The Labor Party must really appreciate the efforts of Kevin Andrews.

As Minister in charge of industrial relations, he so mishandled the Howard Government’s WorkChoices changes that even Kim Beazley-led Labor edged ahead in the polls. Now his quite unappealing television presence is hampering the Government efforts to make an issue of national security.

There is something about the man’s look and the sound of his voice that turns sympathy towards the Gold Coast doctor whose visa Mr Andrews has cancelled.

A more astute Minister for Immigration would have simply moved to immediately deport Mohamed Haneef after a magistrate decided to allow him bail because of weaknesses in the police case alleging Haneef recklessly gave a friend in Britain his mobile phone SIM card.

Whether to spend the next 18 months in an immigration detention centre or not: that would then have been Dr Haneef’s choice. A trip to Villawood would only result from appealing against the deportation decision.

A sensible person given the chance of getting out of jail does not, as they say, go back in for his hat. A deported Haneef would have become a problem for the same Indian Government that now feels obliged to question whether Australia is treating its citizen fairly. With Muslim terrorist attacks a reality in India, instead of just a fear as in Australia, the surveillance of Haneef in his Bangalore home would surely be intense.

Minister Andrews instead has chosen a different course. Just as on IR law, he wants to appear tough and unyielding. As things have unfolded under his direction, Australia is looking more and more like a country that has foregone any regard for a rule of law in the cause of trying to win an election.

There is a real chance that the Government’s reputation will suffer as much damage at home as internationally. Those lawyers criticising Mr Andrews are not all mad leftist civil libertarians. Honest to goodness conservatives believe in the rule of law too and this latest assault upon it might just persuade them to also join the stampede away from the Howard government.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey