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Au pair visa saga shows the rot runs deep

  • 30 August 2018


Last January, the ABC came into possession of sensitive files that were in a cabinet mislaid in a second-hand shop. They revealed the inner workings of federal government, including the personal interests that override departmental advice, and the active diminution of lawful norms under the catch-all thrust of 'national security'.

In particular, then-immigration minister Scott Morrison was found to have sanctioned 'mitigation strategies' to avoid providing permanent protection for an estimated 1700 asylum seekers with positive determinations at primary and review stages. Some 70 people with no outstanding checks were described as 'highest risk of requiring a permanent grant'. One of the strategies outlined in the documents was to get ASIO to delay security checks so that protection claims would miss deadlines.

This episode came to mind as reports escalate about Peter Dutton's intervention as then-immigration minister in at least three cases involving foreign au pairs. In the document granting a tourist visa to a French woman — whom his own department had deemed 'high risk' due to previous issues involving work restrictions — Dutton wrote that the decision was 'a discretionary and humanitarian act to an individual with ongoing needs, (and that) it is in the interests of Australia as a humane and generous society'.

Both ex-ministers have presided over preventable deaths, self-harm and suicides in offshore detention. At least 12 cases involving urgent medical care for children in Nauru had to be brought to court after being blocked by the government. An army veteran has had to fight for his Afghan interpreter to be brought to Australia. The whistleblower Chelsea Manning looks set to be banned from speaking here.

The differences are not just stark. In light of recent reports that a family of Liberal Party donors are associated with at least one ministerial intervention, they add dimension to the arbitrary character of our immigration system. It is arbitrariness that has always rendered it unjust.

Seaborne refugees experience this regime as a series of moving posts, hurdles and deadlines that drag for years. It seems that for others, this arbitrariness is more about who you know. For an au pair detained at Brisbane airport, it took a phone call to be reissued a visa within hours. The fact that the department then spent at least $10,000 fighting an FOI case on such decisions is acutely relevant.

Some reckoning ought to be due. The thing is, it can be difficult to identify, punish and curtail