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Top Secrets & True Lies - The Onshore Immigration Detention Regime

In recent times a light has been increasingly shone on Australia’s treatment of refugees, and in particular the unfortunate souls who have found themselves detained indefinitely on Manus Island. Up until now, it has been all too easy for the government to rationalise this as ‘border protection’ and thus coerce the public into turning a blind eye to it.

There is still another layer to Australia’s draconian immigration detention regime which is yet to be fully exposed and investigated. That is the domain of onshore detention, and it is rarely given more than a cursory glance largely due to the public perception of those who have been so detained by it.

Dutton’s modus operandi when challenged on indefinite detention of asylum seekers is simple – he will lie and use smear tactics to denigrate those individuals in order to turn public sympathy against them. In exactly the same way it has been easy for him to deflect attention away from the onshore detention regime. The Immigration minister typically describes those detained under s501 as ‘hardened criminals’ and ‘members of organised crime gangs’ to elicit a ‘well, they deserved it’ reaction from the public at large. Add to this the tight veil of secrecy around Immigration detention matters which includes gag orders on staff employed at detention centres, and you have a recipe which has allowed a culture of injustice and heavy-handedness to flourish and grow under Dutton’s ministry.

Under the 2014 legislative amendments to Section 501 (‘s501’) of the Migration Act (1958), a non-citizen resident in Australia must now have their visa cancelled by the Immigration minister if they have ever been convicted of offences resulting in a prison sentence of 12 months or more. The ‘unlawful non-citizen’ is then offered the opportunity to plead their case to remain in Australia.

The amendments passed under the Abbott government broadened the scope of non-citizens being caught up in the ‘mandatory visa cancellation’ net to include long-term permanent residents, which both the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Commonwealth Ombudsman argue was never the original intent of the legislation. Both these organisations have subsequently produced numerous reports and findings challenging the legitimacy of the legislation. They continue to fall on deaf governmental ears.

The chilling aspect of the legislation change is the suite of sweeping administrative powers it afforded to the Immigration minister, allowing him to effect visa cancellations without due checks and balances. A decision made by the Minister is not merits reviewable by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and his sole decision is difficult to appeal. One man now wields this draconian power. One man has made himself judge, jury and executioner.

Let’s be very clear on this point – with respect of criminality, the Australian public has a right of protection. Section 501 purports to uphold the right to ensure the community is protected from harm, but who exactly are the people that it is detaining? What are their circumstances and what exactly is the risk to the Australian community should they be allowed to remain? And why is a politician making his own judgement on risk, in ignorance of the rulings and judgements made by the judiciary who have been put there for that purpose? What we are witnessing is the erosion of separation of powers, and flouting of rule of law. And that is a slippery road toward dictatorship.

In June 2016, the Hon. Peter Dutton MP stood up in parliament and proudly boasted that he had cancelled the visas of 2,000 non-citizens, 137 of whom were members of organised gangs. That amounted to just 7% of the total, and yet nobody bothered to challenge him to explain exactly who made up the other 93%.

So who are the 93 per-cent? It is time to expose the truth of who is being caught up in this net, and just how the Immigration minister is misusing the administrative powers the legislation have accorded to him. The stories of injustice are numerous, and many will surprise. Many individuals have lived in Australia since their childhood, and many are first time offenders with no criminal past. Some have no criminal charges whatsoever.

A young man of Indian extraction, married to an Australian citizen has been living and working lawfully in Australia. Allegations were made untruthfully against him, charges laid and subsequently dropped and withdrawn by the DPP. His visa was cancelled under s501 character grounds despite having no conviction and no prior criminal record in Australia or India. He has been in immigration detention for almost 2 years.

An older gentleman had applied for Australian citizenship in the late 1970s and had sworn the oath of allegiance but never received a hard-copy Citizenship Certificate. He never thought more of it until he was detained as an illegal non-citizen. Without any assistance from Immigration/DIBP he managed to obtain the copy of his signed oath of allegiance under FOI. He has been in immigration detention 4 and a half years where he remains today.

Decisions of visa cancellations are routinely made in contradiction to the rulings of the judiciary with respect of a person’s risk to the community. These decisions are resulting in permanent estrangement from family and loved ones, and return to a country which in many cases a person has never resided in since their childhood. Often it is without benefit of welfare or a family support network.

The protection of the community is paramount, and there is a rightful expectation that non-citizens resident in Australia remain respectful and law-abiding. However the Minister’s heavy-handedness in cancelling visas extends to first-time offenders with demonstrated histories of lawfulness who have served their time for that wrongdoing and have been assessed by the judiciary to present precious little risk to the community at large. The Minister is well-versed at painting sheep as wolves when it comes to those in onshore detention.

Whatever the circumstances, it is neither acceptable nor humane to destroy detainees and their families – many of the latter being lawful Australian citizens – physically, mentally, emotionally and financially in the process. Minister Dutton believes this to be the will of the Australian people.

A record number of permanent resident visas have been cancelled since 2014 – an unprecedented number which Australia has not seen since World War 2, when non-citizens of German and Japanese extraction were removed to detention camps. In 2017 we find ourselves in a virtually secret war – with legislation enacted under the current government, and zealously executed by the Immigration minister.

Would you be comfortable in allowing one man to hold your future and that of your family in his hand? If you are a permanent resident in this country, don’t think for a moment that you are beyond his reach.


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