Politics Analysis

Dutton shares blame for detainee accused of bashing woman

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

As Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton was indirectly responsible for the release of a detainee accused of assaulting an elderly lady. Dr Abul Rizvi reports.

AFTER THREE PEOPLE bashed an elderly lady in Perth, the focus was entirely on Majid Jamshidi Doukoshkan who was among 149 detainees released by the Labor Government after the High Court ruled in November 2023 that indefinite immigration detention was unlawful.

A second man allegedly involved, Seyed Younes Tahami, was also a former detainee but one who was released in January 2020 when Opposition Leader Peter Dutton was Minister for Home Affairs.

While Dutton and others in the Coalition were quick to call for the resignation of Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles following news of Doukoshan’s alleged role in the bashing, they have to date made no comment on the possible role of Tahami in the bashing or who was responsible for his release.

So how much would Dutton have known about Tahami’s release in January 2020 and to what degree is he responsible?

Media reports suggest the decision to release Tahami was undertaken by a delegate of the Minister. That is much the same as the decision to release Doukoshan. He was released on the advice of a specialist committee set up to advise on such matters following the High Court decision in November 2023.

The history of Tahami’s case is that he was granted a protection visa in December 2012. In July 2018, he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for drug-related offences with a non-parole period of 13 months. He was also convicted of breaching his bail conditions.

In February 2019, his protection visa was mandatorily cancelled under the s501 character provisions. In June 2019, he was transferred from prison to immigration detention. In January 2020, a delegate of the Minister revoked Tahami’s protection visa cancellation and re-instated his protection visa, enabling his release.

Given the Coalition Government’s numerous attempts to strengthen the s501 character provisions, revocation of Tahami’s visa cancellation and his subsequent release seem surprising.

But in comparing these two cases, context is important.

In October 2018, the Christmas Island Detention Centre was closed with the detainees in that centre progressively brought to the mainland. Some were detained in one of the mainland centres while a large number were released either from Christmas Island or other detention facilities (see Chart 1).

(Data source: DHA website)

In March 2018, there were 330 immigration detainees on Christmas Island. This quickly fell to zero by October 2018. The decision to vacate the Christmas Island Detention Centre, release a large number of detainees to enable that and then close the centre could not have been made without Dutton’s knowledge. At a minimum, he would have received an information brief on this.

As a result of that decision, the total number of immigration detainees in detention facilities fell from 1,232 in March 2018 to 869 in October 2018. This continued to fall to a low of 817 in February 2019. Cost considerations would have most likely driven the decision to reduce detainee numbers as the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) budget was under severe pressure at the time.

Surprisingly, the decision to reduce detention capacity was made at a time when Australia was simultaneously experiencing the biggest labour trafficking boom abusing the asylum system in its history, exploiting Malaysian and Chinese nationals (see Chart 2) while the DHA was also cutting back on immigration compliance activities (see Chart 3). A truly bizarre situation.

(Data source: DHA)

(Data source: DHA)

Because of the cutback in immigration compliance activity, both the demand for detention facilities had fallen and the number of people removed from Australia directly from detention facilities had also fallen from 7,102 in 2017-18 to 5,550 in 2018-19 and 3,284 in 2019-20.

This would have given DHA confidence in its decision to close the Christmas Island Detention Centre.

But from around June 2019, Dutton started a policy of ramping up s501 character cancellations of people being released from prison, including people who had spent almost all their lives in Australia. This particularly affected New Zealand nationals and caused a massive bilateral rift.

The number of people detained due to an s501 character cancellation increased rapidly from 353 in June 2019 to 629 in January 2020. It would have been in this context that the decision to revoke Tehami’s character cancellation and his subsequent release would have been made.

DHA had been instructed to strongly enforce the character provisions which required it to take more people into detention while knowing it did not have the detention capacity to cope with this because it did not have the funding cover.

The number of s501 character cancellations in detention continued to rise even though Tahami’s s501 cancellation was revoked during the same period. DHA sought funding cover to re-open the Christmas Island Detention Centre from September 2020. But that was too late for the decision to release Tahami.

In other words, Tahami was released in a period where the Christmas Island Detention Centre was closed due to a tight budget while Dutton was demanding a ramping up of s501 cancellations that required more detention capacity and more funding. Dutton had put DHA between a rock and a hard place and is indirectly responsible for Tahami’s release.  

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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