Labor is being tougher and more ruthless with asylum seekers than the Howard Government, according to an analysis of decisions made by the new Minister for Immigration, Senator Chris Evans.

The analysis of the exercise of ministerial discretion shows that Evans has rejected 97.6 per cent of applications since coming to power – the highest rate of rejection since 2001.

The handling of applications for ministerial discretion has been sped up, with 41 rejections being issued in five weeks and other applicants told their cases have been “escalated” which on the current pattern is not good news for them.

Most of those rejected feared for their safety if returned to their countries of origin. Many have mental health problems and spouses and children in Australia from whom they will be separated if deported.

The analysis of the rejections is contained in a document distributed to volunteers by the Asylum Seekers’ Resource Centre, which is the leading aid and advocacy organisation for refugees in Australia. Read the whole document here.

Authored by the CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis, the document analyses 42 decisions made by Evans. All but one of these applications were rejected.

“The injustice continues under an ALP Government when it comes to asylum seekers,” Karapanagiotidis says.

“It’s still too early to get a complete picture of how the Minister will exercise his power, however it’s sadly looking like a change of government may have brought no real change for asylum seekers.”

According to Asylum Seeker Resource Centre campaign co-ordinator, Pamela Curr, the cases Evans has rejected include one of an African woman who had been kidnapped and trafficked to the Middle East. She was abused by her “owners”. She came to Australia with her “owners” when they were on holiday. When she was attacked again, she ran away. Since then Australia has been her only experience of relative security.

“This case just shattered us all,” says Curr.

Curr says others rejected include compelling cases of people who have good reason to fear death if they are returned to their countries of origin, and families that will be split up if people are deported.

“The people making these decisions are old immigration department officers, the same kind of people who handled Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon. They are still there and they are just saying no.”

There has been no cultural change in the department, Curr says.

“This Government will be six months old on the 24 May. We have been patiently waiting to see the new compassionate Government. At this rate we will be disappointed.”

In this speech last February Senator Evans talked about the 2000 applications for ministerial intervention on his desk, and expressed reservations about whether he should have so much power.

He said the ministerial discretion, intended as a check on the system, had instead become part of the process. Different personalities and priorities among Immigration Ministers led to different outcomes. He indicated he favoured arms’ length decision making by better supported tribunals.

In fact Philip Ruddock was the only Immigration Minister to closely supervise the exercise of Ministerial discretion, and it was his period in the hot seat that led to the big increase of its use. He intervened on 2513 occasions from 1996 to October 2003, compared to his predecessor, Nick Bolkus, handling just 311 in three years.

Since Ruddock, the reality is that the so-called Ministerial discretion has been handed to Department of Immigration bureaucrats. Evans has indicated he wants the 2000 files cleared fast, and they are moving through them with ruthless toughness.

Karapanagiotidis writes that he has urged the Department not to send bulk refusals “because they are unmanageable and create a crisis that neither ourselves, other agencies or they can deal with.”

Nevertheless, the Centre has had 41 rejections in five weeks.

The Asylum Seekers’ Resource Centre plans to try again for ministerial intervention on some of the most compelling cases.

Meanwhile, Crikey sent a copy of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre document to the Minister’s staff yesterday afternoon, but did not receive comment in time for today’s deadline.