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Immigration refusal 'morally discriminatory': -

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Immigration refusal 'morally discriminatory': HRC

The World Today - Friday, 31 October , 2008 12:22:00

ELEANOR HALL: Australia's Human Rights Commissioner is calling on the Federal Government to change
the country's immigration laws saying its refusal to grant a doctor permanent residency because of
his son's disability is morally discriminatory.

Dr Bernhard Moeller has been working in regional Victoria for the last two years on a temporary
visa but has been told he can't stay permanently because his son would impose too large a cost on
the Australian community.

The Victorian Premier says the Immigration Department has made a "stupid" decision and that he'll
do all he can to have it reversed.

Jane Cowan has our report.

JANE COWAN: Even though he's only been at the Wimmera Base Hospital in Horsham for two years, Dr
Bernhard Moeller is obviously a well loved doctor.

The decision to deny his family permanent residency provoked outrage on ABC radio this morning, a
flurry of patients, colleagues and strangers calling in.

CALLER 1: We're talking about how much his child might cost the country. Surely what he is doing
far exceeds what, you know, might be called upon.

CALLER 2: He is someone who is going to a primary school and looks like he will grow up to be a
wonderful human being and we're not giving him a chance and I think it stinks.

JANE COWAN: The doctor himself is in a state of shock.

BERNHARD MOELLER: We made it clear right from the beginning that we want to stay permanently if
everything works out well for us and if we settle in. And that happened and we were very happy
here, living in this community. So we made it very clear that we want to stay and of course we
asked could there be a problem with Lukas' disability and we've been told no, that's fine. And
obviously it was only fine for temporary residency.

JANE COWAN: Dr Moeller is the only physician at the hospital which looks after a region of about
54,000 people. He supervises medical registrars and interns and advises local GPs.

His 13-year-old son Lukas has down syndrome but Dr Bernhard Moeller can't understand how that makes
him a burden on the Australian community.

BERNHARD MOELLER: He is attending a regular primary school, having an aide who supports him. But
that's all he needs. Otherwise he is living the life of a pretty normal Aussie kid.

JANE COWAN: The Victorian Premier John Brumby was disturbed to hear of the case.

JOHN BRUMBY: I woke up this morning and I saw this and I was shocked and I just thought it's a
stupid decision.

JANE COWAN: John Brumby spoke to the doctor personally this morning and says he'll do all he can to
have the decision changed.

JOHN BRUMBY: To say that this is a huge burden on the community or school or the future of
Australia is just patently not correct and it flies in the face I think of everything we've been
doing in our school system in recent decades to understand and recognise that every child is
different and we all have different abilities. That's the fact of the matter.

JANE COWAN: The Immigration Minister Chris Evans has refused to intervene.

Peter Vardas is a spokesman from the Immigration Department.

PETER VARDAS: Certainly there's a lot of community support for Dr Moeller as there have been in
cases in years gone by. At the end of the day it is an objective process. The Migration Review
Tribunal, when it gets to them, will review the circumstances. They may uphold the department's
decision. They may overturn the department's decision. I'm not sure of the extent to which the
independent members of that tribunal take public support into account.

JANE COWAN: But the Minister is coming under pressure from within his own party. The Health
Minister Nicola Roxon says she's not across the details of the case but she'll definitely be
raising it.

NICOLA ROXON: I will certainly be talking to the Immigration Minister because we know how valuable
and important it is to have doctors in our rural and regional community and I'm sure that that will
also be taken into account.

JANE COWAN: The Minister does have the discretion to waive the health requirement for a small
number of visas, mainly in the humanitarian and family categories if the costs are not considered,
quote, "undue". But this isn't currently an option in the permanent skilled migration category that
Dr Moeller falls into.

GRAEME INNES: I was very disappointed by this decision. Often these assumptions are made; they're
often negative and they're usually wrong.

JANE COWAN: Graeme Innes is a Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Commissioner with the
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. He spoke to the World Today from New York.

GRAEME INNES: Unfortunately immigration law is exempt from disability discrimination legislation so
whilst this decision is thoroughly discriminatory, it's legally probably not.

JANE COWAN: What does it say about the current state of the laws that this can be legal? Do the
actual underpinning arrangements need to change outside this particular case?

GRAEME INNES: Well I think it's very disappointing in the year that Australia has ratified the
convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and is working on the development of a
national disability strategy that this law can still be in place and I'm hopeful that Minister
Evans will overturn this decision and move to change the law.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's the Human Rights Commissioner Graham Innes ending that report by Jane
Cowan.