A formal investigation has been launched into public servant Michael Pezzullo, the head of Australia’s national security and immigration department.
The Home Affairs Secretary was stood down after a joint investigation by 60 Minutes and Nine newspapers accused him of political interference.
Public servants must act independently to political parties.
Who is Michael Pezzullo, top public servant?
Pezzullo has led the Department of Home Affairs since 2017. It has responsibilities across areas like immigration, cybersecurity, border security, and counter-terrorism.
The investigation into Pezzullo’s conduct centres around years of text messages with Scott Briggs, a lobbyist and influential Liberal Party figure with direct ties to former prime ministers.
Published text messages from the Nine investigation suggest Pezzullo attempted to use Briggs to influence key decision-makers in the former Turnbull and Morrison governments. This is suggested to have occurred while he was head of Home Affairs.
In the leaked texts, Pezzullo is critical of several senior government figures. These include former Attorney-General George Brandis and staff in the Prime Ministerial department.
In one exchange obtained by Nine, Pezzullo says the government needed to “change out the leadership” in the Attorney-General’s Department, and suggested a personal friend to replace a senior offical.
What happens next?
Pezzullo won’t serve as Home Affairs Secretary while under investigation. The Public Service Commissioner is in charge of the investigation following a request from Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil (Pezzullo’s boss).
Michael Pezzullo could permanently lose his job if he is found in breach of the Public Service Code of Conduct. The Code says public servants should “take reasonable steps to avoid any conflict of interest”. However, this does not mean he has acted illegally.
The Federal Government will wait for the investigation to conclude before making a decision on Pezzullo’s future.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton worked with Pezzullo when he was Home Affairs Minister from 2017 to 2021. Dutton said Pezzullo is a “professional” who has “put the country first“.
Some members of the crossbench have called for Pezzullo’s resignation.