MARK RILEY: Detainee shambles means Immigration Minister Andrew Giles must go, and soon

Headshot of Mark Riley
Mark Riley
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Soon, Andrew Giles will no longer be the Minister for Immigration. It is just a matter of time. 
Soon, Andrew Giles will no longer be the Minister for Immigration. It is just a matter of time.  Credit: The Nightly

Soon, Andrew Giles will no longer be the Minister for Immigration.

He will either go willingly or unwillingly. He will stand down or he will be sacked.

It is just a matter of time.

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How and when it happens, though, shapes up as the biggest test Anthony Albanese has confronted as Prime Minister.

Not “one” of the biggest tests. The biggest. This is his moment for real leadership.

It is a moment for foresight over friendship, strength over sentiment, business over benevolence.

Albanese’s own future could rise or fall on how he handles it. And Anthony Albanese is no dope. As painful as it might be for him to admit, he knows his long-time friend and factional ally has to go.

Giles’ position is untenable.

Sacking a mate, though, is one of the toughest things a leader can do. Yet, there is one thing Albanese could do that would be worse. And that is not sacking him.

The immigration omnishambles is no longer about the career of one minister. It is about the future of the Albanese Government.

Mark Riley.
Mark Riley. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

If Albanese doesn’t act swiftly to shift his friend aside then Giles’s problem will become Albanese’s problem.

The story won’t be about a bad minister. It will be about a weak Prime Minister. Weak prime ministers don’t get re-elected.

Voters see a government that doesn’t admit its own mistakes as arrogant. One that doesn’t act when those mistakes slap it in the face is worse than that. It’s negligent.

This issue is bigger than Anthony Albanese’s friendship with Andrew Giles. Much bigger.

Immigration is a vote changer. And it’s a government changer. The only way to avoid that now is to change the minister. And only a new minister can make the big changes that need to be made so the Government can save face with voters in this crucial policy area.

The revelations about the disastrous impacts of Giles’s introduction of Direction 99 have turned the political temperature up to 100.

That is unsustainable. It was before then. Now it is indisputable.

The High Court’s ruling on NZYQ was a loss in law. It forced the Government’s hand. There was no way it could avoid the release of the criminal detainees involved.

But what it could control was how those detainees were monitored when they were released and how well the community was protected.

On both counts it failed.

This goes from bad to worse to catastrophic.

Giles’ office sought to shift the blame to state courts and the Community Protection Board — a board the minister himself put in place. But the person responsible is Andrew Giles.

That’s what the Westminster system of government demands. It is what ministerial responsibility means.

He is responsible, too, for the disastrous bungling of the former detainees’ visas.

Visa breaches that could have put 10 of them in jail for five years had to be dropped when it was discovered that the visas themselves were invalid.

Again, Giles tried to blame someone else. His office claimed that the visas had been invalid since their original drafting. They briefed senior journalists, including this one, that the drafting had been done under the former Coalition government.

It hadn’t. They had been drafted under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government.

The alleged bashing of Perth grandmother Ninette Simons put a face to the abject failure of Giles’ community protection regime.

And now his instructions under Direction 99 have led to three child rapists, one man charged over a murder, several drug runners and goodness knows how many other serious offenders avoiding deportation.

This goes from bad to worse to catastrophic.

Direction 99 asks the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to take the “strength, nature and duration of an individual’s ties to Australia” into “primary consideration” when determining whether they should have their visa withdrawn and be deported.

Giles introduced it in response to New Zealand’s complaints about the large number of Kiwi bikies and others being sent home by the AAT. But its application has been a classic case of “unintended consequences”.

This is not the last straw. It is the word we don’t yet have to describe the straw that comes after the last straw.

Not all the allegations levelled against Giles have been fair.

But if he’s looking for a job where everything that happens is fair he has chosen the wrong caper. And those allegations that are fair are way more than enough to put his future beyond doubt.

Politics, as Albanese has observed several times this year, is about making the right decision, not the easy one.

The right decision now is for Andrew Giles to go.

And soon.


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