Ban on deportations reversed
October 10, 2008
A LANDMARK Federal Court decision that allowed a group of immigration detainees with criminal backgrounds who have spent much of their lives in Australia to stay in the country has been reversed by the Federal Government.
The group of 23 detainees, some of whom came to Australia as children, were released from detention centres in July after English-born detainee Charles Sales challenged – on a technicality – the Immigration Minister's power to cancel his particular visa class.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans has since amended the technicality in the Migration Act and 15 of the detainees, who are largely from Britain and New Zealand, are being returned to detention centres. The other eight are still in the community while their visa cancellation cases are reassessed.
The move has surprised some detainee advocates, given that the Rudd Government overturned the former government's deportation of Robert Jovicic, a Melbourne resident with a criminal history who was deported to Serbia despite having come to Australia at the age of two.
Under the Howard government's hardline approach, anyone who had served a prison sentence of more than one year could be deported, no matter how long they had lived in Australia. It is unclear if the Rudd Government will pursue this approach.
The group returning to detention include people with very serious and less serious criminal convictions.
Mr Sales, who came to Australia from Britain at age two, battered another man to death with a cricket bat. Another member of the group, who came to Australia aged four, has a string of criminal convictions, but had his visa cancelled over a shoplifting offence.
Mr Evans said the Federal Court judgement in July – which ruled that the minister could not cancel “transitional permanent visas” issued after 1994 – was a “highly technical” judgement.
“It was never intended that holders of transitional (permanent) visas would be exempt from having their visas cancelled on character grounds,” he said.
But Julian Burnside, president of Liberty Victoria, said most of the affected visa-holders were Australians in every respect, except on paper, and questioned the minister's power to deport them.
“The test is this: have they in a practical sense been absorbed into the Australian community? And, if so, they should not be deported no matter what they have done.
“The problem is the Government seems to think because they've committed crimes there is no real sympathy for them in the community.
“On one level that is probably right in a cheap opportunistic sense, but the truth is people who are Australians also commit serious criminal offences, they all do their time, the Australians get to go back to their families, but these people get removed and sent back to another country,” he said.
“Throwing a person out of Australia where they have lived for many years or decades means breaking up their family and sending them to a country with which they have no real connection.”