This week Canberra is buzzing.
It’s the last sitting fortnight before the long winter break, the week when important bits of legislation simply must be worked out, those troublesome backbenchers sorted, and then they can all relax and attend the Gallery Mid-Winter Ball, to show the merits of Parliamentary democracy at work and schmooze a few Gallery journos over drinks.
One of the talked-about pieces of legislation is the move by Immigration Minister Dutton to curb the power of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and end what the Minister has called its ‘silly rulings’.
Peter Dutton has finally had enough of the AAT’s flouting of his Department’s judgments with regard to the visas of Iranian and other so-designated asylum seekers who, considered to be in peril for their lives, managed to go back for holidays and so forth.
He announced that his crackdown on citizenship matters will bring visa cancellations into line – his Department was blocked by the AAT on the matters of visa cancellations, with the Tribunal putting itself and its ruling above the Minister, including in the matter of a paedophile who gained citizenship through the lenient AAT decision-making process.
Dutton’s overdue reforms of the system have brought screeches of protest from lawyers and migration agents, including Law Council of Australia Fiona McLeod who was reported as saying that reports of the AAT’s powers being challenged were concerning, “Any attempt to wind back review powers should be treated with concern’.
David Manne, lawyer, migration agent and coordinator of the Refugee & Immigration Legal Centre, the largest provider of free legal assistance to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, Hugh de Kretser, executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre and Spencer Zifcak of Liberty Australia, among others, were previously not saying much at all about ‘inhumane treatment’ of asylum seekers.
The silence of the clams. They’ve worked out that Australians are turning, in disgust and –yes, fear – from the case for so-called asylum seekers, among whose numbers have been those who’ve entered our country, broken our laws and murdered our citizens. So they individually, and in collaboration, clammed up.
But, in the light of this week’s reforms to citizenship laws, they’ve unclammed and, characteristically, are invoking the independence of the judiciary.
But the AAT is not, in the main, comprised of lawyers and academics. In many cases, it comprises people whom, the Tribunal feels, are sympathetic to its objectives. One former Tribunal member in Sydney is a Sri Lankan Tamil, a former journalist, who now works for a trade-union-affiliated body.
But, according to David Manne, the citizenship reforms are ‘a totally unwarranted and draconian move’, an attempt to ‘eviscerate due process from important legal decisions. “Politicians should not have such awesome personal powers without proper scrutiny.”
But where was the ‘proper scrutiny’ by the judiciary when Man Monis was allowed bail, even though he was being held on charges of murder and of sending despicable letters to the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Western Sydney law lecturer Jason Donnelly was reported to regret the undermining of the object and independence of the AAT, “it opens a can of worms to the abrogation of other fundamental rights.” He said.
The real can of worms is the networking cahoots that exist in quasi-legal bodies and agencies such as the AAT and the AHRC, both now shown to be inefficient to the point of corruptness.
Peter Dutton’s strong action, placing his Department in the frontline to make decisions on citizenship is to be applauded, allowing, as it does, claimants to still have avenues for appeal to the Federal and even the High, Courts.
It is regrettable, then, as the last sitting week draws to a close that, legislation cannot be drawn up to abolish both the AHRC and AAT in one go. The country would be better for it.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.