Peter Dutton used his ministerial discretion powers to grant visas to two au pairs (file).The business lobby and nanny agencies have seized on the controversy surrounding Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and the au pair detention saga to bolster their case for establishing a special visa category.
The n Chamber of Commerce and Industry and au pair agencies have been lobbying for a new visa class for many years.
The visa status of au pairs was in the spotlight last week, following revelations Mr Dutton used his ministerial discretion powers to grant visas on public interest grounds to two young women in immigration detention.
In the first case, an au pair whose visa was cancelled at Brisbane’s international airport in June 2015 was able to make a phone call and within a couple of hours Mr Dutton approved a new visa.
In the second case in November the same year, Mr Dutton defied written warnings from his department that granting a visitors visa to the second au pair was of “high risk” because she had been previously counselled about work restrictions.
Mr Dutton insists he doesn’t know the two individuals involved and that they didn’t work for his family, but said it would have been inappropriate for them to be deported.
The minister’s office still refuses to answer specific questions about the identity of the au pairs’ employers.
Cultural Au Pair Association president Wendi Aylward said the cases highlighted confusion with the status quo and a need for a special visa category.
“We don’t want au pairs coming in on the wrong visa. We don’t want families not understanding how this type of program works. We don’t want the experience to not be a good one,” she told AAP.
“Our discussions with the government so far have been positive ones.”
Assistant Home Affairs Minister Alex Hawke last year flagged the government was considering proposals to allow au pairs to stay in for up to two years and be paid a minimum wage or pocket money on top of food and board.
Ms Aylward said there were increasing numbers of n families looking for flexible childcare options and an insufficient number of au pairs to meet demand.
Au pairs are able to come to on working holiday visas, but that category only applies to a limited number of countries.
They can work for the same family for an initial six months which can be extended to a total of 12 months.
Ms Aylward said it’s disruptive for households and small kids who have formed a bond with an au pair to have to say goodbye after a year.
Setting up a special visa category would ensure greater transparency and reduce the risk of exploitation, she said.
ACCI is also backing calls for a regulated au pair visa class, arguing in its budget submission the working holiday visa arrangements for au pairs weren’t “fit for purpose”.
It said an au pair visa category under a user-pay system would actually deliver budget savings because it would remove some families from the taxpayer subsidised childcare system.
“(It hasn’t) entered our consciousness that anything that’s happened in the (last week) will affect the government’s decision on whether there should be a specialist au pair visa,” ACCI spokeswoman Jenny Lambert told AAP.
Asked about the prospects of a special au pair visa, Social Services Minister Dan Tehan said there would be a lot of speculation in the lead-up to the budget.
“The government won’t rule things in or out,” Mr Tehan told reporters in Melbourne.