Government should resolve visa and citizenship issues
In overturning a decision by the Immigration Department, on delegation from Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton, to refuse a visa for a Palestinian man once jailed for conspiracy to cause intentional death and belonging to a terrorist organisation, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has shown itself a poor arbiter of immigration matters. The applicant, a 30-year-old man from the West Bank in the Palestinian Territories, had “serious convictions” and had lied about them on his visa application. Yet, as Simon Benson reports today, the AAT was satisfied he had not engaged in the “improper conduct” alleged in the Israeli military court. It almost beggars belief that the AAT made such a decision when the man allegedly belonged to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, banned in the US.
Mr Dutton should consider overturning the AAT’s ruling, as he has previous, dubious AAT decisions. Given the critical importance of border security and counter-terrorism, Australians would be alarmed to learn that almost a third of all visa refusals and cancellations made by the minister or delegated to the Department of Immigration have been set aside by the AAT’s Migration and Refugee Division in the past three years. For taxpayers, the downside of the government overruling AAT decisions is the possibility of ensuing federal or even, eventual High Court action.
In his ruling on the man from the West Bank, AAT deputy president James Constance also strayed into foreign policy by referring to the “State of Palestine’’ — a self-proclaimed entity without defined borders that Australia, rightly, does not recognise. The notion of such a state is premature without a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
The AAT’s erratic attitudes are a good reason for the opposition and Senate crossbenchers to pass the Turnbull government’s controversial citizenship bill, which would give Mr Dutton, a ministerial veto over unsuitable citizenship applications approved by the AAT. Last week, we reported that a child rapist, drug dealers and a convicted killer have all won citizenship status in the AAT. In 2011, for example, the AAT ruled Iranian Hassan Baharestan should be entitled to Australian citizenship. In 1993, he was convicted of manslaughter in Western Australia for killing Church of Christ minister Douglas Good. At present, the Immigration Minister has no power to overturn such a decision. The new legislation would allow legal appeals through the Federal Court.
The public expects to hold elected governments responsible for such decisions. This is why they need to be made at ministerial or departmental level — not by an unelected tribunal with a dubious track record. The public had enough of such wilful overreach when Gillian Triggs ran the Australian Human Rights Commission. John Howard’s insistence in 2001 that “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’’ is more applicable now than when he said it.