Assault charges to be dropped against man released from indefinite detention hours after Dutton question time attack

<span>Peter Dutton used assault charges against a man released from indefinite detention to launch a question time attack on the Albanese government.</span><span>Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP</span>
Peter Dutton used assault charges against a man released from indefinite detention to launch a question time attack on the Albanese government.Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Victoria police has moved to withdraw assault charges against a man released due to the high court’s ruling on indefinite detention just hours after Peter Dutton used the incident to launch a question time attack on the Albanese government, linking it to the Dunkley byelection.

On Thursday Victoria police revealed a 44-year-old Richmond man who had been released as a result of the politically controversial court ruling had been charged with sexual assault, stalking and two counts of unlawful assault.

The charges were weaponised in question time by the opposition leader, who noted the government was yet to make an application to re-detain any of the 149 people released as a result of the high court’s NZYQ decision.

Related: Refugee charged with breaching curfew launches high court challenge to released detainees’ visa conditions

The arrest and charges followed “two incidents in Richmond on [Tuesday] 27 February 2024, where a woman was allegedly assaulted and another woman allegedly stalked”, Victoria police said in its original statement.

But later on Thursday afternoon, police revealed they had “since notified the Richmond man’s legal representation and the process has commenced to formally withdraw the charges”.

“Detectives today returned to an address in Richmond and identified a man on CCTV who they now believe is the person who was involved in the incidents,” Victoria police said in a new statement.

“That man has not been arrested at this time. The investigation into the two incidents in Richmond remains ongoing.”

On Thursday evening, Victoria police commander Mark Galliott, apologised for the error, and said it was too soon to say whether the man will be compensated.

“I wouldn’t say it was a blunder, the investigators had sufficient information to make the arrest. “There was an error in arresting the person and remanding him and as I said, as soon as we found out about that we’ve rectified it. We apologise sincerely for what’s occurred.

Galliot said that the GPS data from the man’s ankle bracelets, which released detainees have been required to wear indefinitely, and CCTV data when corroborated together had placed the man at the scene. However investigators have found he was not connect with the incident.

“The person identified and the 44-year-old male are very much alike in their appearance,” Galliot said.

“It was race, age, height, clothing at the time and the quality of the CCTV at the time and better CCTV today, and the fact that we’re able to go to a wider area and actually track this person’s movements satisfied the investigators today that another person was involved.”

Guardian Australia understands that there is nothing to indicate that the second man now believed to be involved in the incidents is a former detainee released by the high court ruling.

Earlier, the immigration minister, Andrew Giles, told the House of Representatives that although he would not “comment on the individual case” he noted media reports that the man – against who charges have been withdrawn – “was subject to both electronic monitoring and curfew, as well as other strict visa conditions”.

Giles said that “because of the strict visa conditions … the location of every individual in this cohort is known”.

Dutton told the house that Giles “is a disaster”, arguing his decisions have “put Australians at risk and women in Victoria are alleged to have been sexually assaulted”.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, countered with a series of quotes from Coalition frontbenchers accepting the decision of the high court, which was that non-citizens cannot be indefinitely detained where it is not practical to deport them.

“I’ll tell you what strength is not,” he said. “Strength is not asking for responses that would endanger judicial processes.”

Asked if Giles enjoyed his full confidence, Albanese replied: “Yes.”

Labor and the Coalition believe the Dunkley byelection, in Melbourne’s south-east, is neck and neck.

In addition to the merits of the Labor candidate, Jodie Belyea, who is up against the Frankston mayor, Nathan Conroy, the government has campaigned on cost-of-living relief, particularly its $359bn tax package delivering bigger tax cuts to low- and middle-income earners on less than $147,000.

Labor has come under attack from rightwing campaign group Advance over cost of living, which is regarded as voters’ number one issue, and the release of people from detention due to the NZYQ decision.

Both major parties are engaged in expectations management, with the prime minister claiming since the Hawke era the average against the government in byelections is 7%, which the Coalition disputes. Labor’s Peta Murphy held the seat on a 6.3% margin.

Dutton said since the second world war “the average swing against the government in a federal byelection is 3.6%, about half of what the prime minister is claiming” while the average swing against a first-term government is 1.5%.

“No first-term government has lost a seat in a byelection since world war two,” he told 2GB radio.

Dutton noted Victoria was “traditionally a tough market for the Liberal party”.

“We would expect a swing of about 3% in a seat like that … 3% would be a big outcome, it would be bad for the government.”