Nightmare of deportation: Labor tries on Dutton’s racist jackboots

Mar 29, 2024
Deportation and other documents on a desk.

The latest Migration Act amendments reflects the fact that Pezzullo’s protégées are still running the Department of Home Affairs. They are actively papering over the mess that their own indefinite detention decisions created. A sharp new broom is needed to clear out the departmental debris.

On Tuesday, a bunch of bright young refugees went to parliament to talk about their community contribution, their quest for permanent residency and what more they could give the nation if granted domestic tertiary study rights.

They were to meet with Independent members of parliament and senators, alongside sector organisers like Jana Favero of ASRC. Interacting with politicians and representing the sector seemed positive enough.

But instead of sharing their dreams, these young people ended up addressing the nightmare of deportation, in the light of proposed Amendments to the Migration Act.

The actual Bill seems not only hasty and loose, but an over-reaction.

Just who are these measures intended for? Dare the Government even say?

“Australia could ban visa applications from five countries under proposed new laws to thwart a potential repeat of the high court detainee scandal.

“The laws would grant the minister the power to block visa applications from countries that do not accept their citizens being involuntarily returned.

“Up to five countries are reportedly being targeted by the Albanese government – Iraq, Iran, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Russia.”
The terms of the bill are so broad that they seem capable of causing grief for many of the brightest refugees in the nation.

The terms of the bill are so broad that they seem capable of causing grief for many of the brightest refugees in the nation.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge has also stated his alarm, saying:

“Just uncovered a massive element to this Bill, there is a loophole in this Bill that will allow this law to be applied to any non-citizen, without restriction, regardless of which visa they are on.”

Why is the Bill so comprehensive if only targeting one bloke (ASF17) due before the High Court in mid April?

And what is the actual emergency? A few gaps in the system occasionally leave the Department with egg on its face. Despite maintaining those gaps for 9 years in office, the Opposition enjoys celebrating these shortcomings in the media.

Where is the replacement for the failed Fast Track scheme?

There is also the matter of criminalising an authentic fear of repatriation. Five year sentences and a fine seems excessive.

Rather than treating irregular arrivals kindly after over a decade of living and working here, we are again focussing on a handful bad apples and disregarding the larger, more productive bunch.

That is, we are being disproportionately punitive.
It is almost phobic. And it shows no faith in the judiciary. And is it warranted? Some studies indicate that overall, refugees are no more likely to break the law than ordinary citizens. They may take less for granted.

A 2019 study found no impact of immigration on crime rates in Australia. Foreigners are under-represented in the Australian prison population, according to 2010 figures. A 1987 report by the Australian Institute of Criminology noted that studies had consistently found that migrant populations in Australia had lower crime rates than the Australian-born population.

Some ethnic groups seem to attract more attention from the law and others less. This may be down to background or police perception.

Don’t most people break the law due to a lack of support?

Then there is the double jeopardy problem. Are law breakers without visas who serve a sentence actually any more dangerous than an Australian citizen who serves a jail term? We have warehoused those few refugees who break state or national laws in jails and then all over again in detention centres without any form of useful rehabilitation. How smart is that?

Moreover, deportations can and do get pushed through no matter what countries are involved. Australian immigration guards are quite assertive like that.

Should individuals carry the responsibility for breaches in nation to nation diplomacy?

It is ironic that even the Liberals think the Bill is too hasty.

This is the same party that a few years ago sought to get immigration (Australia Border Force) troopers garbed in black onto the streets to randomly check peoples’ immigration papers. An LNP Government oversaw years of the sometimes fatal Manus and Nauru detention regimes offshore.

So … do the LNP inspire jackboot, kneejerk, reactionary laws and then seek extra time to make the rules more horrible?

Or do they aim to maintain and enjoy the spectacle of Labor squirming after awkward release decisions by the High Court?

Or, is it that the LNP genuinely seek information and due process? Now that would be quaint.

Rather than acknowledge the deeper causes of Australian economic or social challenges, Labor apparently seeks to improve electoral chances by playing up to racial prejudice. Replacing media slants and scapegoats with facts might do them more credit with voters born overseas.

Mirroring the LNP has not gone smoothly. When trying on Dutton’s racist jackboots, Labor seems to slop about uncomfortably and occasionally trip.

So what is Labor’s real game: draconian policy or benign inclusion and compassion? If Labor intermittently apes the LNP just to get across the electoral line, more of the electorate may be tempted to flirt with independents and the LNP.

Wouldn’t it be better to judge individual cases on merit than by country or income or skills? At the moment immigration decisions seem classist and arbitrary. Culture is as much of a threat as war or the law in places hostile to religious or ethnic minorities, LGBTQI+, women from Sharia countries or even those living with disabilities.

Nothing has actually replaced the flawed Fast Track process as yet. Shouldn’t Government be getting on with that?

Yes, some gaming of tourist and student visas overstayer loopholes occurs. (You can’t logically seek a protection visa and then nip back home for a holiday). But, given the clumsiness of assessment processes, how else do people escaping sudden war get here in a hurry?

Remember the chaos of Kabul airport? The lack of a working DFAT hotline?

Deciding refugee status strictly by nationality has never been adequate. Anyone from anywhere can face exceptional threats. The arbitrariness of assessments seems concerning. Departmental staff do not seem trained enough nor equipped to assess real situations on the ground. Nor are they held to account for their decisions.

The latest Migration Act amendments reflects the fact that Pezzullo’s protégées are still running the department. They are actively papering over the mess that their own indefinite detention decisions created. (Most of their ankle monitor rulings did not stick when assessed by a judge). They have poured their poison into the ears of once-compassionate politicians for too long.

A sharp new broom is needed to clear out the departmental debris.

Meanwhile many vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees are stressed and some even seem suicidal. It is far too easy for any citizen to suggest they stay calm, steer a steady course at work and keep making allies in all areas of parliament. Those with traumatic lived experience might reasonably find all that harder in practice.

They long for rights to study, work, hugs with ageing relatives, secure mortgages and plan for a clearer future. After up to 12 long years of feeling stuck, constrained and afraid, it seems a fair ask. That they cope at all is admirable.

What is next? We have 5 weeks to analyse the Bill and make submissions to a senate review. The Coalition’s James Patterson claims he is all for passing it.

This “emergency” has been decades in the making. Surely less kneejerk, more constructive solutions are needed?

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