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Pezzullo stands aside, cabinet to be briefed on private messages

Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo has stood aside from his position at the top of the powerful government department while officials investigate his private messages with a key political lobbyist, ahead of a federal cabinet meeting to consider the explosive leak.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese revealed the decision on Monday after promising to “expedite” the inquiry into the revelations, which showed how the top public servant tried to influence ministers and oust enemies in the national security regime.

Mike Pezzullo has stood aside as secretary of the Department of Home Affairs.

Mike Pezzullo has stood aside as secretary of the Department of Home Affairs.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Federal cabinet ministers will be briefed on the issue at a meeting in Adelaide on Monday afternoon, highlighting the concern about Pezzullo’s contact with Liberal Party powerbroker Scott Briggs, a close friend of former prime minister Scott Morrison.

The investigation centres on hundreds of encrypted messages Pezzullo sent to Briggs over several years, obtained by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes, ahead of a report in this masthead on Monday.

Albanese said he spoke to Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil on Sunday night about the issue, ahead of the report, and spoke to other ministers including Immigration Minister Andrew Giles.


O’Neil spoke to Pezzullo and asked him to stand aside while the investigation was under way. The government said the senior public servant agreed to do so. Albanese said this was the “appropriate” action.

The investigation will be led by former senior public servant Lynelle Briggs, who was the Australian Public Service Commissioner for five years, the chief executive of Medicare and a member of the aged care royal commission.

Briggs was appointed to look into the affair after O’Neil wrote to the current Australian Public Service Commissioner, Gordon de Brouwer, on Sunday night to ask him to set up an inquiry. She is no relation to Scott Briggs.

Albanese said he did not have any knowledge of the messages but the investigation was the appropriate course.“I think this requires a full and proper disclosure – that needs to be done in an expeditious way, and I’m sure it will be,” he said.

The government did not put a timeframe on the investigation, but Albanese said it would be expedited.

The prime minister said he expected to receive further reports at the federal cabinet meeting scheduled to be held in Adelaide on Monday afternoon, where ministers are releasing the government’s employment white paper.

“We’ll make no further comments on the specifics, for obvious reasons – it’s important that these processes are allowed to take their course – but I believe Minister O’Neil has acted appropriately given the circumstances of what was revealed in Nine newspapers this morning.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton defended Pezzullo, saying he believes the veteran public servant put the national interest first in all his interactions.

Dutton worked closely with Pezzullo over several years to establish and then run the new Home Affairs super department, and in his previous role as immigration minister.

“I found him to always be professional ... he conducted himself in a thoroughly professional way in my dealings with him,” Dutton said during a press conference in Moree, NSW, on Monday morning.

Dutton said Pezzullo had worked closely with Labor governments, including a stint as deputy chief of staff to Kim Beazley, as well as with the Coalition.

Noting the government had referred Pezzullo to the Australian Public Service commissioner, without standing him down from his job, Dutton said: “If the prime minister doesn’t have confidence in Mr Pezzullo, he should say so.

“I can tell you from my time as minister, Mr Pezzullo served the government faithfully as he did the Labor Party when they were in power and I think he was able to, in all his interactions, put the country first, and I think that’s what you’ve seen demonstrated in his work at Home Affairs.”

Independent MP Sophie Scamps said Pezzullo’s position as the Secretary of Home Affairs was untenable, while Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim said the public servant should resign or be sacked.

“Mr Pezzullo’s time as a senior public servant needs to end and it needs to end today,” McKim said.

“Throughout his time as secretary of the Department of Home Affairs he has overseen a litany of governance failures and shown complete contempt for the principle of accountability.”

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