ANTHONY PUN. Metamorphosis of the Immigration Department to a fatal progeny?

May 22, 2019

This article relies on the materials provided by two distinguished former Deputy Secretaries of the Immigration Department in  their building of the people’s immigration department and their disappointment  over the last two decades. As an active community advocate on immigration matters, I also have been involved with the department over a period of 40 years. I too, shared their achievements and current disappointment. The merger of Immigration and Customs into DIBP is a mismatch and the incoming government should  recast the foundations to a department to be more sensitive to peoples’ needs.

The Historical Right Turn

The Immigration Department started to turn right when the Hon Philip Ruddock was appointed as the Minister of Immigration during the Howard Administration (1990s). Some of the manifestation of the right pendulum swing were not observable for another 10 years. It was commonly acknowledged then that Mr Ruddock was extremely knowledgeable in his portfolio on immigration matters and there was a lobby then to request PM Howard to move him into Cabinet. It did happen later on.

Despite my frequent “sparring” with Minister Ruddock on radio, TV and print media on immigration policies, I do respect him for keeping his word on certain issues which was important to the community. He was always  a gentleman.

The current DIBP report card

The merger of the Immigration Department and the Customs was the final trophy on the pedestal for the right. The current failure of the DIBP were well illustrated in articles ( Pearls and Irritations) written by two former Deputy Secretaries of the Department, Mr Abul Rizvi and Mr Peter Hughes and their long-term involvement with immigration policies should be respected. These articles are appreciated by the community in being informative and objective; and include the following:

By Peter Hughes:

By Abul Rizvi:

In one of the articles, Mr Stephen Saunders made the comment that polls indicated that voters did support  lower immigration and population growth. However, this claim may reflect a reaction to a biased propaganda about the contradictions of sustained migration growth that has gone on for the last 2 decades. However, another commentator, Mr Michael Rogers wrote “You may come to the conclusion that somewhere there is a ‘spin doctor’ with a gold certificate of commendation on their mantelpiece.”

The changes in the last 2 decades have culminated in an almost  “dysfunctional” Immigration Department, not because departmental officers were inept or derelict of their duties, but because its policy and implementation has been shackled by chains or priorities of another department which runs on a different agenda and philosophy. In short, it is a mis-match.

Both former Deputy Secretaries painted a picture of a former respectable department going down in flames and I could understand their disappointment after spending half their lives in building up a people’s immigration department.

The Multicultural Communities Council of NSW position on Immigration:

As Australians, we are interested and concerned about our immigration policies particularly where such policies would move Australia towards better planning and prosperity for  future generations. Hence, we must not allow the governments to dictate how immigration should be managed but prefer our government to accept community views and co-op them as partners in determining the nation’s future in immigration.

On this note, we maintain, after the census stats for  2016, that “Multicultural” is now part of “mainstream” and inseparable. Hence, we have a right to have a say in immigration matters.

There are specific issues worthwhile reforming or reviewed  so that the nation can come up with an immigration policy supported by the majority of Australians. As the articles and comments imply, there are areas worth getting the attention of the politicians because most of these issues can be “election” issues:

  • English language testing for Citizenship tests can be viewed as discriminatory and can create an “underclass” of permanent residents.
  • There may be miscalculations on the present government’s part in reducing immigration numbers. This can lead to loss of funding for social welfare programs including Medicare, pensions and other needy programs.
  • Parents visa are a problem because of capping and contributions. Poorer Australians are disadvantaged and can cause hardship in families.
  • Some temporary visas can unintentionally create “an underclass” of workers who are no better off than in “modern slavery”.
  • Spouse visas are a problem and regulations put into effect to maintain visa system integrity has the unintended consequences of catching genuine cases in the “net’.
  • The capping and increases in visa fees and AAT appeal fees is getting expensive.
  • Long queues in primary decisions and AAT decision reflect deliberate government policy and create unnecessary on shore applications for asylum status and divert applicants to alternate visas.

On the immigration debate, we urge the government to return to active consultation with the community.

An informed debate without racial politics would put an end to the use of immigration as a “bogey man” by far-right politicians playing racial politics and scaring gullible voters into xenophobic fears of an Asian take-over for the sake of maintaining power.

Finally, we support a call by Mr Peter Hughes for a Royal Commission as we believe that his call is not an over reach but a necessary tool in our democracy to recast the foundations of the Immigration Department that should be sensitive to the needs of the community and nation; and to seek consultation and debate on genuine evidence based arguments on immigration intake based on long term overall planning for the nation.

Dr Anthony Pun, OAM was as a former Immigration Tribunal member, community advocate and commentator on immigration matters for nearly 40 years.

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