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Aust.: Minister Welcomes Ombudsman's Report

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Welcomes Ombudsman's Report

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Amanda Vanstone, welcomed the release of the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s report into the application of the character powers under section 501 of the Migration Act to long-term permanent residents.

The Minister said that the Ombudsman would assist her department in work already underway to improve administrative practices and processes relating to s501 cancellations – work commenced as a result of the initiatives that flowed out of the Palmer and Comrie reports of 2005.

‘A number of issues in the Ombudsman’s report reflect concerns raised in the Palmer and Comrie reports – namely training, quality assurance and case management,’ the Minister said.

‘The power to cancel a visa under s501 of the Migration Act is an important provision to help protect the Australian community, by ensuring people of serious character concern can be removed if they do not have the right of citizenship.

‘Many improvements have already been introduced to ensure the department achieves its goal of fair and reasonable dealings with all clients,’ the Minister said, adding that her department is currently addressing how best to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

‘It is important to note that under improvements to processes already implemented, the number of s501 cases decided by the Minister has declined significantly, from 93 per cent of cases in 2001-02 to only 8 per cent in 2004-05. This provides for merits review of decisions made by a delegate by the Administrative Review Tribunal, whereas decisions by the Minister are only reviewable by the courts.

‘To assist decision-makers in the sometimes extraordinarily difficult decision to cancel a person’s visa, the department has subsequently implemented a number of measures, including a decision support unit and a sensitive case registry.

‘The decision support unit helps officers to understand and apply the relevant legal and policy framework, while the sensitive case register ensures that all sensitive character matters, including the possible cancellation of long-term permanent resident visas, are brought to the attention of senior departmental officers at the earliest possible time,’ she said.

In November 2005, Senator Vanstone initiated a review into s501, which includes consideration of the application of s501 to long-term permanent residents, and which is expected to be finalised soon.

Meanwhile, the department had already advised the Ombudsman that it had expanded its review to include all such cases where visas have been cancelled and people are awaiting removal, as recommended by the Ombudsman, rather than restrict the review to the past three years.

‘Once that review is complete the Government will consider whether any changes to s501 provisions will be made,’ the Minister said.

The Ombudsman will be informed of any changes made as a result of the review.

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