Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bad character deportation

The Robert Jovicic case seems to have touched a nerve, and exposed something I have considered scandalous for some time: the number of people who should be Australian citizens, but aren’t by mere oversight, and who are expelled every year from the only country they’ve ever known.

For those who don’t know, Jovicic is one of many dozens of individuals every year – people who have spent all their lives here and are Australians in all but the paperwork – who the government expels for being “of bad character”. They are then “returned” to the country of their birth, where they may not speak the language or even have access to employment rights or welfare.

In my time working at the Federal Court, this type of case always struck me as unusually heartless, driven by the utterly inflexible use of section 501 of the Migration Act.

Section 501 allows the Immigration Minister to cancel your visa if you fail a “character test.” You automatically fail the test if imprisoned for 12 months on one occasion, or a total of two years over more than one occasion.

Now, if someone arrives in Australia as an adult, on a working visa and commits a serious crime – they should be deported.

What angers me is the way, as in the Jovicic case, this provision is used to deport people who are only not naturalised citizens by their parents’ error.

Every year people migrate to Australia with infants and just forget to naturalise them. If they get into trouble later in life, this leaves them vulnerable to deportation to a country where they may have no contacts, no language skills and where – as in the Jovicic case – the national government may either not recognise your citizenship or have revoked it on the grounds you have been out of the country all your life.

These people are being subjected to an extraordinary double punishment, which is also utterly arbitrary. The victims of this system have served their time, but are punished again by deportation – a punishment that wouldn’t apply to them had they been naturalised. It is also a punishment that is utterly disproportionate to the nature of their crimes, these are usually small-time drug offenders who supported their habit through burglary or cheque-bouncing: not armed robbers and rapists.

These people are scarcely major-league threats to the community.

It seems a bit much to expel someone from the only country they’ve ever known because they’ve done two years for burglary – especially when you’re chucking them out of a country founded upon the transportation of a home-grown criminal class.

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