David Degning is home in Batemans Bay after being released from the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre by the Federal Court of Australia.
Speaking to Region Media, his daughter Sharon says, “We are feeling very overwhelmed and still in a bit of disbelief that our 16 or so month ordeal is over.”
“Dad is very grateful. He has been very happy then goes quiet. I can’t even begin to imagine how he’s feeling.”
Mr Degning has been locked up since January 2018 and was slated for deportation by the Turnbull – Morrison Government.
Yesterday his appeal to Justices’ Allsop, Collier, and Thawley won out, ending a saga that started with a dawn raid by 16 Border Forces officers on his home in Batemans Bay. Two weeks before, the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton cancelled Mr Degning’s visa.
Lawyer Stephen Blanks says, “It is a majority judgment, two in favour, one dissenting.”
The Federal Court found that, “the Minister acted unfairly by not drawing attention to how incorrect answers on incoming passenger cards from when David travelled overseas many years ago would be used by the Minister to determine that he was not of good character,” Mr Blanks explains.
Court documents 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 criminal conviction was on September 21, 2015, for drink driving. Worst of all, in 2013, he pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse with a person with a cognitive impairment in 2009. Mr Degning was given a suspended 17-month sentence.
Given that history and under section 501 of the Migration Act, Mr Degning failed the Minister’s character test.
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.
His criminal charges have been heard and dealt with by the Australian judicial system.
According to his family, Mr Degning 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.
“It’s been hard, emotional and eye-opening,” Sharon Degning says.
“It is very easy to sit in our small town and forget about the big world out there. There is a lot I wasn’t aware of but as I grow older I will pay more attention for voting purposes etcetera.”
Sharon says her dad was home last night and now wants to be with his family after 16 months behind the wire and high-security of Villawood, before getting back into a routine.
“Honestly we are still in a daze. We just want to move forward,” she says.
“Media can put such a horrible spin on immigration. There is much more to it. It’s real people, real families, and real feelings.
“Thank you to everyone who has supported us and thank you to our lawyer, Stephen.”
Mr Blanks says he is pleased to have obtained a favourable result for his client “who deserved a fair go,” and while Mr Degning is currently a ‘free man’ the Minister is entitled to start the visa cancellation process over again.
However, “the case reaffirms the need for the Minister to give practical fairness to people facing visa cancellation, and provides an example of the Minister failing to do this. In this case, concerning the way in which the Minister relied on incorrect answers given on incoming passenger cards,” Mr Blanks says.
In the context of the current election campaign, Mr Blanks says, “the government’s response should be to review its policies and procedures to ensure that everyone does get a fair go.”
“The tendency for governments in recent years is to make themselves more immune from challenge.
Unfortunately, the Labor Party’s policy on visa cancellations is identical to the government’s. The policy is anti-families and punitive, it is the opposite of a ‘fair-go’ policy and leads to break-ups of families without providing any real protection to the Australian community.”
The Federal Court ordered that the Department of Home Affairs pay Mr Degning’s legal expenses, Mr Blanks says a compensation claim is being considered.
The full judgment is available online at the Federal Court’s website.