Peter Dutton has warned the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to urgently change its ways and focus on deporting foreign criminals, after hundreds of staff from the government body enjoyed a $600,000 conference on the Sunshine Coast.
Staff from the tribunal spent three days at the 361-room Novotel Twin Waters Resort – which Channel 9 claims was funded by taxpayers – but many of them didn’t get the warm welcome they may have expected.
A Current Affair caught footage of the family of a murdered Melbourne woman protesting outside. According to the show, she was tragically stabbed to death in 2013 by a Turkish man, who the Department of Home Affairs has twice attempted to ban from entering Australia. However, those decisions were reportedly overthrown both times by the AAT.
It’s just another in a long line of controversial U-turns by the tribunal that has sparked outrage in recent years, as decisions to deport criminals have been overturned allowing them to stay in the country.
Now, Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton has responded to the AAT’s luxury trip away, and said he hopes part of their agenda was to change their ways and focus more on protecting national security.
He said: “I hope that part of their deliberation up at the resort was to look at ways they can start to reflect community standards more regularly than what we see at the moment.
“I think people want to see community standards reflected, people want criminals kicked out of our country. We’re not going to take a backwards step on this move, we want to make sure these visa cancellations are made. It’s in the national interest that they provide for a safer society. We want that backed up by the courts and we don’t apologise for that.”
The AAT provides independent reviews on decisions made by government departments. Its panellists are not publicly named, although its most senior executives are, and most of its decisions are not made publicly available. While they have the power to overturn an initial decision by the Department of Home Affairs, Dutton’s team can then overturn that decision again in certain, more extreme, circumstances.
Dutton confirmed some of the previous members of the tribunal are no longer working there, and added: “We’re looking at ways in which we can reform the process, because at the moment we are spending millions of dollars, we’re seeing criminals who should be deported staying here and it’s undermining the work we’re doing in cancelling the visas and I’m not going to tolerate that.
“I want to make sure that we have people in our country and welcome them warmly, but if people commit crimes against Australians they need to understand that the default position is that they will go.”
The minister said it comes down to the make-up of the tribunal and who’s working there – and even said it goes further than the AAT, and some judges working in magistrate’s and criminal courts can make the wrong decisions too.
It comes after Dutton finally hit out at the AAT in a scathing attack just days ago, and took the rare opportunity to slam the tribunal as a whole – confirming he’s calling for some of its members to be replaced.
‘I want them out’: Dutton slams AAT over more shock deportation U-turns
“We have a problem with the AAT and there’s no sense pretending otherwise,” he told radio host Ray Hadley. “The AAT does not reflect, in many of these cases, the view of the Australian people. In my judgement, it’s unacceptable to be appointing people who clearly don’t have the confidence of the government, and clearly don’t have the confidence of the Australian people.”
The Herald Sun previously revealed that there were 164 cases in which criminals were saved from having their visas cancelled, or simply not granted, over the past eight years. Of those, eight were convicted murderers, 17 were rapists, 33 were drug dealers and 23 were found guilty of armed robbery.
In a statement released on April 27, the AAT noted that “recent media coverage included claims questioning the transparency and accountability of the AAT’s operations”. The tribunal noted that decisions on whether to approve or set aside decisions by one of the Department of Home Affair’s delegates made up only a small part of its workload.