Yesterday’s Age reported the case of Andrew Moore, who died in England of a heroin overdose. Two days before he died, Moore had been removed from Australia after his visa had been cancelled on character grounds.
The interesting aspect of this case is that, as in a number of similar cases in recent years, Moore was in all but law an Australian. Originally from Scotland, he’d lived here for 32 of his 43 years. But he had never taken out Australian citizenship. People in this situation who are convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment of 12 months or more can have their visas cancelled, and be sent back to the country they originally came from.
Moore’s crime – manslaughter – was a lot more serious than just one involving a year in jail, and he was a junkie and a drunk as well. Unlike other ‘Australians’ sent back to their birth countries, he could at least speak its language. But this practice of throwing people out of the country on what looks like a technicality does seem problematic to me.
It means that imprisoning long-term non-residents can be tantamount to also sentencing them to transportation. This makes the penalty disproportionate to the crime and more severe than other people who committed the same crime would receive. Given the broader ties to Australia that long-term residents have – for example a teenage son in Moore’s case – a removal can have serious consequences for them as well.
And while there are some nice historical ironies in dumping Australia’s lowlife in Britain after the many decades during which they dumped their lowlife here, I’m not sure that this is a good practice for maintaining positive relations with other countries.
The history to this system is told in Glenn Nicholls’ excellent book, Deported: A History of Forced Departures from Australia. The Hawke government reformed deportation law so that people who have been here longer than 10 years, not including time in jail, cannot be deported. That law still stands, but is ineffective because there is a separate power, with no time limit, to cancel visas. When a visa is cancelled people can then be removed as unlawful non-citzens. (I’m not quite clear on the legal distinction between deportation and removal, but the effect is the same.)
The Hawke government’s policy seems to me to strike a balance between competing considerations. It is sensible to protect the Australian community from people with criminal propensities. But there also comes a point at which Australia seems more responsible for people than the country they were born in, when removing someone to a foreign country would be an unwarranted cruelty, and when the emotional and other interests of Australian citizens in the person have to be given significant weight. Whether ten years here is the right test I cannot say, but something along those lines seems necessary.
Most permanent residents do eventually seek citizenship. Cases like this are a reminder of why they should – and all the more so if they have kids or come from a country to which they would not want to return.