Let there be no ‘vs.’ in Tribunal & the Minister
As the Immigration Minister, Mr Peter Dutton enjoys power to overrule some decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), however, it seems as if the Minister is not quite happy with the “some” and wants to extend his authority in this regard. Now, he also wants complete authority to be able to block the citizenship applications, which is not an anomaly. At least not as of now.
Lately, the AAT and the Immigration Minister have been frequently making it to the news, but not every time for the very amiable reasons; and every time, I thought of writing about it, somewhere inside me, I hoped it would be the last time we come across the tussle.
In the last one year, the AAT overturned 4,389 visa decisions made by delegates for the Minister. This rejection rate sits at a staggering 39 per cent of the ministerial visa decisions reviewed by the AAT in the 12 months to April 30.
The most notable ones were the AAT’s ruling to overturn the Minister’s cancelation of visas of six Iranians, who were found “holidaying and partying” in Iran; and the overturning of the Minister’s cancellation of visa of an Indian taxi driver found guilty of sexual assault. Though the Minister later decided to use his powers to override the AAT in both decisions and the six Iranians and the Indian will soon be deported to their homelands, these cases have brought a whole new set of questions to the surface – questions on both ends: the AAT’s and the Minister’s powers.
The even more shocking news came with the announcement that more than 50 AAT members, overseeing government decisions, will not be reappointed. Now this is where it seems to be getting political and to an extent worse.
These skirmishes and the announcement hint at an unprecedented fear, which makes us question whether our jurists are acting independently. The ruling-overriding-cancellation cycle by both parties may weaken the rule of law and undermine public perception of the legitimacy of these decisions.
If I may say, I was first in the queue to question the AAT.
What our system, the Department and the migration tribunals need is a mutual understanding on decisions and the way they are made. The loopholes, the miscommunication and the lack of it cannot be fixed by deciding not to reappoint tribunal members. These will be fixed through more focused trainings of the members and a cohesive understanding of the backgrounds, history and dynamics of each appellant. They need to multitask as jurist, psychologists and historians when making decisions to override or accept the Minister’s decisions. If not, the applicants and their appeals will continue to be in a never ending rotation, like an un-owned ball, being kicked from one end to another.
Let’s not make it a political game at the cost of the safety of the Australian people and certainly not at that of the [genuine] applicant’s time, money, emotions and future in Australia. We need understanding and a certain independence on both sides before this scrimmage becomes worse and starts to get noticed across our borders.