Politics Opinion

Albanese Government is complicit in the cruel deportation of Australians

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The senseless and cruel deportation of Australians, many of whom have spent decades with their families here, will be a shameful stain on Albanese's legacy, Gerry Georgatos writes.

THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY has lurched into Trumpian territory with its histrionic right-wing extremism with "501 migrants", even if they have been in Australia for half a century. Albo's mob have outdone Dutton and Morrison.

There are more than 850 individuals detained in immigration detention centres, slated for deportation. More than 500 are Section 501 migrants, the majority with decades of tenure in Australia, children born here, their family ties Australian born and bred. 

Stephen Pokrywka is "Australian", but for a piece of paper — citizenship. He has been on a permanent resident visa all his life, since coming to Australia from England as a child. Stephen’s mother became an Australian citizen. Stephen's two sisters are here, one of them was born here. Stephen’s six children – three of them descendants of this continent’s First Peoples – are Australian-born and bred citizens. 

Stephen came to Australia at 12 years of age. He is 55, with 43 years uninterrupted in this country. With four decades of tenure in this country, fathering Australian children, granddad to Australian children, you’d think Australia would own him and thousands of others in similar circumstances who are awaiting deportation but do not want to be separated from their families.

This reporter has long contended that the 501 Migration laws – which allow for wide remit compassionless deportations and the decimation of families, abrogating the purpose of carceral penance and the subsequent right to redemption – must be reformed. What sort of society shreds families? What sort of society denies redemption and salvation, a clean slate? Where is the redeemer in us as a society?

Stephen served five years in his only carceral sentence for trying to traffic five ounces of methamphetamines. He was paroled in January but instead of returning to his family, to employment, he was denied the right to the restorative and redemptive. On his parole "release" date, the Department of Immigration was waiting for him. They transported him from a Western Australian prison, Bunbury Regional, to Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre.

Since 2014, 8,000 non-Australian citizens have had their visas cancelled and have been deported. On a proportional basis, Australia has degenerated into the nation with the highest rate of deportations of individuals with more than a decade’s residency. 

The migrant story of Australia needs to own its good and bad and not make dumping grounds of other nations, as it had with New Zealand and continues to do so with the United Kingdom, of people who have lived as Australians, whose only experience is Australia.

Stephen has only ever had one carceral conviction — and he had his visa revoked. If this brutal harshness does not end, the trap door remains for thousands each year to be callously deported. It is a classist narrative.

The near-all those deported and those awaiting deportation live in the lowest quintile of income-base. As a society, we should be assisting individuals to turn their lives around, instead of consigning the vulnerable to all-out punitive approaches.

Over the years this reporter has assisted 21 out of 22 individuals slated for deportation to having their visas reinstated, to clemency, to release and reunification with their families. Not one has reoffended. Many are thriving, working, providing for their families, some volunteering in charities. It is this reporter's experience that if we believe in people for long enough, they will believe in themselves.

But this is not the story of the majority of those slated for deportation. The majority are unrepresented — there’s no seasoned expertise to guide them through the arduousness of appeals and tribunals, which are like landmines with a litany of encumbrances for self-representing individuals, of whom most have not completed secondary schooling.

The enormity of the unnatural justice or injustices of it all is akin to people who have served their time, completed their penance, to being shanghaied from the only country most of them have known and ruthlessly lassoed and slung into a country-or-origin that is no homeland but terrifyingly foreign, into a furnace of inescapable poverty, more profound than the one they leave, and into the loneliest miseries.

Stephen is meticulously remorseful for his offending. The Prisoners Review Board – the "parole board" – approved him for release. The Departments of Immigration and Home Affairs must start respecting the judicial systems — respect the court-ordered sentences. They should not be acting as some power above the courts and further punish. In a sense it is this reporter's contention that these departments – and their relative ministers – are acting as extra-legal, ex-judicial.

Stephen’s 21-year-old daughter, Jess Pokrywka, told IA:

My Dad is suffering. His loved ones are suffering. We’re all suffering. My Dad deserves a second chance. He's off the drug. He is regretful. He is ready to rebuild his life.


I refuse to let my Dad become another deportation. He is a good man. A hard worker. At the heart of everything, he is a family man. We want him with us.


My Dad is a part of a massive problem, of deportations out of control. He is one of far too many.


He was granted the huge step of parole. He was trusted by the parole board as good chance to mend and do good and instead Immigration disregarded his right to a second chance.

Jess wrote in a statement that: 

My Dad and I reached out to Gerry, after hearing of his success in getting detainees released. I live in Manjimup and heard through a local, a psychologist, of Gerry’s work – and specifically of his successful campaign in the release by clemency of the dying Robert Taylor who coincidentally lived here in Manjimup.


I cried in happiness for Robert and his family, that he had the chance to spend the last seven months before dying, with his family. I contacted the Taylor family and they turned to Gerry after they heard of his successful effort pro bono representing another father in the Tribunal who – if he had lost – would have been deported to the Philippines.

In her own words:

“Hopefully, my Dad is not deported. Hopefully, it is catalyst for change, for the laws to be changed, for families not destroyed.”

Sydney Criminal Lawyers civil libertarian journalist Paul Gregoire has written that:

'Australia has always had a nasty policy of deporting people from the continent. And this has been ever-increasingly so since former prime minister Scott Morrison oversaw the passing of a suite of immigration character tests and deportation amendments when Immigration Minister in late 2014.'

Paul Gregoire has written of Stephen Pokrywka: 

Having been in the country since the age of 12, the UK-born man is right now detained in Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre slated to be sent to England, despite his entire family being here. Pokrywka has fathered six local children, three of whom are First Nations descendants.


And these days, Stephen is a grandfather and his British mother and UK-born sisters have all become Australian citizens over the last four decades.


Yet, the Government is attempting to turf Pokrywka out of the jurisdiction it presides over, as he was paroled in January, after having served five years on being convicted of attempting to supply a prohibited drug, which was a criminal offence he committed after developing his own habit.


And what’s certainly another crime is that Australia considers it reasonable to deport people, like Stephen, who’ve long been immersed in local culture, over crimes they’ve served time for, thus the state shirks any responsibility and instead lays the blame for this criminality on a foreign nation.

Stephen Pokrywka is Australian but for a piece of paper — citizenship. He’s been on a permanent resident visa all his life, since coming to Australia from England as a child.

Paul Gregoire wrote:

'Georgatos and the Pokrywka family aren’t denying Stephen’s crime was serious. But they are arguing that, as he’s served his time like everyone else who commits a similar offence, he should then be returned to the community, not banished to a foreign country over his only carceral sentence.'

Paul continues: 

Since Morrison tweaked these laws in 2014, which didn’t directly affect Pokrywka’s case, this policy has seen us dump thousands of NZ-born local residents back across the ditch and besides them, the law captures any non-citizen falling short of certain stipulations, or at times, not even that.


Back when the Albanese Government was putting up a show of being less divisive than the other lot, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles in early 2023 issued Direction 99, which calls on decisionmakers to consider “the strength, nature and duration of ties”, as well as the “best interests” of local kids.


One of the first pieces of legislation passed by Australian Parliament after Federation, was the Pacific Islanders Labourers Act 1901 (Cth), which aimed to deport all South-Sea Islander people who’d been brought here, often by coercion, to work as indentured labourers over the four decades prior.

Paul points out that:

These days, it’s the Morrison-amended section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) that’s led to 8,000 non-citizens being deported over the last decade, as a prior stipulation that non-citizens sentenced to an accumulated 24 months was then dropped to deportation on 12 months or more.


The new stipulation applied to multiple sentences and was backdated, ensuring that people were captured for numerous minor offences. And as for the 12 months, this didn’t necessarily mean time served, as it applies to an overall sentence regardless of if it was suspended or served in rehab.


Home Affairs figures show that in December 2023, out of an overall 872 onshore immigration detainees, 531, or 61 per cent of them, were section 501 detainees: residents being turfed.


And the other Morrison special that deporters of non-citizens have applied since the 501-channel turned into a trickle has been section 116 of the Act, which permits expulsions of non-citizens that merely pose a risk to “health, safety or good order”, regardless of any prior sentence or conviction.

Section 501 had already been internationally condemned, prior to Morrison’s mass deportation measures:

In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council ruled section 501 to be a violation of international law in relation to the 2006 deportation of Stefan Nystrom, who’d arrived in the country three weeks after being born and was deported to Sweden at the age of 33 and then suffered a breakdown.


Prior to the 1998 insertion of the section 501 character test law into the Migration Act, deportation was possible at ministerial discretion if a noncitizen had been convicted of a crime punishable by at least 12 months prison and they hadn’t been a resident for longer than ten years.


But since the Howard Government inserted 501 in the late 1990s, long-term residents of ten years or more have been deported under the character test. And since then, deportation limits have been either one conviction carrying 12 months or more or multiple sentences surpassing 12 months.


The argument for raising the age of criminal responsibility from ten to 14 is that child cognitive ability has not developed to the point of being capable of grasping such responsibility, yet the Government claims that somehow the UK is responsible for Pokrywka’s lawbreaking, when he arrived here at 12.

Paul includes the story of Robert Taylor in his piece:

Last year, Georgatos raised the case of 50-year-old UK-born man Robert Taylor, who was slated for deportation despite being a lifelong resident and father-of-six Australian children and nine grandchildren, and he had too been diagnosed with cancer whilst locked up in Yongah Hill.


Due to the social justice advocate’s efforts, Taylor was freed and allowed to spend the last seven months of his life with his Australian family before passing last month. And this was just one out of a total of 21 resident non-citizens, he’s seen released, despite the department greenlighting expulsion.

His story also acknowledges this reporter saying: 'But this is not the story of the majority of those slated for deportation'

The majority are unrepresented. There’s no seasoned expertise to guide them through the arduousness of appeals and tribunals.


Stephen’s 21-year-old daughter Jess Pokrywka has launched an online petition calling on the Australian Government to grant Stephen and his family clemency, as he has served his time within the society of which he has grown and offended within, so he doesn’t deserve to now be banished.

Stephen's daughter Jess told IA

“He was granted the huge step of parole. He was trusted by the board to do good and instead Immigration has disregarded his right to a second chance.”

The Australian Labor Government has stooped to low blows on occasions — that's expected of muddled-minded politicians disordered with votes-chasing. But siding with the Liberals on turfing people out of the country after decades of living in Australia, separating them from their Australian families – their children – is as low a blow as the Australian Labor Party as Government has landed in living memory.

Stephen should be released immediately — so too, the majority of those detained.

Do not discriminate. Do not turn people against people. Do not make a hypocrite of yourself, Albo. Every member of the Australian Labor Party is complicit. Shame. What a stain.

Stephen Pokrywka with his two children
(Source: 'Help us Get a Retrial/Reconsideration for Stephen Pokrywka' | change.org)

Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus on social justice.

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