Heartlessness at the centre of an immigration scandal
It must be hard for a conservative politician to make a decision he or she knows will distress heartland followers. John Howard upset a certain hardcore group of loyalists – even within his own cabinet – by banning semi-automatic rifles after the Port Arthur massacre.
It is even harder when Labor politicians make decisions that might appear to lack compassion, because they are supposed to be the party that cares about social justice.
But there seems to be a greater willingness to find excuses for Labor politicians, as Melbourne barrister and civil libertarian, Robert Richter QC, demonstrated on Lateline Thursday night.
Richter was appalled, and rightly so, about the case of a 92-year-old Sri Lankan woman, who is an Australian resident, who is being forced to return home because her sole carer and closest family member, her 69-year-old son, had failed over numerous attempts and many years to win residency.
Anyone who saw reporter Hamish Fitzsimmons’ story and was not moved ought to be deported themselves.
Lateline presenter Tony Jones followed the report with an interview with Mr Richter, who held firmly onto the line that it was not the fault of Immigration Minister Chris Evans’ that the mother and son would soon have to pack their bags, but the fault of his department.
Mr Richter said Mr Evans had direct power to overturn his department’s decision on humanitarian grounds and allow the mother and son to stay, but said Mr Evans had not been fully informed by his department of certain developments in the case, which might have strengthened the son’s case for residency.
Mr Richter was way too soft on Mr Evans, who declined to appear on the show but nevertheless issued a statement to Lateline showing that he had full knowledge of the case.
Mr Richter knew about the Evans’ statement. But he held the line that: “The bureaucrats have decided not to let him know about this…”; and that “this is a gratuitous cruelty which ought to be overturned and it does not look like [Evans has] considered it, because his department is not forwarding [relevant information]”
Mr Richter said Mr Evans’ department “hasn’t let him” make an informed decision about the case.
If only Peter Garrett had had such a fine barrister arguing his case.
Mr Richter pointed out that Lindsay Tanner, an “extremely fine man”, had when in Opposition supported the right of the son to stay. “And I wonder if Chris Evans would come to the same decision if he was allowed to see what was at stake,” Mr Richter said.
Mr Evans already knows precisely what’s at stake. But Mr Richter was prepared to protect Mr Evans in a way he would never have done for former Coalition ministers Philip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone.
Perhaps Mr Richter is using some psychological tactic on Mr Evans, trying to give him an escape clause he doesn’t deserve. But it was too cosy of Mr Richter not to have a go at the Labor minister.
Still, if Mr Richter’s appearance on Lateline helps in any way to persuade Mr Evans to let the son stay (if Mr Evans has not changed his mind already), the victory will overshadow any complaint.
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