Cross-posted from Public Polity:
This seems quite a strange thing to happen one week before election day:
IMMIGRATION Minister Kevin Andrews has ordered a snap review of all 450 people held in immigration detention in Australia to establish whether an administrative error means their incarceration is technically unlawful.
Department officers are being forced to go back and check the form of words used in the address and salutations on official letters notifying people they were in breach of their visa conditions and were no longer in Australia lawfully.
The review — which has already prompted the release of 13 immigration detainees in the past three weeks — centres on whether notification letters were addressed to the visa applicant or their “authorised recipient”, usually a migration agent.
If the notification is addressed to the applicant care of their authorised recipient, then their detention is potentially unlawful following a 2003 Federal Court decision.
This follows Tony Burke’s claims earlier in the week that the caretaker conventions were not being followed and that Labor was being denied information related to immigration cases.
It seems unlikely that Andrews would be rushing around cleaning up potentially unlawful immigration decisions (and blocking information access to his opposition) unless (i) there was serious incompetence or misconduct, or (ii) the potential risk to election prospects was deemed secondary to the benefits of cleaning it up urgently. I suspect that both conditions may exist.
As to the first, the Lateline story on Tony Tran highlighted a newly uncovered bungle, and Lateline also reported that the Commonwealth Ombudsman was aware of other cases that have not been made public. Obviously, there have been some serious failures beyond the ones that were known before the election campaign began.
However, I also think that Andrews’ actions highlight that Team Howard has given up hope of being returned to government and is preparing for its time in opposition. Labor must investigate and clean up the corruption and malfeasance that has contaminated the executive departments under John Howard. If Andrews had tried to keep things quiet until the election, these problems would simply have been uncovered in the subsequent inquiry. The little sneak can point to his requests for review and claim that he was trying to clean things up, and that if the Government had been returned then he would have finished the job.
This is a government that started out by claiming the moral high ground on ministerial conduct, but it has never lived up to these ideals. Over the past decade, we have learned about the depths they have sunk to in corrupting and undermining the integrity of governance in this country. Many of us have been cynical about their claims to responsibility and professionalism for their entire time in office. Others have slowly come around, until we have finally reached the tipping point at this election. But their character has remained unchanged. From their leader downward, as Ministers have come and gone, as scandals have been uncovered and weathered, the Howard government has held to the philosophy that remaining in power is the end they seek, and they would use any means necessary to attain it. In one week’s time, it will all be over.
Possum Comitatus has written about the danger facing the Liberal Party this week. It has taken some time, but almost every commentator now agrees that they are destined to lose. The question is whether they will actually face the annihilation their Captain warned about some months back. The discussion in Possum’s thread has questioned whether the disintegration of one of the two major parties would be a good thing – the argument is that, even though they might be repugnant in many ways, a severe defeat would hand unfettered power to the Labor Party, which would almost inevitably corrupt their own actions in government.
I disagree with that argument. The Liberal Party is not aligned with my own political attitudes and will never have my support, but their faults under John Howard’s leadership extend beyond political ideology. The party needs to be reformed from the ground up, removing the current culture of corruption, incompetence and political opportunism to re-establish its core principles. If it cannot do so, it should not hold power again in Australian politics. Another conservative party can take its place. And a dominant party in Government will not have unfettered power so long as an appropriate balance of power is maintained in the Senate – if nothing else, I hope the electorate will have learned that lesson from the past three years.
Kevin Andrews’ current actions again demonstrate that Team Howard will not act to ensure the integrity of government until their feet are held to the fire. It is too little, and it is far too late.
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