Senior public servant sought to influence Australia’s Israel policy

Senior public servant sought to influence Australia’s Israel policy

Michael Pezzullo was key to pushing former prime minister Scott Morrison’s contentious policy to recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Encrypted messages from Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo to Morrison’s confidant and Liberal Party powerbroker Scott Briggs in November 2018 reveal the senior public servant tried to covertly shape the major foreign policy decision and described the bureaucrats warning against Morrison’s plan as “useless”.

The messages make clear Pezzullo sought to impress upon Briggs that he, as an ostensibly apolitical and independent departmental chief, was the only one committed to advancing the prime minister’s Israel agenda.

Pezzullo also shared his assessment of the Christchurch terror attack and other sensitive material with Briggs, as the Home Affairs chief sought to ingratiate himself with a powerbroker he knew had a direct line to Morrison.

The publication of some of those messages on Sunday evening by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes forced the Albanese government to stand down Pezzullo and task the public service commissioner with investigating him.

The public service code of conduct requires bureaucrats to be apolitical, which Pezzullo has said in a major speech involves avoiding “raw politics” and maintaining “the boundary between the political and the administrative”. The Jerusalem revelations suggest Pezzullo politicised a public service panel in one of the most sensitive aspects of Australia’s foreign policy.

The latest revelations in the Pezzullo scandal will open a new avenue of inquiry for the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s investigation into the Home Affairs secretary. That inquiry is already probing dozens of other messages Pezzullo sent Briggs over five years.

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It was one of Morrison’s most contentious foreign policy moves. Michael Pezzullo wanted to help (SMH)

Photo: Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs Michael Pezzullo during a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, in 2019. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)