Home Affairs Department Secretary Michael Pezzullo has been asked to step aside while an investigation takes place into leaked messages. Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil asked Pezzullo to stand down following allegations reported by Nine media on the weekend. Mr. Pezzullo, a top Australian public servant, reportedly sent hundreds of encrypted messages to Liberal Party powerbroker Scott Briggs regarding political machinations in the corridors of power.
One of these text messages was allegedly sent the night before the leadership spill against former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in August 2018. “I don’t wish to interfere but you won’t be surprised to hear that in the event of ScoMo (Scott Morrison) getting up, I would like to see Dutton come back to HA [Home Affairs]. No reason for him to stay on backbench that I can see,” he said in one text message quoted by The Age. Mr. Briggs responded, “I agree.”
In a press statement, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed Mr. Pezzullo had stepped down from his post. Stephanie Foster, a senior public servant within the department, will take over the role in the meantime. Lynelle Briggs, a former Australian public service commissioner, will conduct the inquiry. “This morning, the home affairs minister asked the secretary of her Department, Michael Pezzullo, to stand aside while an Australian Public Service Commission investigation is undertaken into the allegations reported overnight,” Prime Minister Albanese said in a statement. “Mr Pezzullo has agreed to step aside pending the independent review.”
However, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has defended Mr. Pezzullo, saying he “served the government faithfully” when he was the minister. Mr. Dutton served as home affairs minister in the Morrison government. “I’ll say in relation to Mr. Pezzullo: he was my secretary when I was in Home Affairs. I found him to always be professional,” Mr Dutton told reporters. “This is an issue for the government to work out. 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 he was able to, I think in all of his interactions, put the country first, and that’s what I think you’ve seen demonstrated in his work at home affairs.”
The origin of the messages is yet to be confirmed, however, 60 Minutes and The Age state they found out about the messages “via a third party who obtained lawful access to them.” The reports do not suggest Mr. Pezzullo conducted any corrupt or illegal conduct.