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May 9, 2008

Immigration Minister chooses his figures with care

The Imigration Minister's figures on asylum seekers are more spin than substance, writes Margaret Simons.

Figures used by the Minister for Immigration to rebut claims he is tougher on asylum seekers than his Howard Government predecessors include cases that don’t relate to asylum seekers at all.

The Minister says the “vast majority” are asylum seeker cases, but he has not been able to provide a breakdown.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre spokeswoman Pamela Curr, says: “This is disturbingly like the sort of spin we have seen through successive Immigration Ministers. Give us the figures and give us the truth.”

Before we go on, we promised to run in full the Minister’s response to Crikey’s questions. In fairness we don’t want to bury this, so they are ppublished at the bottom of this story.

Meanwhile the CEO of the ASRC, Kon Karapanagiotidis, has called on Evans to stop making Ministerial decisions until he has overhauled the system – which Evans has in the past described as flawed, unaccountable and inconsistent.

“Yet whilst the Minister expressly states this, he is still using these very powers,” Karapanagiotidis says.

This saga began when Crikey ran this story on Wednesday detailing an analysis of 42 decisions by Evans on requests for his intervention under Section 417 of the Migration Act. This section deals with asylum seeker cases. Senator Evans responded by claiming the figures were not representative.

In this media release he said he had considered 730 requests for his intervention, and intervened in 170.

As we reported yesterday these figures surprised refugee advocates, because there are nothing like 730 decided cases on their books.

In response to questions from Crikey, the Minister said yesterday that the 730 figure included all cases in which he had considered the use of his discretionary powers. That means the figures included requests under sections of the Migration Act that do not relate to refugees.

Senator Evans said “the bulk” of the cases were under Section 417. Later his spokesmen said the “vast majority” were Section 417, but that a breakdown was not easily available.

The Senator says that in some of the cases where he has intervened, he has sought more information. Other cases have been decided, but the applicants have not yet been informed of the decision. He says he has committed to providing statistical information on his use of the ministerial discretion on a quarterly basis.

Meanwhile, another refugee advocacy group, A Just Australia, has accused Senator Evans of deliberate misrepresentation when he claims that people seeking Ministerial Intervention have already been found not to be owed protection.

“Australia has protection obligations under more than just the Refugee Convention. Ministerial Intervention is the only point at which asylum seekers’ claims for protection under instruments such as the Convention Against Torture [CAT] are reviewed,” said National Coordinator, Kate Gauthier.

“To say that people seeking Ministerial Intervention have already been found not to be owed protection is a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts.”

“A Just Australia agrees with the Government that Ministerial Intervention needs a major overhaul. The Minister commissioned an external report into the system earlier this year, but there was no external consultation and the findings of that report have yet to be made public. So far there has been no commitment to make that review open and transparent to the Australian people, which is the problem with Ministerial Intervention in the first place.”

Read the whole media release from A Just Australia here.

Senator Evans’ spokesperson has told Crikey that the quarterly figures on ministerial intervention will be released “very soon”. Elsewhere today we list some of the cases that Evans has recently rejected.

Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, writes:

The figures provided yesterday relate to the number of cases in which I considered the exercise of my discretionary powers. The bulk of the cases were decisions under Section 417 of the Migration Act.

In some of those cases, I have requested more information and there are others on which decisions have been made but not yet communicated by the department to the applicants.

It must be stressed that all of these cases involve people who have been assessed by the department, the Refugee Review Tribunal and, in some cases, the courts and have been found not to be in need of Australia’s protection.

I have committed to providing statistical information on Ministerial Interventions on a quarterly basis.

The Labor Government will also deliver on its commitment to abolish temporary protection visas. We have also acknowledged the need for a bridging visa regime that is much more coherent and compassionate than is currently in place.

The Rudd Government will pursue the issue of work rights and Medicare benefits for asylum seekers on bridging visas carefully and methodically as part of a broader, bridging visa policy framework.

The Rudd Government’s aim is to ensure that immigration decisions are made fairly and promptly.

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3 thoughts on “Immigration Minister chooses his figures with care

  1. Venise Alstergren

    This country is beginning to drown under the weight of new arrivals. Melbourne is receiving a thousand people every week, into a city that has little water, non-existent infrastructure and a state government that allows miles of concrete battery houses for people who feel they have the right to have five bedroom houses complete with media rooms and spas. We should be taxing anyone who has more than two children, do we worry? Not a bit of it. We even pay a ‘baby bonus’ yet the bleeding heart brigade is outraged at the government’s decision to means test this scheme. The same bleeding hearts tax their tiny minds in a effort to find ways to bring even more people into the country. The world is staggering under the weight of people and Australia has to follow suit. Pardon me for throwing up!

  2. David M

    Boring, Boring.
    Why is Margaret given so much space in your letter?

  3. George

    This is very disappointing.I for one supported labour financially and by vote for a humane policy. I also supported ASRC.Many immigrants who came here after WW2 want to see us treat current refugees kindly. In a time of severe labour and skill shortages why are we so negative to people who are entrepreneural enough to find their way to Australia. Kon and ASRC have done a tremendous job in keeping people who were not allowed to earn a livinging, get a pension,or receive health care alive and have used volunteers to write visa applications. It is time for Mr Rudd to make the hard decision, despite the fear and prejudice created by the former Government and allow these refugees to stay in Australia and become productive.