Australian visa program a human rights travesty

The federal government’s treatment of immigrants has repeatedly demonstrated human rights abuses and must be stopped, writes Julius Timmerman.

THE RECENT Novak Djokovic visa DEBATE has shed light on the arbitrary and secretive nature of immigration decision-making in Australia, which includes the use of the notorious Section 501 arrangement.

Professor Victor Makarov, an internationally renowned piano teacher, has been arbitrarily detained at Villawood Detention Center for four years after serving a 14-year prison sentence. Below Section 501, he faces deportation to Ukraine which could become a war zone, away from his family which includes grandchildren, all of whom are Australian citizens. He obtained Australian citizenship in 2001 and the family has been in Australia for over 23 years.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has expressed concern about the impact of visa cancellations on long-term permanent residents. The Commonwealth Ombudsman suggested the arbitrary use of Section 501 canceling their visas for bad character goes beyond the original intent of the provision.

Nevertheless, it continues to generate arbitrary detentions for people who have served a prison sentence. This contravenes Section 9(1) from ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) while the risk of separation from family due to detention and/or deportation from Australia breaches Articles 17 and 23. Labor appears to be in tune with the Liberals on this flagrant breach of laws and conventions international conventions to which Australia is a signatory.

Professor Victor Makarov was invited to Australia by the Australian Institute of Music Sydney in 1998. He brought his family and five talented students and they became Australian citizens. As the head of the piano department and a devoted teacher, he brought about great success.

In 2004, his life was turned upside down when he was convicted of sexually assaulting four students. He still vehemently protests his innocence and will continue to fight to clear his name, even if he is expelled. He argues that the trials were unfair, resulting in a miscarriage of justice, citing Section 14(1) from ICCPR which stipulates that all persons are equal before the courts and tribunals and that everyone has the right to have their case heard fairly and publicly by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

In retrials following an appeal, he was acquitted in two cases. After more well-founded but unsuccessful appeals, which were very difficult to pursue during his incarceration, Makarov fully served his sentence. He was assaulted three times. He was reported to be well behaved with a good character and was assessed as low risk.

Djokovic vs. Home Affairs brings home cruel immigration policy

Nevertheless, immigration ministers stubbornly concluded that he was an unacceptable risk with bad character and under Section 501 he went straight from jail to detention in Villawood because his citizenship had been revoked. Last year he was told he was being released because he had retained an ex-citizen visa, but the minister quickly revoked it and he was brought back inside, stateless.

He was devastated. He feels he is being punished twice for the same offence, but the Home Office calls it a “consequence”. All of the claimants in court have been awarded compensation and have gone on to distinguished careers as performers and teachers, while Makarov is now doing his best to teach online from Villawood, such is his dedication to musical performance.

Makarov was treated horribly. Like many others, his fundamental rights are violated. The fundamental right to have equal consideration and treatment regardless of origin and the right not to be arbitrarily detained. He has contracted COVID-19 and fears it will invade the center.

Makarov had put his heart and soul into contributing to the arts in his new country and he still dreams of being able to contribute more. But now he is just a name on a county list. He suffers the same sad fate as many asylum seekers, locked up and forgotten, considered not as human beings with truths and injustices to reveal or capacities to offer, but as political inconveniences.

Immigration reform must respect migrants' rights and boost economic growth

What kind of country is Australia becoming, where the outcomes of select people often affecting their families are not subject to settled law but bespoke legislation and the order of the Minister of Immigration ? Rather than stubbornly persisting in throwing away subjectively chosen social “trash,” we should throw away this embarrassing trashy governance. It’s about values, decency and what it says if we willfully ignore injustice.

That Makarov, now close to sixty, survived his Australian ordeals so remarkably is a testament to his great fortitude and resilience. He can’t afford expensive lawyers and has had no choice but to go to law school to defend himself, so he knows his rights and will continue to insist that they be respected.

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Julius Timmerman is retired after a long career in public service. His main areas of knowledge and concern are action against climate change and social injustice.

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