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Daily Media Quotation

Australia Must Renounce Policies Of Suffering

January 10, 2006

Editorial - The Age

The cases of Ali Tastan and Robert Jovicic are the latest examples of brutal government attitudes to immigration policy.

In November 1973 Philip Ruddock, newly elected member for [Parramatta] in NSW, made his first speech to Federal Parliament. It was an earnest address on the need for community views to be taken into account in matters of urban and regional development. Reading that maiden speech more than 30 years later, it is hard not to be struck by Mr Ruddock's call for politicians to avoid "the imposition of our own views" on the public and his fear that "people could suffer" if the wrong decisions are made.

If it is true that a week is a long time in politics, then three decades can be expected to have an enormous impact on parliamentarians who spend large parts of each year cocooned in Canberra, shielded from the difficulties that constitute life for many in their electorates. The pressure to make their mark can be enormous and inevitably this means that sometimes long-held principles are jettisoned in the process.

It is hard to find even a glimpse in Australia's current Attorney-General of the young man who spoke of his concern for consultation and fairness. Today Mr Ruddock - who as recently as 1998 rejected Pauline Hanson's call for temporary protection visas for refugees as "highly unconscionable", but went on to introduce them a year later - is better known for his hardline stance on humanitarian and immigration issues and his refusal to budge once he has made decisions, even in the face of legal rulings.

It was Mr Ruddock who, using his personal power as immigration minister, cancelled Ali Tastan's permanent residency visa eight months after the Administrative Appeals Tribunal found that deportation was not justified. Mr Tastan came to Australia from Turkey as a 12-year-old and lived here for almost 30 years before he was deported on character grounds in 2003 after spending three years in immigration detention. At a Federal Court hearing in Sydney last Friday, it emerged that Mr Tastan holds an "absorbed person's visa" because he lived here for so long. This entitles him to stay in Australia. The "absorbed person" status was devised after a Federal Court decision in July to protect some non-citizens from deportation, provided they had remained in the country for the period between April 2, 1984, and September 1, 1994.

Mr Tastan will now be repatriated to Sydney, where his parents live. Robert Jovicic's future is less certain. He was similarly affected by changes to the Migration Act in 1999, which broadened the powers of the immigration department and of the minister to cancel non-citizens' visas. But a holiday to Serbia as a teenager in late 1984 could mean that Mr Jovicic will remain stateless. The 38-year-old had lived in Australia since he was two but he had not taken out citizenship. He was deported to Serbia, his parents' birthplace, after serving a prison sentence for burglaries he committed to support his heroin addiction. Although the Australian embassy in Serbia is now providing accommodation for the mentally ill man, there is no indication that he will be able to return home.

Since 2000-2001, almost 300 people have been removed from Australia under the new section, which gives them limited rights to appeal to the Federal Court or High Court. Many, like Mr Jovicic, are Australian in all but the most technical sense. In his last full year as immigration minister, Mr Ruddock cancelled 189 visas on character grounds (the current minister, Amanda Vanstone, cancelled 14 last year).

As Attorney-General, Mr Ruddock is now responsible for the sweeping ministerial powers afforded by the new anti-terror laws. There is little in his recent record that inspires confidence that he will do this with the regard for citizens' well-being that informed his early career in politics. It is horrifying to think that Australia is now a country where it takes a court case to ensure the application of basic human rights



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