Kristina Keneally has accused Peter Dutton of “cancelling her trip” to Christmas Island last minute in a series of angry tweets, labelling the move “pathetic”.
Labor senator Ms Keneally said Mr Dutton had cancelled her trip to visit a Tamil family who were taken into detention in 2018. She says just over 20 minutes after she was granted permission by Australia’s Border Force, Mr Dutton quashed her access.
It comes on a bad day for Mr Dutton, after questions swirled over why scantily-clad twerkers were deployed to the commissioning of a war ship.
The new Defence Minister was, according to the Daily Telegraph, “facing a revolt on the high seas” overthe “inappropriate” dancers.
At the same time, the national auditor has launched an probe into a controversial funding program overseen by Mr Dutton.
The former home affairs minister cut millions in planned funding from organisations recommended for grants, and redirected the money to his own hand-picked recipients, according to the ABC.
Labor requested the auditor-general look into the Safer Communities Fund, which Mr Dutton oversaw, after allegations the program had been used to target marginal seats.
The National Audit Office (ANAO) confirmed in March it was considering the move and on Wednesday wrote to Labor senator Ms Keneally to confirm an audit was under way.
Two hours later, Ms Keneally found out the news about her trip, in what Tasmanian Labor senator Catryna Bilyk called “the fastest decision ever”.
The frontbencher sent a series of Twitter posts confirming Mr Dutton cancelled her trip to visit the Tamil family, who were taken into detention in 2018 after they were denied a visa that would have allowed them to stay in Australia.
The Sri Lankan family were transferred to Christmas Island in 2019. Nades and Priya Murugappan came to Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
They settled in Biloela, a town of about 6000 in Central Queensland, and started a family, having Kopika, now 5, and Tharunicaa, 3.
The Federal Court judgment said the parents were considered “unauthorised maritime arrivals” under Australian law.
Although their daughters were born in Australia, their parents immigration status also made the two girls “unauthorised maritime arrivals”, the judgment said.
Ever since, they have been waiting in detention to learn the outcome of a Federal Court fight to avoid deportation.
In February, the court ruled their fight was successful, and the family can stay in Australia for now.
They will remain on Christmas Island, an Australian territory where an immigration detention facility is located.
The Department of Home Affairs at the time said it was aware of the decision and was considering the implications.
“The Australian Government’s policy is clear; no one who attempts illegal maritime travel to Australia will be settled here,” it said in a statement.
“The family’s claims to engage Australia’s protection obligations have been comprehensively assessed on a number of occasions by the Department of Home Affairs, various merits review bodies and appealed though multiple courts including the Federal Court to the High Court.
“At no time has any member of the family been found to be owed protection.
The family remains in detention, as only the Minister for Immigration can grant their visa application and allow them to return to Biloela.
Ms Keneally has been supporting the family and their plight to return home and on Wednesday, confirmed she had been granted permission by the Australian Border Force at 4.50pm to visit the detention centre on Christmas Island and meet with Priya, Nades and the children.
But just 22 minutes later, she claims she received an email from Mr Dutton canning the trip.
“The Defence Minister has determined that the Special Purpose Aircraft can no longer be made available for the Committee’s travel,” she says the email read.
Ms Keneally fired back: “Dutton cancelled the trip.”
Supporters of the family say the decision was “truly appalling”.
News.com.au has sought comment.