For a brief moment yesterday, Dr Mohamed Haneef might have felt relieved. Brisbane Magistrate Jacqui Payne had weighed the evidence generated from 14 days of intense activity by the Australian Federal Police and granted him bail of only $10,000 surety, such was her assessment of the doctor’s risk to society.
But no sooner had that first flush of relief subsided than Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews stepped in, delivering his damning personal judgment:
I have come to the conclusion that he fails the character test. I reasonably suspect that Dr Haneef has, or has had, an association with persons involved in criminal conduct.
With those words, Andrews revoked Dr Haneef’s 457 visa, allowing for his immediate detention. As a result, Dr Haneef will now reside indefinitely at Sydney’s Villawood detention centre.
Andrews’ powers come from Section 501 of the Migration Act which says in part:
3) The Minister may
(c) the Minister reasonably suspects that the person does not pass the character test; and
(d) the Minister is satisfied that the refusal or cancellation is in the national interest.
6) For the purposes of this section, a person does not pass the character test if:…
b) the person has or has had an association with someone else, or with a group or organisation, whom the Minister reasonably suspects has been or is involved in criminal conduct…
The Minister has defended his actions as being within the purview of the relevant laws. But they’ve given rise to considerable dissent within the legal fraternity. Julian Burnside QC told the Herald Sun:
The conduct of Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews yesterday in the Dr Mohamed Haneef case is disgraceful for several reasons.
First, he has used the Migration Act powers to interfere with the criminal justice system. By cancelling a visa, he has trumped the granting of bail.
Second, Dr Haneef is to be sent to Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in suburban Sydney. This has placed Dr Haneef at an enormous disadvantage in preparing for his defence because lawyers who are acting on his behalf without a fee are based in Brisbane.
The Immigration Minister is willing to lend himself out as a branch of the police force and the Attorney-General is willing to take advantage of the minister’s impropriety. A person charged with an offence that carries a potential 15 years’ jail has now been placed in a position where preparing his defence will be virtually impossible. Is this the democracy we are trying to save?