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Acting Minister's original decision to cancel Lorenzo Ervin's visa is set aside and he is released from gaol

TONY EASTLEY: Well, he's out of gaol - Lorenzo Ervin, the US black activist who the Government was intent on deporting. Following a hearing in the High Court today, the Acting Immigration Minister's original decision to cancel Mr Ervin's visa has been set aside. A short time ago, Lorenzo Ervin walked free from his Brisbane prison. Caitlin Shea was there and prepared this report.

LORENZO ERVIN: I feel elated, feel vindicated that the Australian judiciary saw fit to overturn the prejudicial rulings of the Prime Minister and MP Pauline Hanson. I'm elated that they saw fit to step up and say that there is a Constitution and that there's a legal process in this country.

CAITLIN SHEA: Lorenzo Ervin's path to freedom was a complex legal one which ended up at the High Court. His troubles began on Tuesday when the Acting Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, cancelled his visa on the grounds the convicted plane hijacker was not of good character. He was immediately taken into custody and attempts by his lawyers to get bridging visas failed. But today, as Lorenzo Ervin spent his fourth day in the maximum security Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre, an application for bail resumed in the High Court before Chief Justice Sir Gerard Brennan via video link from Canberra. Yesterday, counsel for Minister Vanstone questioned the High Court's jurisdiction over the matter, provoking an indignant response from the Chief Justice.

But this morning there was an unexpected change of heart. The Commonwealth Solicitor-General, by consent order, set aside the Minister's original decision to cancel Ervin's visa. Outside the court, Lorenzo Ervin's lawyer, Terry Fisher, explained.

TERRY FISHER: Mr Ervin's achieved everything that he possibly could, that would have occurred if there'd been a final hearing. The Commonwealth Solicitor-General, by consent order, has agreed to his immediate release, in that they've agreed to set aside the decision of the Minister.

UNIDENTIFIED: This is an incredible back-flip, isn't it?

TERRY FISHER: Well, it's what we've said all along, that the Minister did not accord Mr Ervin natural justice when she made her decision.

UNIDENTIFIED: You must be thrilled.

TERRY FISHER: I'm sure Mr Ervin will be thrilled because he'll be getting out of gaol very shortly. What I'd like to do is thank the counsel who were involved in this, Daryl Rangier (?) and James Douglas QC. Without them ... the Migration Act is one of the most complicated pieces of legislation - a Nazi Germany regime would have been proud of it - and they've done a really marvellous job, and I think they really deserve the credit for what's happened here this morning.

CAITLIN SHEA: Terry Fisher went to collect his client from gaol and, in a rather dramatic act, Mr Ervin, flanked by his legal team, walked up the long gaol driveway to freedom. He was embraced by a few supporters and told a waiting media of his ordeal.

UNIDENTIFIED: How have your last four days in gaol been?

LORENZO ERVIN: Well, you know, when I got here, I got treated pretty rough. It was like people saw their chance to reek a little vengeance at me, and I got shoved up against a wall and I had my glasses broken, and then, later that evening, I was dragged, literally dragged by the handcuffs, to the security unit. The thing about all of that is that that was wholly unnecessary. I hadn't presented any threat whatsoever, I wasn't cursing these people, I wasn't resisting in any way coming to the facility, I had faith that my attorneys would be bringing legal process, and it was no use and no point in this sort of brutal behaviour. Now, after I complained about it and after the attorneys made it public, then they wanted to pretend that it had never happened. These are the glasses in question. You can see there's only one lens shattered and that's because that's the part of my face that hit the wall.

Now, this kind of harassment, and there was jokes being made about: 'Well, you're not going to be beat up like the other prisoners' - as if it goes on here all the time. I don't have any way of knowing that. I don't know if prisoners are beaten in due course. I just know that what happened to me shouldn't have ever happened. I don't think, first of all, that this whole approach, as if I was someone, some gangster or something from America, who'd escaped or had hijacked a plane from America to Australia, and then had come here and was under cover doing some sort of criminal activities. That whole approach and that story that was presented by the Prime Minister was totally false, and that story was presented, of course, by Mrs Hanson that somehow I was a terrorist, been stirring up racial violence here in Australia, was purely false. I've not done any such thing, I've not done it in America. Why the devil should I be doing it here?

CAITLIN SHEA: Lorenzo Ervin is a free man, at least until Monday. He must then answer a series of Immigration Department questions to show cause as to why he should remain in the country. A member of his legal team told me he didn't think Amanda Vanstone would be silly enough to try to cancel Lorenzo Ervin's visa again.

TONY EASTLEY: Caitlin Shea reporting. And Federal Government sources say they are still considering cancelling Lorenzo Ervin's visa a second time, maintaining that he is not of good character and should not have been allowed into the country, but this time they've agreed to abide by the principle of natural justice and will allow him the opportunity to defend himself before deciding his fate. A Government official has told the World Today that the Government's change of approach was due to a procedural problem and he acknowledged that the case highlighted flaws in the Immigration system.