Minister’s backflip on drones

The government is scrambling to issue a new ministerial directive to deal with visa cancellation cases. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has backflipped on his claims drones were being used to track criminal detainees in the community.

Mr Giles released a statement moments before the start of question time on Monday, admitting he was mistaken, but claimed his department had briefed him incorrectly.

“I relied on information provided by my department at the time, which has since been clarified,” he said.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles was under fire again during Question Time on Monday. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Mr Giles told Sky News last week that Operation AEGIS – established after the High Court ruling leading to the release of 151 criminal detainees – was using drones to monitor some of the cohort.

But he has revised the information

“As part of the work monitoring and supporting community safety, Operation AEGIS draws on information from a range of sources using different technologies including aerial open-source and other imagery through their work with state and territory law enforcement bodies,” he said in the statement.

“Our strong laws impose strict visa conditions on everyone in the NZYQ cohort that were released due to a High Court decision.

“This can include electronic monitoring, curfews, financial reporting, spot checks, random home visits, as well as the other mandatory conditions which means the location of every individual is known.”

Thirty visas re-cancelled: Giles

Mr Giles also revealed he had now re-cancelled 30 visas of foreigners with serious criminal histories.

He said he was “on track” to revise Direction 99, a ministerial rule he signed in 2023 that required visa decision-makers to consider a person’s ties to Australia before deporting them.

The directive was scrapped after it was tied to several cases of non-citizens convicted of serious crimes being allowed to stay in Australia.

“The government is on track to overhaul this regime and put in place a new Direction before the end of the week,” Mr Giles said.

‘Unbelievable’: $600k speechwriter revealed

Serviced Australia employed a personal speechwriter on a reported $300,000 a year contract for two years, a senate estimates hearing has been told.

The committee heard an “experienced” and “versatile” communications professional was awarded a $300,000 contract for a year by government agency Services Australia to write speeches for Government Services Minister Bill Shorten, which was later extended to two years.

Services Australia deputy chief executive officer Susie Smith, who did not confirm the cost of the agreement, said the agency had not prepared any speeches for the minister “in the last 12 months.”

Liberal senator Linda Reynolds asked why Mr Shorten, who has access to senior department staff to prepare speeches, would need a speechwriter.

“Do you know why this extra $600,000 contract was needed?” Senator Reynolds asked.

“I can’t answer that,” Ms Smith replied.

Senator Linda Reynolds questioned why Mr Shorten needed an external speechwriter. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Fellow Liberal Senator Maria Kovacic said it “appears” Mr Shorten had personally requested the speechwriter despite the agency having 201 staff employed in its communications unit, including speechwriters.

She said it was “unbelievable” after Ms Smith confirmed the usual pay packet for a speechwriter considered to be among the “best-of-the-best” was roughly 140k per year.

“To your knowledge has the department ever suggested to a minister, previously, that they should go out and get a $300,000 per annum contract for a speechwriter to assist them?” Senator Kovacic asked.

“Not to my knowledge,” Ms Smith said.

“We’re clearly in the wrong business,” Senator Reynolds later exclaimed.

A spokesperson from Mr Shortens’s office has been contacted for comment.

Frydenberg ‘not rushing back’ to politics

Former treasurer Josh Frydenberg has ruled out a return to federal politics, after speculation he was considering throwing his hat back in the ring following proposed changes to electorate boundaries.

“Re the recent speculation about Kooyong: I am not rushing back to politics, my position on contesting the next election remains unchanged,” Mr Frydenberg posted on X on Monday.

Treasury expects weak growth for March quarter

Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy has told senate estimates he expects new data this week will reveal “very weak growth” in the economy for the March quarter.

He said cost of living and high interest rates had hit consumption and was the primary driver of the slowdown.

“In contrast to household spending, private business investment has been growing strongly,” he said.

“Despite the recent slowdown in economic activity, the labour market has remained resilient, and the unemployment rate only recently increased to 4.1 per cent in April.”

Meanwhile, Dr Kennedy said ‘he’s quite comfortable’ with the company tax rate after Industry Minister Ed Husic suggested a change was needed.

Last month, Mr Husic advocated for either a reduction in the company taxation rate or via the establishment of an economy-wide investment allowance.

“I think in the light of the current circumstances, the company tax rate is appropriate.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy appeared before Senate estimates on Monday. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Dr Kennedy said he was open to corporate tax being discussed in future as part of a tax reform conversation.

He said the government in this year’s budget had tried strike a balance between “what it’s done in the past – which has been a very substantial (fiscal) consolidation – and then it’s taking a set of decisions that in our forecasts still see inflation returning to the band”.

“It’s a fine balance to be struck,” he said.

Wong takes aim at Dutton over ICC

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said Australia has been confronted with a “catastrophic set of circumstances in Gaza” after blasting Peter Dutton’s threat to cut ties with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Appearing at a Senate estimates hearing on Monday, Senator Wong said the Australian government was considering what it can do to “progress the cause of peace” from afar after being questioned over Australia’s vote to grant Palestine full membership at the United Nations earlier this month.

Australia must abide by international laws, Senator Wong told an estimates hearing. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

She said the government had “made it clear” that a Palestinian state could not be established in a way would threaten Israeli security.

“This is a very complex problem that has not been able to be resolved, eluded resolution from leaders and presidents and people with much more diplomatic capacity than you or I will ever have,” Senator Wong said.

“But what we can do in this country is try to do the right thing in terms of Australia’s engagement to progress peace.”

Senator Wong also took aim at the Opposition Leader in her opening statement after he suggested that the government should pull out of the ICC after it called for the arrest of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We do nothing to help make (abiding by international law) it happen by recklessly threatening to pull out of the bodies that uphold international law – that kind of talk may seem tough to some, but it undermines Australia’s core security interests,” she said.

Reopening preselections ‘crazy’: Jane Hume

Liberal senator Jane Hume has hit out at suggestions that Josh Frydenberg should contest his old seat of Kooyong in the next federal election.

The former treasurer is reportedly considering running for the Melbourne seat after the Australian Electoral Commission announced new draft electorate boundaries on Friday.

Liberal MP Karen Andrews said Mr Frydenberg would be an “absolute asset” to the party in the lead up to 2025.

“(The Liberal Party) should do all they can to attract him back into our parliament and clearly if that means reopening preselections then that has to be considered,” Ms Andrews told ABC Radio National.

The Liberals are split over a key Melbourne seat. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Signalling a growing divide over Mr Frydenberg’s speculated political return, Senator Hume told Sky News that the already preselected 31-year-old Amelia Hamer was the prime candidate for the high-profile seat.

“The party has already preselected Amelia Hamer, and Amelia is a highly qualified woman. Why would they open the preselections based on draft boundaries alone?,” Senator Hume said.

“Draft boundaries change all the time, they have done in the past, it would be a crazy thing to do.”