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‘We paid our au pair $170 a week. Friends called it exploitation, this is why I disagree.’

This is the story of an Australian family who had a French au pair in 2017. The writer of this article is known to Mamamia and has chosen to remain anonymous when sharing her personal story. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of her children.

When I returned to full-time work, I knew I would need a lot of support with our kids who were one and six at the time. My husband worked shift work, and often overnight, and I would be working a regular 8:30am to 5pm job.

Considering the costs of childcare, we decided that having live-in support in the form of a nanny would help us all settle into the new routine. But not just a nanny – an au pair.

An au pair from a registered agency in France sounds fancy – but it was the most practical decision for us. We had a spare bedroom, and would give her board and food, and pay her $170 a week. She would be able to help before and after school, and most importantly, be a stable adult in our home when we couldn’t be there.

One huge factor for us was that an au pair was a fraction of the cost of a $25/hour babysitter. In fact, it was so cost-effective for us, some of my friends accused us of exploiting the young 22-year-old.

They might have been right, had it not been for the lovely home she got to stay in for six months while she explored our city, her two nights off a week, her every meal catered for, and use of my car during the week as I caught the bus to work.

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We knew when we were talking to the agency that the arrangement would be strictly six months only; that’s how long an au pair’s visa would last before she had to leave the country.

When Clare arrived, the whole family fell in love with her. She was kind and patient with the kids, and so helpful to me. I couldn’t believe my luck that the universe had sent us someone who was such a great fit for our family, when I needed the support the most. Clare made all the difference in the success of my return to work.

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The whole thing went so well that Clare’s mother and boyfriend from France even came to stay with us in that time. She became, undoubtedly, part of the family. We would have done anything to have Clare stay with us longer. But there are many pros and one major con to having an au pair; the con being that she will, within a limited time, be expected to leave the country.

But we knew what we signed up for. When it came time for Clare to leave, it broke all of our hearts. But the last thing that crossed our mind was to bend the rules. Because they’re not just ‘rules’ – they are strict immigration policies. So when we learned about Peter Dutton’s interference in one au pair’s visa, we were gutted.

The au pair Alexandra Deuwel (right) and Peter Dutton (left). Source: Facebook/Getty

Basically, what happened is that au pair Alexandra Deuwel apparently worked in South Australia in 2015 for Callum MacLachlan - who happens to be the second cousin of AFL boss Gillon McLachlan. Peter Dutton intervened to free her from immigration detention at the airport by Border Force officials, at the request of McLachlan.

So then Dutton granted Alexandra a three-month tourist visa “as a discretionary and humanitarian act to an individual with ongoing needs”, on the proviso she didn't work. Basically, he freed her. He let her stay in the country.

Sure, that's his 'ministerial discretion'. But then we learnt that Callum’s father Hugh MacLachlan has donated roughly $150,000 to state and federal branches of the Liberal Party since 1999 - and we understood knew exactly what had happened. This was nepotism at its finest.

It would have been "humanitarian" for Clare to not be torn from us, and be forced to go home when she wanted to stay in Australia, but you know what? We didn't think to call one of our powerful mates (not that we have any) to pull strings.

The way I see it, Alexandra shouldn't have been allowed to be in the country any more than our Clare. It shouldn't be one rule for us, and one rule for people with access to to Peter Dutton. Many Australian families depend on au pairs, but accept their time with them is limited. So should Dutton's friends.

I'm glad there's a Senate inquiry into what happened. Every should be held accountable for this travesty of justice. If our family, and so many others, respect the rules, so should even the most powerful people in the country.

Have you had any experiences with au pairs? Tell us in the comments section below.

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