Gerry Georgatos: Time to end the deportation inhumanity

Gerry GeorgatosThe West Australian
The new Government must act to end cruel deportations, says Gerry Georgatos.
Camera IconThe new Government must act to end cruel deportations, says Gerry Georgatos. Credit: Don Lindsay/The West Australian

Seminal struggles in human history are owned by each generation. Some sway world views from accepted practices hence viewed as abhorrent.

During the last decade, the Migration Act has become brutally compassionless.

This was especially so, when considering the series of amendments to legislation Scott Morrison oversaw the passing of in late 2014.

Under the Character and General Visa Cancellation Bill, then immigration minister Morrison, like some Roman imperator, toughened the character test contained in section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 so “noncitizens” are near automatically deported if sentenced to at least 12 months prison time.

Since these changes took effect, thousands of long-term residents — the overwhelming majority New Zealanders — have been deported.

“Fortress Australia” policies target impoverished people, who’ve often spent most of their lives here. The majority don’t have the capacity to challenge their deportation in the tribunals.

The impacts are harrowing for children of fathers and mothers deported. Also, for the deportees sent to faraway lands that they’ve lost ties to or never actually had any ties other than the fact of their birth.

In December, I attended an appeals tribunal to represent, advocate for and hopefully arbitrate the right of a long-term Australian resident to be released from an immigration detention centre. I argued he should not be deported.

I represented the Philippine-born man, who’s lived here since he was 10. I challenged the legitimacy of separating the man from his Australian family, as well raising the point that deportation after having served out his time in prison was a form of abhorrent double punishment.

When is the slate clean? He had completed his court ordered sentence.

When a carceral sentence is complete, penance is complete and the redemptorist in all of us should prevail. To argue otherwise, is to defy the legal proposition of a penance as served.

A few years ago, I prevented the ludicrous deportation effort of a First Nations father-of-four. The Nunga man’s parents spent two years in New Zealand, which was when he was born. He was not the only First Nations person I assisted to avoid deportation.

“Entry and stay in Australia by noncitizens is a privilege, not a right, and the Australian community expects that the Australian government can and should refuse entry to noncitizens, or cancel their visas, if they do not abide by Australian laws,” said Morrison on introducing the 2014 tough on people amendments.

I fight for as many as I can because I remember those who took their lives rather than be deported.

501 has long been a judgmental ideologue, a fest of stigma and at odds with inalienable human rights. In 2014, 501 was altered from the pre-existing migration regime for the propensity to automatic deportation of noncitizens on being sentenced to at least 24 months prison time, a system the United Nations condemned in 2011, as a violation of international human rights law.

Subsection 501(6) contains the character test. It provides the imperator power to deport if the minister just “reasonably suspects” a noncitizen doesn’t pass it.

I also cite subsection 501(4A) as it requires informing Parliament of any deportation decisions within 15 days.

The collective parliamentary silence is deafening and indicts every parliamentarian, regarding the notifications system. Where are the outcries? In effect, there is an obscene multi-partisan quiet — in fact, complicity.

The Morrison government increasingly threw people out of the country under the provisions of section 116 of the Migration Act, which provides the minister with discretionary reasons to consider.

Last November, the Morrison government introduced the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2021. This would see people automatically deported on being convicted of certain “designated crimes”, despite the sentence length. If we are on the road to inalienable human rights, we must understand the elimination of discriminations must have no exceptions.

The Australian Labor Party, while in opposition, voted for the 501 amendments. They are just as responsible as the then government for the thousands of families decimated. Now as Government they have opportunity to “not leave anyone behind”.

To not leave anyone behind, society must be steeped in the redemptorist.

Relatively unaccountable bureaucrats and politicians bent by muddled-minded dogma play out age-old racism and classism, revoking visas, blindly following presumptive protocols haphazardly enmeshed in the Migration Act.

We should be ashamed of this hideous reprehension.

Human rights and civil and political liberties should never be at the behest of any government but rather by referenda to the people.

During the December appeals tribunal hearing I referred to earlier, where I represented the Philippine-born man, I argued he and his family should not be separated.

I had tried to secure him a lawyer, but everyone advised the case could not be won or was unlikely. I was saddened for his family.

We were five hours in the tribunal fighting for dear life. I argued no family should be effectively dissolved. The argument of “bad character” is, in fact, presumptive. When a carceral sentence is completed, penance is complete and the redemptorist in all of us prevail — how else to salvation?

Suicidality is high among separated families.

I argued, in fact, the law does not argue mandatorily for deportation. Indeed, it is deficits in the law allowing for bureaucrats, including the minister of immigration, to discriminate against people.

At all times, a completed carceral sentence means the opportunity for the redemptive and restorative — never does it, or should it mean, furthered punishment.

I won the December case for a father of three children, all Australian born and bred. He has been in Australia since he was ten, near three decades. His parents had become Australian citizens and so, too, his siblings. He had no one in the Philippines. I did not expect a favourable court ruling. I was relieved. The individual was ecstatic.

He is working and providing for his family.

Since the favourable court ruling, I have been inundated with requests from individuals slated for deportation, languishing in immigration detention centres, begging me to represent them. I can’t manage the volume, it’s impossible, although I am assisting as many as I can with their representations.

According to Section 501, the minister for immigration or a delegate can cancel the visa of someone on a “character test”. Should a minister have this right? A character test is always a subjective moral proposition and should not be interpretatively intertwined as a legal proposition, particularly when penance has been served. Only a compassionless society would domesticate protocols to deport individuals despite penance served.

Australia deports residents at a rate dramatically higher than any other nation.

Everyone should be availed substantive legal representation. Where this is not the case, it’s an arguable denial of natural justice and a diminution of judicial fairness. But for those I describe as living their lives as Australian bred, they must not be deported. Where there is criminal offending, their penance is to be served in an Australian context and never cumulatively compounded by deportation.

Immediate past governments were discriminatory with cruelly callous tough on people policies, cultivating hate incitement and nurturing divides instead of contextualising ways forward, instead of coalescing a diverse human family.

I fight for as many as I can because I remember those who took their lives rather than be deported. A few years ago, a 22-year-old former Iraqi refugee was to be deported. He was a young father of two living in Sydney. For alleged minor offences, he was detained at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.

One night, he was flown across the continent, away from family to Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre. He wasn’t supported and died by suicide. Detainees rioted and burnt Yongah Hill. I assisted the grief-stricken family. I organised their legal representation. They are suing the Commonwealth government. But this will never bring back the young father — a life needlessly lost because of soulless policies.

The incumbent Government has opportunity to redeem itself and end the deportations — the inhumanity.

Gerry Georgatos is founder/volunteer, The Georgatos Foundation

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