"I Should Not Play God": Evans

I should not play God: Evans

Mark Metherell
The Sydney Morning Herald
February 20, 2008

THE Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, is rethinking his godlike sway over the fate of would-be immigrants whose appeals pour into his office at the rate of more than 11 a day.

Pleas for ministerial intervention from refugees and others whose requests to settle in Australia have been rejected by officialdom have soared to more than 4000 a year, more than 10 times the level of 12 years ago.

“I have formed the view that I have too much power,” Senator Evans told a Senate estimates committee yesterday. “I think the [Immigration and Citizenship] Act is unlike any other act I have seen in terms of the power given to the minister to make decisions about individual cases.

“I am uncomfortable with that, not just because of concern about playing God, but also because of the lack of transparency and accountability for those decisions and the lack in some cases of any appeal rights against those decisions.”

Senator Evans said he believed the ministerial intervention powers were established to be used in rare cases, but had now become “very much the norm”.

Intervention by the minister may be sought by those who have exhausted their rights before the Refugee Review Tribunal or the Migration Review Tribunal. Senator Evans said many cases involved difficult decisions such as balancing the rights of children and those with a criminal history. There were “no easy solutions”.

He has commissioned a former Victorian public servant, Elizabeth Proust, to advise him on his powers. Senator Evans also reported on the resolution of the cases of seven Burmese and 82 Sri Lankans apprehended under the previous government and sent to Nauru as part of the now abandoned Pacific solution.

He said the “discredited” policy had cost taxpayers $300 million and “ultimately saw the majority of refugees who were held offshore end up in Australia”.

Having announced a review of the citizenship test introduced last year, Senator Evans said he was also moving to quickly settle 247 cases of unlawful detention, as identified by the Ombudsman.

The president of the Refugee Council of Australia, John Gibson, said yesterday that there had been concerns about the use of ministerial powers, and the review was welcome.