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Shadow Minister says Immigration Department needs an overhaul after the wrongful deportation of a citizen.

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Friday 20 May 2005

Shadow Minister says Immigration Department needs an overhaul after the wrongful deportation of a citizen


TONY EASTLEY: As you've just heard, the Immigr ation Minister Amanda Vanstone says changes to the immigration law under the previous Labor Government might have been responsible for changing the culture of her department and left immigration officials with less flexibility. 


But the minister in charge at the time, Labor Senator Nick Bolkus, has told AM the culture of unaccountability can in no way be blamed on the Migration Act.  


He says the legislation can't be blamed for the wrongful deportation of an Australian citizen. 


He says the bureaucracy, not the legislation, needs a major overhaul. 


Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor senator Nick Bolkus was the immigration minister in the last three years of the Keating Government. 


He says after 12 years of overwhelmingly good operation of the Migration Act, it's the current Government that's to blame for the mistakes that have come to light.  


The former minister argues the Coalition's political demands of the Immigration Department have filtered down through the bureaucracy and changed its culture. 


NICK BOLKUS: Look, Senator Vanstone's always good at diversionary rhetoric. The fact is the Department's not defensive, it is totally on the offensive. Its agenda is one that is disregarding people's rights. There has been flexibility in the Act, and the sorts of situations we have now shouldn’t be occurring under any interpretation of the Act. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And immigration lawyer David Manne says while he would like to see major overhaul of the Migration laws, the administration of the existing legislation leaves much to be desired. 


DAVID MANNE: For many years, there have been detailed policy manuals drafted by the Government with instructions for officers on how to implement the migration laws, and these policies themselves, these instructions, are often far too restrictive, and provide little room for ensuring that laws that do provide for some fairness, some decency, are actually implemented in that way. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Senator Bolkus says there's nothing in the Act that says you deport or detain Australians citizens. 


NICK BOLKUS: You can’t blame the Act for the Cornelia Rau situation. You can't blame the Act for the fact that someone knew two or three years ago that an Australian citizen had been deported but chose not to tell anybody, so we're told. 


This sort of culture of unaccountability, this arrogant disregard for people's rights - you can’t blame the Act for that. You blame the culture of the Department for that, and you blame the political masters. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Labor Senator says it's the Government that's to blame for a culture, among some, of a "border cop". 


NICK BOLKUS: There's an old Chinese saying which is that the fish rots from the head. And if Amanda Vanstone wants to look at what's wrong with the Department, she should look at the political missions that its been set upon by her Government, by herself and by the previous minister, and she should look at some of the people who, and the cultures that are dominant in the Department now. 


It's not the fault of the Act. The Act's been operating pretty well over a number of years. It's the way that the Act's administered. It's also the way that the culture of the Department, which has been there for quite a while, has surfaced and is running the agenda. 


TONY EASTLEY: Labor Senator and former immigration minister, Nick Bolkus, speaking there with Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.