Batemans Bay’s David Degning is spending another weekend in the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney, with the Federal Court set to decide his future in Australia on Tuesday (August 7).
Mr Degning arrived in Australia from the United Kingdom at the age of seven in 1968 as a ‘Ten Pound Pom’ with his mum, dad, 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.
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. His 87-year-old dad took out citizenship after he arrived in the 1960s and is Australian.
Mr Degning’s four grandchildren are Australian, including the most recent addition to the Degning family, a baby boy, who was born last month while his granddad is locked up in the high-security wing at Villawood.
His life and that of his family was turned upside down the day before Australia Day this year, 16 Border Force officers raided the Degning’s family home and took Mr Degning into custody. Two weeks before, the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton canceled Mr Degning’s visa.
Mr Degning is no saint, and this is the part of the story that will challenge your thinking.
He has a string of drink driving offences. Worse still, 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.
Mr Degning’s current lawyer, Stephen Blanks says, “David 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.”
According to Mr Blanks, Mr Degnings wife and daughters stand with their husband and father, Mr Blanks says the judge who imposed the 17-month suspended sentence deemed Mr Degning not to be a risk to the community.
As reported by About Regional in April this year, the Department of Home Affairs and Immigration 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.”
The conclusion we draw from that is that Mr Degning has failed the Minister’s character test and as such will be deported back to the UK.
Appearing before Justice Alan Roberston yesterday (August 3), Mr Blanks who is also President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties argued that Mr Degning should be allowed to stay in Australia.
“When David pleaded guilty to the 2009 sexual offence, his potential removal from Australia could not be envisaged?” Mr Blanks says.
“There are a whole range of legitimate questions that arise about David’s case, and about the Government’s visa cancellation policy and how it’s being implemented by this Minister.
“Why has this man gone from working in the community and paying taxes one day, to being in the highest security and operationally most expensive immigration detention facility in NSW?
“Why was David apprehended at dawn?
“Is the Minister in fact keeping Australia safe, or is he dog-whistling to far-right xenophobes?” Mr Blanks askes.
“David had his day in court on Friday, but none of those questions were asked or answered.
“Because this is how this Minister wants it to be. There can be no merits review; no review about the facts; no review about the man David actually is and whether Australia is actually safer without him.
“The court case will look solely at the very dry administrative law question of whether Dutton’s decision was in accordance with law.”
If Mr Degining’s legal challenge is unsuccessful, under Section 501 of the Immigration Act he will be removed from Australia and deported to the UK, the place of his birth, but a place that has no other significance to him.
He will leave behind his dad who he cares for, his wife, his daughters, and his grandchildren, never to return again to the country he has called home for over 50 years.
“It’s not about whether you like this guy or not. It’s not about defending what he did in 2009. It’s about Australia being the society we say we are,” Mr Blanks says.
“It’s about giving people a fair go, accepting that if you do the crime you do the time, but then you get to move on.
“And it’s about whether we think it’s ok for one minister to decide the fate of so many who make up our community.”
Justice Roberston will deliver his decision on Tuesday.