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Australian visa program a human rights travesty

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Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has been criticised for his harsh treatment of visa applicants (Image by Dan Jensen)

The Federal Government's treatment of immigrants has repeatedly demonstrated abuse against human rights and needs to be stopped, writes Julius Timmerman.

THE RECENT DEBATE over the Novak Djokovic visa has shone a light on the arbitrary and secret nature of decision making on immigration in Australia, which includes using the notorious Section 501 provision.

Professor Victor Makarov, an internationally-renowned piano teacher, has been in arbitrary detention in Villawood Detention Centre for four years after serving a 14-year gaol sentence. Under Section 501, he is facing deportation to the Ukraine which could become a war zone, away from his family that includes grandchildren, who are all Australian citizens. He was granted Australian citizenship in 2001 and the family has been in Australia for over 23 years.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has been concerned about the impact of visa cancellation on long-term permanent residents. The Commonwealth Ombudsman has suggested the arbitrary use of Section 501 to cancel their visas on bad character goes beyond the original intention of the provision.

Nevertheless, it continues to generate arbitrary detention for people who have done gaol time. This contravenes Article 9(1) of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) while the risk of separation from family due to detention and/or removal from Australia breaches Articles 17 and 23. Labor seems to be in lockstep with the Liberals on this flagrant violation of international laws and conventions to which Australia is a signatory.

Professor Victor Makarov was invited to Australia by the Australian Institute of Music, Sydney, in 1998. He brought his family and five talented students and they became Australian citizens. As Head of the Piano Department and a dedicated teacher, he fostered great success.

In 2004, his life was turned upside down when found guilty of sexually assaulting four pupils. He still vehemently protests his innocence and will keep fighting to clear his name, even if deported. He maintains the trials were unfair, resulting in a miscarriage of justice, citing Article 14(1) of the ICCPR which states that all people are equal before courts and tribunals, and everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

In retrials following an appeal, he was acquitted in two cases. After more well-founded but unsuccessful appeals, very difficult to pursue whilst incarcerated, Makarov fully served his term. He was assaulted three times. He was reported to be well behaved with good character and assessed as low risk.

Nevertheless, immigration ministers doggedly concluded he is an unacceptable risk with bad character and under Section 501 he went from gaol directly to detention in Villawood because his citizenship had been revoked. Last year, he was informed he was being released since he had retained an ex-citizen visa, but the minister quickly revoked it and he was brought back inside, stateless.

He was devastated. He feels he is being punished twice for the same offence, but the Department of Home Affairs labels it a “consequence”. All the claimants in court received compensation and went on to distinguished careers as performers and teachers, while Makarov now does his best to teach online from Villawood, such is his dedication to music performance.

Makarov has been treated abominably. Like many others, his human rights are being abused. The fundamental right to have equal consideration and treatment regardless of background and the right to be free from arbitrary detention. He has contracted COVID-19 and is worried it will overrun the centre.

Makarov had put his heart and soul into contributing to the arts of his new country and he still dreams of being able to contribute more. But now he is just a name on a departmental list. He suffers the same sorry fate as many asylum seekers, locked away and forgotten, not regarded as human beings with truths and injustices to reveal or abilities to offer but as political inconveniences.

What kind of country is Australia becoming, where selected people’s outcomes often affecting their families are subject not to well-established law but to tailor-made legislation and the behest of the immigration minister? Rather than stubbornly persist throwing out subjectively chosen social “trash” we should throw out this embarrassing trashy governance. This is about values, decency and what it says if we willingly ignore injustice.

The fact that Makarov, now in his late 60s, has survived his Australian ordeals so remarkably is a testament to his great fortitude and resilience. He cannot afford expensive barristers and had no choice but to study law to help defend himself, so he knows his rights and will continue to insist that they are upheld.

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Julius Timmerman is retired after a long career in the public service. His key areas of knowledge and concern are climate change action and social injustice.

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Australian visa program a human rights travesty

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