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Prime Minister says cancellation of Mohamed Haneef's visa was wholly legitimate; lawyer says Minister misused his power.

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Tues day 31 July 2007

Prime Minister says cancellation of Mohamed Haneef's visa was wholly legitimate; lawyer says Minister misused his power


EMMA ALBERICI: The Immigration Minister, Kevin A ndrews, hopes today to reveal the confidential police information he's relied on to cancel Dr Mohammed Haneef's work visa. 


He's sought the advice of the Federal Police and the Solicitor General on whether he can unveil the secret dossier he used to decide that Dr Haneef failed the so-called "character test" and should not be allowed in the country. 


But that plan may be in jeopardy. Police sources have told AM that federal agents are reluctant to have that information released, particularly while their investigation of Dr Haneef and others continues. 


From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Immigration Minister is under pressure to explain his handling of the case, starting with his decision to cancel Dr Haneef's work visa, just after the Indian doctor had been granted bail. 


Having allowed Dr Haneef to leave Australia, Mr Andrews then criticised him for doing so, saying if anything that actually heightened, rather than lessened, his suspicion.  


The Prime Minister is standing by Mr Andrews and his handling of the matter "from start to finish". At the same time he's refusing to offer Mohammed Haneef an apology and says it's unlikely he'll be allowed back in the country.  


JOHN HOWARD: I think, at the moment, the cancellation of his visa was wholly legitimate and I can't see, therefore, the circumstances in which it's going to be restored, certainly in the near future. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: In a bid to silence the critics, Mr Andrews wants to make public the secret or so-called "protected" information he used for continuing to revoke Dr Haneef's visa, after the terror-related charge against him was dropped. It's understood that information comes from a range of intelligence sources both in Australia and overseas. The Minister's asked the Federal Police and the Solicitor General for their approval.  


In one quarter at least, there appear to be deep reservations. Police sources have told AM their agency would be reluctant to have the dossier made public, suggesting it could jeopardise the continuing investigation into Dr Haneef and others. 


Another source says there's also a danger it could compromise intelligence sources.  


Melbourne criminal defence lawyer, Lex Lasry QC, says he can understand the Minister wanting to make the information public to solve what's become a political problem for him. But he says the police may want to keep the material under wraps for one of two reasons. 


LEX LASRY: One is that the police are embarrassed about the lack of substance to the information and would find it embarrassing if it was released. The alternative version is that there is some continuing investigation, and that they don't want that investigation prejudiced, in either case but particularly in the second case. That puts the Minister, I would've thought, in a fairly difficult position. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So do you have any sympathy here for the Immigration Minister? 


LEX LASRY: No. I don't. I don't. Because I thought at the time that the visa was cancelled that it looked very much like a misuse of his power, and I suppose we have to wait and see what the factual basis for that decision was, but at the moment it still looks like a misuse of power to me. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: AM 's been told the Commonwealth Solicitor General has looked at the secret evidence and effectively backs the Immigration Minister's visa decision. The report by David Bennett QC refers to some of the confidential investigation material, so he's now providing extra advice to Kevin Andrews on how much of that report should be revealed. 


EMMA ALBERICI: Alexandra Kirk.