Today’s announcement that the Rudd government will end mandatory detention for asylum-seekers who are not deemed a threat to the community is a tremendous step forward and a symbolic end to a policy that was a defining point of the Howard government.
And it’s just the latest in a series of quietly made, decent and laudable actions by our immigration minister, Chris Evans.
This is the immigration minister who promised last year to “urgently deal with almost 250 cases of people wrongly detained” by the immigration department.
This is the immigration minister who said “he has too much power and feels uncomfortable about “playing God” on individual migration cases.”
This is the immigration minister who argued for changes to the Howard-era citizenship test because it required too high a level of English comprehension and focused too much on recalling dates and sporting trivia that most Australian-born citizens didn’t know.
This is the immigration minister who returned the power to decide immigration cases to the Immigration Review and Refugee Review Tribunals, declaring in the process his support for “independent, transparent and appealable decision making in the resolution of immigration matters.”
This is the immigration minister who put an end to the long-running sagas of Cornelia Rau, Robert Jovicic and Mohammed Haneef. Who put an end to the Howard government’s shameful ‘Pacific Solution’ which had cost $2500 a week per person, or $300 million a year. Who put an end to the utterly shameful imprisonment of 75 Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Nauru. Who rejected caps on specific immigrant groups despite a concerted campaign to stigmatise African refugees as criminals.
This is the first, and probably the last, time I’ve written a glowing reference for an Australian government minister. But in this case I think it’s deserved. Chris Evans is not perfect (of course) but so far he has not put a foot wrong.
The immigration portfolio is probably unique in the degree to which the minister hold in his or her hands the lives and aspirations of individuals – real people. With a stroke of the ministerial pen, the immigration minister has the power to break the spirits and crust the souls of ordinary human beings whose only hope is the chance of a life in a new country where opportunity, not oppression, is the norm. That’s what Evans was referring to when he spoke of “playing God”.
Maybe my judgement is clouded by the fact that my husband and I went though a lengthy and stressful legal case to have his right to stay in this country confirmed (he’s a citizen now, so unlike Robert Jovicic he can never be deported, nya nya nya). Maybe it’s just because the previous three ministers for immigration, Kevin Andrews, Amanda Vanstone and Phillip Ruddock will go down in history as a trio of soulless dolts who were responsible for the worst chapter in Australian immigration policy since White Australia. Maybe it’s because I think we need a reason to continue to believe that last years change of government represented a real change and not just a change of faces, but I think Minister Evans deserves our applause.
There is a real difference between the Rudd government and the Howard government. It is not absolute – this is politics, not the garden of good an evil – but it is real. Amanda Vanstone is in Rome, forced to invite Tim Fischer to every cocktail party she hosts.Phillip Ruddock is in the deepest circle of Hell, gnawing on the skulls of his enemies (Hi Brian). Kevin Andrews is whiling away his time on the backbench, praying to Jesus the they don’t make him ambassador to Sudan.
And, after twelve long years, we finally have a living, breathing, decent human being in the immigration portfolio.
Let’s just hope he doesn’t fuck it up.