Whenever former Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews was criticised and accused of acting politically for his decision to cancel Gold Coast doctor Mohammed Haneef’s visa after he was granted bail on July 16 last year, Andrews would simply point out that he had on his desk a “secret dossier”.

The implication was always that the “secret dossier” contained information which fully and unambiguously justified Mr Andrews’ decision.

On July 30 last year Andrews told ABC Radio that he wanted to release more information about why he cancelled Dr Haneef’s visa so “people can see the circumstances in which the decision was made”.

“And hopefully when people see the further information … they’ll be able to see that there are more circumstances which haven’t been made available to them to date,” Andrews said.

A day later, on July 31, Andrews used Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones’ program to complain that “in coming to my conclusion about a reasonable suspicion I obviously relied on the protected information from the police. I’m in a position where I’ve got one hand tied behind my back because ideally I’d like to release information but I’m being told by the Federal Police ‘please don’t jeopardise the ongoing inquiry’.”

And on the same day Andrews had this exchange with 2UE broadcaster John Laws which left the average listener with only one impression – that the ‘secret dossier’ was so sensitive that only a few eyes had seen it:

JOHN LAWS: Who’s seen this secret information other than you and presumably the Commonwealth Solicitor–General and maybe the Prime Minster, who else has seen it?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Beyond that I don’t think many people have. Obviously…

The clear objective of the “secret dossier” spin peddled by Mr Andrews last year was to ensure that the community thought Dr Haneef was indeed a danger to Australia, and that the community should trust Mr Andrews on this one, because he had access to highly sensitive information of a highly damaging kind about Dr Haneef.

That was not true then, and it is no truer today, according to former Howard government officials who have seen the “secret dossier”. The dossier, complied by the AFP and Mr Andrews’ own department, did not contain material which either incriminated Dr Haneef or suggested he was of such a bad character that he should have his visa cancelled, according to media reports last Friday and over the weekend.

All this “secret dossier” contained, according to those officials, was information about the UK authorities’ inquiry into the activities of Dr Haneef’s cousins who were involved with terrorism activities in that country, and Dr Haneef’s association with them.

As The Australian reported on Friday:

The secret dossier that former immigration minister Kevin Andrews relied on to cancel Mohamed Haneef’s visa, and which federal police have since refused to publicly disclose, contained no evidence of criminality against the Indian doctor.

Instead, the document sought to establish an association between Dr Haneef and his cousins Sabeel and Kafeel Ahmed, the men allegedly responsible for the botched terror attacks in London and Glasgow last year.

The brief was prepared by Immigration Department officials based on evidence gathered by the Australian Federal Police and used by Mr Andrews to strip Dr Haneef of his visa on character grounds on the day he was granted bail on a terror charge.

According to several sources who have seen the document, it contained no evidence linking Dr Haneef to the terror attacks or any criminal activities.

“The brief didn’t go to criminality,” a former Howard government official told The Australian. “It wasn’t concerned with any incriminating evidence against Haneef but went to the question of his association with the guys in the UK who were suspected to have been involved in criminal conduct.”

Mr Andrews’ “secret dossier” strategy appears to have been a politically motivated one designed to justify Mr Andrews’ extraordinary decision to cancel Dr Haneef’s visa.

It was a cynical exercise by the Howard government in seeking to gain a political advantage at the expense of transparency and honesty. We saw it with Children Overboard and Tampa in 2001, and we can place Kevin Andrews’ “secret dossier” exercise in the same file which by the way was labelled, “Whatever it takes”.

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey