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The ministerial intervention powers spelt out in the Migration Act — the powers that Peter Dutton used to help two or perhaps three friends, acquaintances or party donors with their childcare needs — are extraordinary in the full sense of the word. They are non-reviewable and non-compellable, and they must be exercised personally by the minister acting “in the national interest.” How ministers use these powers in many ways reflects their values and how they view their responsibility to the public.

These powers, covered by section 195A of the act, have been referred to as the “God powers.” Mindful of the risk that they could be misused, a Senate committee recommended in 2004 that they be treated as “the ultimate safety net” and “a last resort to deal with cases that are truly exceptional and unforeseeable.” The committee proposed an independent body to review cases of ministerial intervention, but no such body has ever been established.

Peter Dutton receives thousands of formal immigration-related requests a year, some of them asking him to use section 195A powers to assist people in immigration detention (such as the nannies currently capturing headlines). We don’t know how many he rejects, but anecdotal evidence suggests that he uses the powers very rarely. Getting this particular minister to intervene in your favour is like winning the lottery.

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