Gov­ern­ment should re­solve visa and cit­i­zen­ship is­sues

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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