Then immigration minister Scott Morrison oversaw the passing of legislation in late 2014, which strengthened the character test in section 501 of the Migration Act (Cth) 1958, so that residents of Australia have since been deported en masse, after being sentenced to at least 12 months prison.
The Coalition architects of these laws, which passed with bipartisan approval, intended to see the mass deportation of noncitizens who break the law in an indiscriminate manner, which has meant that close to 8,000 people have since had their visas cancelled, with many being long-term residents.
Similar to how Robodebt once operated, the 501 deportation scheme quietly continues in the background, despite the evidence of its destructive nature, with most attention that’s focused on it hailing from New Zealand, as the largest cohort of deportees, around 3,000, have been Kiwis.
The recent case of 50-year-old UK-born Robert Taylor caught public attention, as the father-of-six Australian kids, who arrived in the country when he was 10 months old, was sitting in immigration detention waiting to be expelled, despite a cancer diagnosis conveying his time is fast running out.
Taylor was last month granted a late reprieve by immigration minister Andrew Giles, who granted the dying man a bridging visa, after having denied clemency in the past. This would seem more a reaction to the mainstream media coverage, than any flickering of humanity that overcame him.
And the WA advocate who succeeded in getting Taylor’s case broadcast into Middle Australian living rooms is now calling for an overhaul of the system, with a moratorium on deportations in the interim, whilst also raising the plight of a Sikh resident, whose deportation could spell his end.
“I’m calling for an immediate moratorium by the government to stop all deportations till reforms to the 501 are legislated,” Gerry Georgatos, who’s long been providing representation to those slated for deportation in the tribunal. “This would end the human tsunami of deportations.”
“Presently, there are nearly 700 souls slated for deportation,” the social justice advocate, who raised Taylor’s case to national attention, told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “We deport people at among the world’s highest rate – likely the highest.”
According to Home Affairs, in May, the Australian government was holding 697 individuals designated for deportation in its immigration facilities. And the largest cohort by nationality in our onshore detention facilities are New Zealanders, which has been the case since 2016.
Within a year of these laws being enacted, it became apparent that NZ-born residents were disproportionately having their visas cancelled for deportation, and despite Wellington repeatedly calling on our nation to bring this system to a halt, nothing was attempted until earlier this year.
“Residents who arrive in Australia as children and are bred here should be owned by Australia: the good and the bad,” Georgatos added. “I should not have to explain this further, but residents of long tenure in this country should be owned by Australia, despite any carceral stretch.”
Regardless of conviction
Prior to the 2014 reforms, a preexisting character test saw noncitizens deported after being sentenced to at least 24 months prison time, which was a system that had already been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2011.
But Morrison tightened the reins, so a 12 month limit now leads to automatic deportation.
The reason why this has resulted in so many deportations is the rule applies to multiple sentences, suspended sentences and mandatory time spent in residential rehabilitation facilities, so many people have been thrown out over minor, nonviolent crimes, including traffic offences.
Indeed, further 2014 amendments to the deportation regime resulted in provisions within section 116 of the Act that permit the authorities to deport noncitizens who haven’t even been convicted of a crime, but rather pose a risk to “health, safety or good order”.
And so grave has the impact of deportees been on NZ society that support systems have been established for those arriving, whilst that nation’s police commissioner complained last year that the local crime culture was changing due to the influx of habits that some were bringing from Australia.
Following promises from PM Anthony Albanese, Giles issued Direction 99, which took effect in March, and provides that greater consideration be given to a noncitizen’s “strength, nature and duration of ties in Australia”, as well as a focus on “the best interests” of minors.
Deported into harm
But as Gerry tells it, directions are not laws and, therefore, the minister or the tribunal have only been told to give extra scrutiny to aspects of an individual’s case but there’s no requirement to act upon this. And as it is, 80 percent of appellants are rejected, with most being self-represented.
Right now, Georgatos is raising the case of a 39-year-old Sikh man, Mr Singh, who first arrived here from India in 2006, as a 21-year-old student. Yet, he’s now spent the last seven years in immigration detention as a 501 deportee following a six month stint in gaol.
Singh completed his commercial cookery course in 2007, and he then applied for permanent residency. However, when the department finally got to his file five years later, a required medical certificate was missing, and instead of allowing him to produce it, his case was rejected.
After the decision, the Sikh man remained working here on various visas until he was charged over the possession of a personal amount of an illicit substance and was sent to gaol for it. And on release, Border Force officers took him into custody and placed him in an immigration facility.
The issue for Singh in returning to India is that he owes money to loan sharks, who pose a significant physical threat to him that could prove lethal. And currently, he has no finances left, after he spent $100,000 on legal costs attempting to remain in this country.
Almost deported earlier this year, Singh remains in immigration detention after a pro bono lawyer managed to have a temporary restraining order placed on his case.
However, the time limit on that order is about to run out and this Friday, a hearing regarding his case will take place in the Federal Court.
“Singh was not considered a major threat to society as his six months stretch imputes. But he has spent 14 times the six months in immigration detention: seven years,” explained Georgatos.
“Why would he choose this rather than returning to India if he was not literally at risk of retributive physical harm? It is beyond obvious his life is at risk if he is deported,” the advocate reflected in conclusion. “Why else would he spend seven arduous years in immigration detention centres?”