Batemans Bay’s David Degning had a rare moment in the outside world yesterday attending the Federal Court in Sydney in another attempt to avoid being deported to the United Kingdom.
Mr Degning has been in the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre since January 25 last year.
Life for Mr Degning and his family was turned upside down at dawn on that day when 16 Border Force officers raided the family home and took Mr Degning into custody. Two weeks before, the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton cancelled Mr Degning’s visa.
Mr Degning arrived in Australia from the UK at the age of seven in 1968 as a ‘Ten Pound Pom’ with his parents and siblings. For the last 30 of those 50 years, he has earned a living in Batemans Bay, and raised a family with his wife.
According to his family, Mr Degning has voted in elections, interacted with government for all the normal reasons, and has no relationship with the UK, they say Mr Degning considered himself Australian.
The almost 60-year-old is married to an Australian. His two adult daughters are Australian. His son, who tragically died at the age of two, was Australian.
Mr Degning’s four grandchildren are Australian, including the most recent addition to the Degning family who was born while his grandfather was locked up in the high-security wing at Villawood.
A normal Australian family in many respects, however, Mr Degning is no saint, which is what prompted the Minister to act.
He has a string of offences that include drink driving, assault, and possession of stolen goods that date back to 1977.
Worst of all, in 2013, he pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse with a person with a cognitive impairment. The incident in question occurred in 2009. Mr Degning was given a suspended 17-month sentence.
Lawyer, Stephen Blanks says the judge found that Mr Degning was unlikely to re-offend. “He served his sentence living in the community on a good behaviour bond. He honoured that bond and was never required to serve any time behind bars,” Mr Blanks says.
Court documents also show that Mr Degning failed to declare his criminal convictions on Incoming Passenger Cards dated January 4, 2004, April 20, 2004, and March 2, 2006, and that Mr Dutton considered “this indicative of a further disregard for the law.”
Mr Degning’s most recent conviction was on September 21, 2015, for drink driving. He was given a seven month suspended sentence on entering a good behaviour bond and lost his license for nine months.
Given that history and under section 501 of the Migration Act, Mr Degning failed the Minister’s character test.
In cancelling Mr Degning’s visa, Minister Dutton told the Federal Court, “I could not rule out the possibility of further offending by Mr Degning. The Australian community should not tolerate any further risk of harm.”
Mr Degnings family stand with their husband and father and were in court yesterday to support him.
“They saw that the judges listened very carefully and appeared to take a great deal of interest in the case,” Mr Blanks says.
The matter is being heard before three Federal Court judges including Chief Justice James Allsop.
“Which I think indicates this could be a very important decision,” Mr Blanks says.
“One of our arguments is that the process that the minister followed was unfair, and then there is a very technical legal argument which deals with people like David who came to Australia as children of British migrants in the 1960s and 1970s and lived in Australian without committing a crime for more than five years, under the law as it was at that time those people had a permanent right to remain in Australia.
“We argue that none of the more recent changes to the Migration Act takes away that right.”
Mr Blanks says Mr Degning appears to be “in good shape” despite his 12 months in detention.
“He certainly appreciated the fact that his family are united in there support for him. The conditions in detention are very difficult and he is doing his best,” Mr Blanks says.
Region Media approached the Degning family for comment, however, they were happy for Mr Blanks to speak on their behalf
“The minister’s decision to remove David from Australia and break up his family is a grave injustice,” he says.
“The policy under which this minister tries to remove so many people who have long and deep connections with the country is scandalous.”
Acknowledging the unease many in the community have around this matter, given Mr Degning’s criminal history, Mr Blanks says, “Things in real life are more complicated than headlines.”
“People who take that simplistic one line view of it are just not paying attention to the all of the story.”
The presiding judges of the Federal Court have reserved their decision while they consider the arguments raised yesterday, an outcome is likely to take a few weeks.
David Degning remains in immigration detention in the meantime, a sentence that surpasses anything the criminal justice system imposed on him.
Region Media has approached the Department of Home Affairs for comment.