Thursday, July 31, 2008

Surprise, surprise, Immigration does not support a judicial review of Howard's refugee policies & programs! Hmmm!

Following is the reply I received from the Department of Immigration & Citizenship on my call for a judicial review of the previous government's refugee policies and programs:

"Thank you for your emails of 5 May, 16 June and 2 July 2008 to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, concerning Mr Zhang and a number of asylum seeker policy issues. Your emails have been referred to me for response. I regret the delay in responding.

You will appreciate that privacy considerations prevent me from discussing particular cases. However, I can assure you that the Government takes its duty of care to asylum seekers and Australia’s international human rights obligations very seriously. The Government is committed to fair and humane arrangements for all people seeking asylum in Australia.

All persons who seek to engage Australia’s protection obligations have access to an exhaustive protection determination process which includes an assessment of their claims for protection under the 1951 United Nations Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugees Convention). Applications for Protection visas are assessed on their individual merits and those found not to be refugees can seek an independent review of their case.

Where people have been found not to be owed protection, it is reasonable to expect that they should leave Australia, unless they have some other legitimate ground for staying.

The Australian Government recognises the importance of ensuring that people are treated humanely and respectfully in the removal process, and that return measures are not carried out in breach of Australia's international obligations. To this end, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship undertakes pre-removal clearances to assess whether an individual's removal would breach those obligations. This clearance process is independent of any other processes initiated by the individual, and is designed to identify any changes in the person's circumstances or in the country of return that may give rise to protection or humanitarian issues.

I note your suggestion of judicial review of asylum seeker policies and programs. While judicial review is not the appropriate mechanism for evaluating Government policies, the Department is briefing the Minister on a range of options with a view to enhancing Australia’s response to humanitarian needs. Careful consideration is being given to reform Ministerial intervention and the Minister has stated that complementary protection is one of the issues he is considering and he is, in principle, favourably disposed to it.

I can assure you that the Government takes it duty of care to asylum seekers and Australia’s international human rights obligations very seriously and is committed to ensuring that asylum seekers are treated fairly and with dignity.

You have also raised the issue of an immigration management culture which you consider underlies systematic process failures. You will be pleased to know that since the Palmer and Comrie reviews the Department has put in place wide ranging organisational support structures, taken substantial steps towards greater transparency and accountability and provided officers with extensive training opportunities to address culture issues within the Department.

Thank you for bringing this matter to the Minister’s attention.

Yours sincerely

Beth Powell
A/g Assistant Secretary
Onshore Protection Branch"

Of course, expecting the department to voluntarily support a review of its previous approach is futile. Such a decision would require political will and executive action. I am a little surprised that a call to a Minister from a retired public servant previously embroiled in the Pacific Solution was passed to his department for reply. This is either deliberately obtuse or naive. I was a senior public servant that became embroiled in the Pacific Solution. I know how the bureaucracy works. It responds to the policy directives of the government of the day. The nexus between the directives of the Coalition Govt and the implementation of the 'border security' policies by various agencies needs to be examined forensically.

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