Batemans Bay grandfather David Degning will not be deported on Thursday, with the Federal Court to review his case in June.
He will remain at the Villawood Detention Centre for the time being.
Mr Degning’s story has given people in the Eurobodalla and beyond an insight into the powers of Australia’s Immigration Minister and his Department.
Mr Degning arrived in Australia from the United Kingdom at the age of seven in 1968. For the last 30 of those 50 years he has earned a living in Batemans Bay, and raised a family with his Australian-born wife.
His family say he is a permanent resident, has voted in elections, interacted with government for all the normal reasons, and has no relationship with the UK.
Mr Degning, his siblings, and father all considered themselves 10-pound Poms and as such believed they had a legal place in Australia.
As reported earlier, Mr Degning was due to be deported back to the United Kingdom this coming Thursday after spending the last three months in the Villawood Detention Centre.
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs has declined to comment directly on Mr Degning’s case but has pointed to the powers of the Minister and the Department.
“There are strong provisions under section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 that allow the Minister or a delegate to refuse or cancel a visa if the person is considered to not be of good character,” the spokesperson says.
“A person can fail the character test for a number of reasons, including but not limited to where a non-citizen has a substantial criminal record.”
When it comes to a “bad character” judgment in relation to Mr Degning, jail time as a 21-year-old for theft and a suspended sentence relating to a number of more recent drink driving offences is the only evidence available.
That aside, the powers of the Minister and his Department to deport a man who was essentially “Made in Australia” have been highlighted.
As family and friends have described, those powers allowed 16 Border Force officers to enter Mr Degning’s Bateman Bay home at dawn on January 25 and take him away in handcuffs.
The spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs says, “The Australian Government takes seriously its responsibility to protect the community from the risk of harm arising from non-citizens who choose to engage in criminal activity or other serious conduct of concern.”
“Further information on the character requirement is available on the Department’s website.”
While the Department won’t or can’t talk directly to Mr Degning’s case, similar stories have been recorded in other Australian media:
In February 2015, the ABC reported on the case of New Zealand born Joanne Gordon-Stables, who had lived in Australia for 40 years and had her visa cancelled after being jailed for drug offences.
In March this year, the Gladstone Observer reported on the experience of a Sri Lankan family in Biloela whose family home was stormed by Australian Border Security at 5am on March 5.
In March 2017 the ABC told the story of a Brisbane grandmother who had lived in Australia for 50 years and had her visa cancelled.
The ABC reported, “Maryanne Caric has not left Australia since she arrived with her parents as a two-year-old from the then Republic of Yugoslavia.
“On March 1, Ms Caric, a convicted drug offender detained in Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre, was handed deportation papers. She has no connections in Croatia, and as far as she knows, will receive no financial or health support.”
In October 2017, the Australian edition of The Huffington Post reported that, a Brisbane lawyer had “accused the Department of Immigration and Border Protection of “interference with the administration of justice” after two of his clients awaiting criminal trial had their visas stripped and were thrown in detention centres despite being granted bail by courts.
And Big Smoke Australia reported concerns expressed by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern in March this year, about Kiwis who have lived in Australia most of their lives being deported under Section 501.
In the discussion and debate that has followed no one has suggested that crime shouldn’t come without consequences and punishment, but the question is whether the powers of Section 501 and the Immigration Minister appropriate, fair, and in line with Australia’s sense of justice and proper process.
While not able to speak to the complexities of individual cases, Sydney-based Immigration Lawyer and Registered Migration Agent, Rebecca Wallace believes the Minister, Peter Dutton and his Department have acted unreasonably in a large number of recent cases involving the refusal or cancellation of visas under the provisions of Section 501.
“People just presume that the Government will act fairly or rationally, but I don’t believe this has occurred in a number of cases in the last three years,” she says.
“I recommend anyone getting these notifications to be making contact with qualified immigration professionals straight away.”
Ms Wallace, from Corby Wallace Pty Limited, says the number of visas cancelled on character grounds since new powers came into play in December 2014 has increased by over 1400 percent, and a significant number of people who may have met character requirements previously are now finding themselves exposed.
It’s advice echoed by the Law Institute of Victoria. “It does not matter how long you have held your visa for, even if you came to Australia as a child, or if you were born here: all visa holders and visa applicants can be affected,” their website says.
“Receiving notice that your visa may be, or has been, refused or cancelled under s.501 can be distressing and overwhelming.
“It is crucial that you are informed about your options and your rights because the consequences of refusal or cancellation are extremely serious,” the Institute says.
In questioning by the ABC in December 2015, Mr Dutton said he would not apologise for taking a tough approach.
“Frankly they’re detracting from the Australian society, not adding to it,” the ABC reported.
“They should be removed from our shores as quickly as possible.
“It [Section 501] confers a power on the Minister to, in the national interest, decide that a visa should be cancelled of somebody who, for example, had been involved in a serious crime.”
Ms Wallace says people just assume that after spending so long in Australia there is no way that the Government is going to take away their visa, but the reality is they can and are.
David Degning’s future will play out in the Federal Court in June where the Department of Home Affairs will no doubt detail their case more fully, what remains for the rest of us is an acceptance or otherwise, that people who have lived the bulk of their adult lives here, people who have been made or broken in Australia, should be deported to another country, absolving Australia of any responsibility.
*This story first appeared on RiotACT