Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said drones were monitoring criminals released on his watch. It’s not true

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Sarah Blake
The Nightly
4 Min Read
GAME OF DRONES: Last week Andrew Giles said drones were being used to monitor criminal non-citizens. Today he’s admitted that’s not true.
GAME OF DRONES: Last week Andrew Giles said drones were being used to monitor criminal non-citizens. Today he’s admitted that’s not true. Credit: The Nightly/AAP/Lukas Coch

It was another day, another shocker for under-fire Immigration Minister Andrew Giles, who on Monday was forced to walk back his claims that drones were being used to monitor some of the overseas-born criminals wandering the country after being released from immigration detention.

The humiliating new gaffe has heaped more pressure on Mr Giles, who again insisted he was not stepping down from his job despite a cascading series of bungles.

Holes started appearing in the drones yarn pretty soon after Mr Giles rolled it out in a Sky News interview last week.

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After weeks of resisting calls for him to address the scandals dogging his portfolio, the usually media-shy minister was defending his department after revelations that some of the 153 freed criminals including murderers, freed after a High Court ruling, were not wearing ankle monitoring devices.

“Well they are being monitored,” Mr Giles said on Thursday.

“There is a quarter of a billion dollars that we’ve invested in supporting our law enforcement agencies. That’s enabled things like using drones to keep track of these people. We know where they are.”

Even after the Australian Federal Police said they weren’t aware of this aerial activity, Agriculture Minister Murry Watt on Sunday was talking up the drones. Although he did explain that they were more involved in checking on the proposed accommodation of the non-citizens.

“My understanding is that drones are being used as part of this operation, but more in the sense of monitoring the accommodation that people are living in, for example, ensuring that it’s not too close to schools or other areas that they’re not supposed to be living close to,” Mr Watt said.

By Monday, Mr Giles’ retreat was complete and he was asked in a fiery Question Time what the “basis of the advice that led to this latest example of gross incompetence” had been.

In time honoured tradition for politicians, Mr Giles blamed bureaucrats for the misleading and widely reported wrong statement.

“Last week, in an interview on Sky News, I did state that Operation Ageis was using drones. I relied on information provided by my department at the time which has since... been clarified,” Mr Giles said.

“As part of the work monitoring and supporting community safety, Operation Aegis draws on information from a range of sources using different technology, including aerial open source and other imagery through their work with state and territory law enforcement bodies.”

Australian Immigration Minister Andrew Giles reacts during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, March 25, 2024. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Australian Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has walked back his claims that drones were being used to monitor criminal non-citizens. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAPIMAGE

Mr Giles has faced repeated calls for his resignation in the wake of a series of bungles including the Government’s flatfooted response to the NZYQ ruling and an order by him that has led to dozens of other criminals having their deportations overturned.

Mr Giles said he had now cancelled 30 visas of criminals and the contentious Direction 99 was being overturned after it led to their release when the Administrative Appeals Tribunal gave more weight to the felons’ ties to Australia than to community safety.

Shadow home affairs James Paterson on Monday called again for Mr Giles to be stood down on the back of his latest error.

“The Minister for Immigration is inventing imaginary drone surveillance programs instead of using the actual powers available to him to protect the community,” he said.

“He could require every one of the 153 released detainees to wear an ankle bracelet, but he’s let half of them out without them, including at least two murderers and 26 sex offenders.

“He and the Minister for Home Affairs could apply for a preventative detention order to get them off the street - but they haven’t applied for a single one, more than six months since the scheme was legislated.”

For his part Prime Minister Anthony Albanese continued to stand behind his factional ally and close friend, describing the drones pile-on as a “rabbit hole” and levelling claims against former immigration minister and now Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s role in releasing an overseas born criminal into the community.

“The AAT decided a Congo born man who had convictions for a sex offence regarding a girl aged under 14 and for repeatedly breaching the bail conditions should be allowed to stay in Australia,” Mr Albanese said in Question Time.“It cited ministerial direction 65. What did the current Leader of the Opposition do? Absolutely nothing.“It is alleged that this individual then went on to re-offend. The allegations are serious in nature; domestic violence, torture, assault while armed, assault while occasions bodily harm, deprivation of liberty.“The victims were his own children, including his five-year-old son who was left in a coma. He was arrested and is currently in remand pending a trial.“The Leader of the Opposition did nothing. This Minister for Immigration has cancelled his visa.”

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