Kevin Andrews is a lawyer. In fact, unlike many politicians who have a law degree, Mr Andrews actually practised at the Victorian Bar for more than a decade in the 80s and 90s. So we can’t excuse his petulant abuse of power yesterday as Immigration Minister on the fact that he has somehow misunderstood the concept of the presumption of innocence, or respect by the executive arm of government for the decisions of the judiciary.

Let’s cut to the chase here. No matter how The Australian newspaper and the handful of the Howard government’s “sir echoes” in the legal profession dress it up, what Mr Andrews did yesterday was subvert our democratic system. Yet again.

The decision to lock up Dr Haneef was only taken by Mr Andrews after Brisbane magistrate Jacqui Payne allowed him bail. “How dare Ms Payne”, seemed to be the response of the Howard government.

After all, we have spent two weeks turning Dr Haneef into a monster that only the Howard government can keep the community safe from, and now he’s roaming the streets again. Let’s fix that. What’s in the bag of tricks…? Ooh, how about we cancel Dr Haneef’s visa on the grounds that he hangs around with undesirable types, even though there is no evidence of that fact? Great idea.

And let’s trot out Kevin Andrews, a man who professes to have strong religious principles (at the Victorian Bar he acted for the Catholic Church on occasion and he is a prominent member of the Catholic community).

But don’t believe the ranting of Peter Faris QC in The Australian – the chief organ of record for the government’s anti-terrorism strategy. He argues that Mr Andrews’ decision was common garden variety and entirely reasonable. It wasn’t.

To be a reasonable decision it would have to be one in which a) the minister had not prejudged the character of the visa holder, b) the minister had not taken into account irrelevant considerations like “how can I wedge the ALP”, and c) the Minister had not shown apprehended or actual bias.

If Mr Andrews can put his hand on his heart and swear on a stack of bibles that there were no political considerations involved in his decision yesterday, and no prejudging of Dr Haneef, then yes Elvis is alive and well and living in Cooktown.

And thanks very much Mr Andrews for making the chances of Dr Haneef getting a fair criminal trial even more remote as a result of yesterday’s act of political bastardry. When Dr Haneef appeals against Mr Andrews’s decision to the Federal Court, much of the evidence that the AFP seeks to rely on in its criminal case will have to be aired before the court. So all sorts of highly prejudicial material will be led by the Commonwealth’s lawyers as they throw buckets of mud to convince the Federal Court that Dr Haneef is not a desirable person and one who should have his visa cancelled.

Finally, once again that poor excuse for a progressive political force, the ALP, was doing its level best to march lock step with the Howard government again. The alternative government seems to have as much contempt for the rule of law as the current one.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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