the role of immigration and home affairs secretary, Pezzullo “presided over many dastardly actions” in his dealings with refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters seeking refuge.
Surveillance state creeps on
Home Affairs covers immigration, border control and national security, while it also incorporated federal police until Albanese removed it as he came to power.
During their little over three years together in charge of the home affairs portfolio, Dutton and Pezzullo significantly broadened the reach of intelligence and law enforcement.
The 2018 Daily Telegraph article that led the AFP, under Pezzullo, to raid the home of then News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst detailed leaked correspondence between the home affairs secretary and defence secretary Greg Moriarty discussing turning the ASD on domestic targets.
The Australian Signals Directorate is a foreign focused spying agency. And such agencies don’t play by the same rules as domestic ones. Therefore, the proposal represented an overreach in terms of government spying on its own citizens. However, a series of bills have since facilitated the change.
Over the three years that Dutton and Pezzullo held the reins of national security and surveillance laws, the pair legislated draconian powers to break through encrypted online messaging systems and further permit agents to take over online accounts and electronic devices to alter and delete data.
Another reason that the retaining of Pezzullo is of concern is that he’s suggested the nation may be “bracing again, yet again, for the curse of war”, just as his old boss Dutton had been warning that the nation was already on something of a war footing.
The current home affairs secretary began his career in the public service when he joined Defence in 1987 and he later became that department’s deputy strategy secretary in 2006.
Pezzullo was asked to tone it down last year after sent out an Anzac Day message, in which he implied that the “drums of war” are beating in terms of China and that it was up to “free nations” to continue to “remain armed, strong and ready for war” against “tyranny’s threat to freedom”.
This warning about a coming war in the Indo Pacific overlaps with the new prime minister’s current rhetoric as he joined a NATO summit in Spain on Monday that had China, Russia and the two nations’ new “no limits” alliance as its key focus.
“I would like to see increased interoperability with the armed forces of those Asia Pacific nations,” Albanese told AAP on the day of the summit. “China is becoming increasingly aggressive and now they have that relationship with Russia.”
Indeed, while the words coming from the nation’s new leader should signal alarm amongst the constituency, for the home affairs secretary, one can assume this sentiment warms the heart.
Main image: The photo of “Prime minister Tony Abbott and secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection Michael Pezzullo at the 2015 National Flag Raising and Citizenship Ceremony. The woman at the right of the photo is a public servant from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection” is by Nick-D and is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0