In Max Gillies’s last satirical show a couple of years ago, The Big Con (scripted by Crikey contributor Guy Rundle), his portrayal of Amanda Vanstone ended, as “she” put it, with a joke: “I’m the moderate.”

To the list of those who don’t find this particularly funny we can probably now add Robert Jovicic.

Vanstone, who leaves the immigration ministry tomorrow when Kevin Andrews is officially sworn in as her replacement, has indeed been responsible for some softening at the edges of the government’s approach, particularly towards refugees. But the Jovicic case shows that her department’s attitude is fundamentally unchanged from its old xenophobic ways.

Readers will remember that Jovicic returned to Australia in March last year, having earlier been deported to Serbia on character grounds after a string of burglaries – despite the fact that he had never been to Serbia, did not speak the language, and in fact had lived in Australia since the age of two.

At the time, it was reported that “his status as a permanent resident of Australia will be reinstated.” But he remains on a special purpose visa, which, after repeated renewals, expires in a week’s time, and according to yesterday’s Age he “again faces deportation”.

The Age said that Jovicic “will be detained in Villawood” pending deportation when his visa expired. His representative has confirmed this morning to Crikey that that is still the department’s intention, although AAP said yesterday an immigration department spokesman “played down” the report.

Vanstone’s representative said that “Mr Jovicic’s request for an extension will be considered as with any request,” and “would not speculate” on whether the decision would be made by her or by Andrews.

Beneath the technical argument about statelessness and Jovicic’s possible entitlement to Serbian citizenship, it is important not to lose sight of the reality. Jovicic is an Australian in all but name. Whatever legal case can be mustered, there is no more moral justification for palming him off to another country than there would be if he were born here. If he is a problem, he is our problem – not Serbia’s.

If the government cannot grasp this basic point, then its immigration policy still needs some work.

Peter Fray

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