While AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty is seen by the media this morning as being the main target of the inquiry into the handling of the case of former Gold Coast doctor Mohammed Haneef, let’s consider the position of former Howard government ministers Kevin Andrews and Phillip Ruddock.
Mr Andrews has some serious explaining to do when he fronts the inquiry headed by former NSW Supreme Court judge John Clarke. As the chronology of events published in this edition of Crikey shows, Mr Andrews and his office were clearly involved in preparing to undermine Brisbane magistrate Jacqui Payne’s decision made on 16 July last year to release Dr Haneef on bail after he had been charged with a terrorism offence. The AFP and the Immigration Department worked over the previous weekend on a contingency plan to ensure Dr Haneef’s visa would be cancelled if Ms Payne granted bail. She did, and within hours of her Monday morning decision Kevin Andrews was fronting the media telling us that Dr Haneef would not get bail after all because he would be detained under the immigration laws due to his visa being cancelled.
Mr Andrews has been spinning the line that all he did was act on bureaucratic and legal advice in making this decision. That proposition can now be forensically tested by Mr Clarke and those assisting him on the inquiry.
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In doing so, the Clarke Inquiry might want to take a close look at what communications Mr Andrews’ office and Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock’s office had over that weekend with their respective departmental officials and with the AFP. It beggars belief, given that Mr Ruddock had acted so politically in the Haneef case to date (remember his running commentary about the investigation) that he and Mr Andrews did not muse on the fact that if Ms Payne granted bail then she would create a political headache for the Howard government. And it is highly likely that in their musings they came up with the brainwave of cancelling Dr Haneef’s visa.
The Clarke inquiry will have the opportunity to call for email communications between Mr Andrews and Mr Ruddock’s office and their departmental agencies. It will be able to ask to see memos prepared for both ministers over the weekend of 14 and 15 July. And it will be able to ask Mr Andrews directly whether or not he spoke with Mr Ruddock and the Prime Minister about what to do with Haneef if Ms Payne granted bail.
The Clarke inquiry is the one chance to ask this important question: Did Mr Andrews take into account political considerations in coming to his decision to cancel Dr Haneef’s visa? If the answer is yes, then he clearly acted outside the law and Dr Haneef should get compensation.