What Four Corners revealed last night about the circumstances around the death of Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei confirms yet again that the Australian government has a deliberate policy of wilful neglect of the asylum seekers it has detained.

That a man in Australia’s care died of an easily treatable infection is horrific enough. That he died after bureaucrats in Canberra failed to respond to requests from staff on the ground and quibbled about whether he should receive adequate care should shock all of us.

Unfortunately, there will be no scrutiny or accountability for the bureaucrats concerned. Bureaucrats must implement the policies of the elected government, and it is for that government to be held accountable by the electorate and by the law. But this only applies to policies that are lawful, and public servants under the APS values are required to achieve “the highest standard of ethical behaviour”, make “right decisions”, “respect all people” and “treat all people with dignity”.

The policy of wilful neglect adopted by the Immigration Department, undoubtedly at the behest of the government, plainly does not, and could not, comply with these requirements. The public servants implementing this policy are in clear breach of their duties as public servants.

The public servants whose decisions may have contributed to the death of Hamid Kehazaei should be exposed to public scrutiny and judgement. Claiming to be merely following the instructions of the government is not good enough — not morally, and not in terms of the values they are legally required to comply with.

Peter Fray

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