Politics Opinion

Australia's cruel deportation laws forsake dying father

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Robert Taylor's fate is in the hands of the Albanese Government (Image by Dan Jensen)

Time is running out for a dying man wishing to spend his remaining time with his family, but scheduled for deportation by the Albanese Government. Gerry Georgatos reports.

ROBERT TAYLOR is dying. He has months to live. His family of six children and 11 grandchildren want him to come home and spend what time is left with them.

Robert is slated for deportation to the United Kingdom, his birth country. He has been in immigration custody for 16 months. He was born in England in 1973 but as a 10-month-old baby, arrived in Australia with his parents in February 1974.

In the nearly 50 years since, he has never left Western Australia. He has grown up Australian, bred here. He has no family in the UK. Unlike his parents, he never thought too much about pursuing Australian citizenship. He was fine on a permanent residency status.

But a carceral conviction late in life for a burglary brought him to the attention of the Department of Immigration. The Prisoners Review Board validated him with parole granted but the Department of Immigration waited for him as he was to be released and they transferred Robert from Bunbury Regional Prison to Northam’s Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre.

His Australian-born and bred family was devastated.

Robert made mistakes and did gaol time. After 50 years in this country, his whole life, he does not deserve deportation. In the last ten years, more than 5,000 residents have been deported.

I have come to know Robert. He is a good person. He has served his court-ordered penance. The slate should be considered clean. We must allow for the redeemer in us, or what sort of society are we?

After serving half of his three-and-a-half-year sentence, he was released on parole. But he did not get to go home.

Robert contacted me in December 2021, after I represented a Philippine-born father of three Australian-born and bred children, who served a 19-month sentence and upon completion was transferred from Acacia Prison to Yongah Hill. He had spent 27 years in Australia, arriving as a 10-year-old child. Unlike all the members of his family, including his parents, who acquired citizenship, he did not chase this up.

I represented this father in the Appeals Tribunal for five hours. I won the case, achieving the revocation of the cancellation of his permanent residency status. He is thriving. Working full-time and volunteering in a homeless shelter. We catch up once and a while.

In 2021, that successful outcome was only one of 16. Sadly, 390 appeals were unsuccessful. The majority were self-representations.

I have been inundated since then by requests. I am not a lawyer. I live with Parkinson’s disease. I cannot manage the load. However, I advise and advocate on their behalf. I am also seeking reforms to the 501 legislation which has carriage of “character assessments” and deportations.

Since Robert’s unsuccessful tribunal appeals, he has turned to the Federal Court, but it is not likely he will live long enough to endure the stressful days to come. A couple of months ago, Robert’s deteriorating health had him hospitalised and doctors diagnosed lung cancer. Oncologists advised he has no hope. He is undergoing chemotherapy so to squeeze out a little more life — perhaps months.

Robert’s family, his doctors and I are calling for clemency. We are hoping the Minister for Immigration, Andrew Giles, the Minister for Home Affairs, Claire O’Neil, and the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, will intervene and release Robert to spend his remaining days with his family.

We cannot demonise people who are convicted. One in 50 Australians has spent at least one stretch in prison — 550,000 Australians. Because of the intergenerational sins of this nation, one in six of the descendants of the First Peoples of this continent have spent time in prison — 150,000.

Do we stigmatise everyone who has been incarcerated, brand them with the “mark of Cain”? Or do we get on with respecting the court-ordered sentence and the clean slate, their right to salvation and redemption, to turn around their lives?

Australia deports people at numbers and rates among the highest in the world. Robert’s children want their dad home.

I visited Robert recently at a hospital he had been relocated to, with two Border Force personnel present 24/7 in his palliative care room. He is struggling, physically and psychologically.

Under the Migration Act, the minister for home affairs must cancel a person’s visa if they are satisfied the person does not pass the “character test”. Robert has not committed any of the more serious and abhorrent crimes that are listed in the 501 legislation. But the previous Coalition-led government was out of control for nine years in seizing the opportunity to deport people like never before.

I have taken on Roberts’s case to try and fight for him to stay in Australia with his family. The strict laws are an abomination. I am advocating for reforms. The draconian laws discriminate against impoverished people, who’ve often spent most of their lives here.

The majority don’t have the capacity to adequately challenge their deportation in the tribunals.

The impacts are harrowing for children of fathers and mothers deported. Also, for the deportees sent to faraway lands that they’ve lost ties to or never actually had any ties other than the fact of their birth.

I have helped many others in similar situations and ask the imperative question: when is the slate clean? When a carceral sentence is complete, penance is complete and the redeemer in all of us should prevail. To argue otherwise is to defy the legal proposition of penance as served.

At all times, a completed carceral sentence means the opportunity for the redemptive and restorative — never does it, or should it mean, furthered punishment.

Robert’s daughter, Keesha, who is pregnant – a 12th grandkid on the way – said if her dad was deported or died away from his family, it will devastate the family.

Keesha said, “My dad’s family is his whole life”.

I am currently fighting for more than 50 people who, like Robert, are facing deportation under the character assessment.

I fight for as many as I can because I remember those who took their lives rather than be deported.

A few years ago, a 22-year-old former Iraqi refugee was to be deported. He was a young father of two living in Sydney. For alleged minor offences, he was detained at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.

One night, he was flown across the continent, away from family to Yongah Hill. He wasn’t supported and died by suicide. Detainees rioted and burnt Yongah Hill.

I assisted the grief-stricken family. I organised their legal representation. They are suing the Commonwealth Government. But this will never bring back the young father — a life needlessly lost because of soulless policies.

The Labor Government can redeem itself for teaming up with the then Coalition Government to pass draconian laws. It can end the wide-remit deportations, the inhumanity.

Robert committed a non-violent burglary and was sentenced to prison, served his time, like everyone else of the 550,000 living Australians who have done time and is now living in the community.

Hypocritically, the Bible-carrying Scott Morrison tightened the character test when Minister for Immigration in late 2014. Did this fervent Pentecostal not read the Gospel?

According to Home Affairs, over 7,000 visas have been cancelled since 2014 on character assessments. It is scandalous but also little known. The 501 legislation has been a mangled mesh afflicted by Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and Alex Hawke. It is a remnant fest of stigma at odds with universalised rudimentary human rights.

In 2014, 501 was altered from the pre-existing migration remit for the propensity to automatic deportation of noncitizens on being sentenced to at least 24 months prison time which in itself the United Nations condemned in 2011, as violating international human rights law.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern repeatedly called on Australia to stop using her country as a dumping ground. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised to reform the character test laws so that long-term residents of New Zealand origin aren’t deported. Laws need to apply universally, for every resident. Has Australia not learned anything from its once pugnacious White Australia policy?

How ludicrous the 501 laws are presently condemned by the absurdity of the system where I successfully blocked an attempt to deport a First Nations father of four Australian-born children. The First Nations father was born in New Zealand. At two years of age, his First Nations mother returned with him to Australia.

The three past governments were discriminatory with cruelly callous tough on people policies, cultivating hate incitement and nurturing divides instead of contextualising ways forward. Instead of coalescing a diverse human family.

But Robert Taylor is running out of time. The cancer has spread to his bones.

But Minister Andrew Giles so far has not sympathised with Robert’s plight. Despite recent appeals made to him personally, Giles has failed to revoke the dying father’s visa cancellation.

Direction 99, which took effect in March, provides additional provisions to revoke cancellations. Robert meets these provisions. The grounds for consideration are ‘the strength, nature and duration of ties to Australia’ and ‘the best interests’ of children.

Robert can’t wait for the Albanese Government to get its act together. The PM needs to step in and coordinate a grant of clemency.

So far, this government has failed to deliver on its 501 promises of reforms.

This case further goes to the morality of our nation, as it refuses to bear responsibility for a person who was raised and has resided here since infancy.

We need a Direction 100, which states that no one is to be deported or, at least, no one who has lived most of their life in Australia.

As time is running thin for Robert and his family, we have turned to the media – to national mastheads – and we will take this travesty to public reckoning. I have done this in the past, to avert deportations. It is sad that this is how we often go about successfully preventing deportations — in this case, for a dying father who thought the only country he has ever known was his home, to at least let him die in his family’s midst, rather than in an immigration detention centre.

I hope compassion and decency prevail soon.

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

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