Sunday, January 29, 2012

Refugee appeals involving false claims cost Australian taxpayers millions

DODGY claims involving fake religious beliefs, sham marriages and lies about sexuality are adding to a logjam of cases in immigration and refugee tribunals, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Desperate foreign citizens who arrive by plane are launching a barrage of appeals after Immigration officials reject their claims and seek to send them home.

The Refugee Review Tribunal - which handles only plane arrivals - had a 31 per cent jump in appeals last year while the Migration Review Tribunal, which deals with student and partner visas, had a 24 per cent increase. More than 13,000 appeals to the two tribunals in the one year overwhelmed resources.

While much of the national attention has focused on boat arrivals, many thousands more arrive by plane and are fighting to stay. Thousands of extra appeals are being lodged by plane arrivals each year, leading to a cost blow-out for taxpayers and long delays for applicants.

Frustrated tribunal members are finding some claims are blatantly faked, including a Chinese asylum seeker who said he was Catholic but didn't know who the Pope was.

Other men lied about being gay or invented elaborate stories about being pursued by criminal gangs, ex-partners or corrupt officials in an attempt to gain asylum. One Nigerian man sought protection for being part of a militant group involved in armed robbery, kidnapping and other non-political crimes.

Visa overstayers, including students, are also faking it or taking advantage of appeal delays to buy time in Australia at the expense of a clogged system. The Refugee Review Tribunal, which handles only plane arrivals, had 2966 appeals lodged last year - a 31 per cent jump.

The separate Migration Review Tribunal, which handles student, spouse, business and bridging visas, had 10,315 appeals last year - up 24 per cent.

The Federal Government was forced to provide an extra $14 million to the two tribunals for the next four years at the last Budget as appeals skyrocketed.

It can be difficult for asylum seekers to prove persecution, but some claims unravelled under questioning from tribunal members.

Monash University associate researcher Adrienne Millbank said the asylum seeker appeals system was vulnerable to false claims. "You hear about people who are full of hope and integrity and go on these review panels or decision-making (bodies) and get totally cynical," Ms Millbank said. "The whole system is totally farcical. It relies on the credibility of the story ... If you were putting someone in prison on that sort of evidence everyone would be horrified."

Combined appeals to the two tribunals have tripled in the past five years, prompting principal member Denis O'Brien to warn of delays in settling cases this year. A Canberra crackdown on student visas is contributing to the surge.

Immigration lawyers blame incorrect Immigration Department decisions, citing the high rate of successful appeal cases. Last year 41 per cent of appeals to the Migration Review Tribunal and 24 per cent to the Refugee Review Tribunal were successful.

Former attorney-general Michael Lavarch is conducting an independent review of the tribunals as the backlog mounts.

An Immigration Department memo reportedly warned at the time of his appointment last month: "The increasing delays result in uncertainty for applicants and provide an incentive for others to misuse the review process to extend their stay in Australia."

The Refugee Review Tribunal is also set to take on thousands more cases in the coming months when it resumes responsibility for assessing appeals from boat arrivals, who now use a separate system.

Separate appeals can be lodged through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Federal Magistrates Court, Federal Court, High Court and the boat arrivals system.


Tennis ace critical of homosexuality

TENNIS great Margaret Court claims homosexuality is often the result of sexual abuse. Amid a growing backlash over her opposition to same-sex marriage, the three-time Wimbledon champion told The Sunday Mail "many, many" gay and lesbian people she knew of had "been abused" and this had led to their sexual orientation.

Court, a senior minister at Perth's Victory Life Centre, has already sparked fury among gay and equal rights activists for recent comments, including that the push for gay marriage was trying "to legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices".

Mental health advocate Chris Tanti accused her of "spreading misery" and putting young gay people at risk of suicide with what he called her anti-gay comments, amid calls for her name to be removed from centre court at Melbourne Park.

But Court said: "We get them (homosexuals) in (at church) and you'll find that many, many of them have been abused". When asked if she felt such abuse led people to homosexuality, Court said: "Yes. You look at a lot of them, that's happened."

She would not be drawn on whether she felt same-sex abuse was specifically to blame, saying, "We'll start another can of worms if I start talking on all this."

Peter Rosengren, editor of the Catholic Church's The Record newspaper, batted away her claims, saying he had "never heard of any scientific study" linking abuse and homosexuality, and that "everyone has to be respected".

In a wide-ranging interview, Court also said:

"The word of God is our TV guide to life. It's not the fear book, it's a love book and it tells us how to live our lives."

"I would have won six Wimbledons not three . . . if I'd known what I know now from the scriptures, on the area of the mind."

Many migrants expected Australians "to change our laws to embrace what they have and I don't feel that's right".

"Christianity is a way forward" for Aboriginal people.

Court also said she did not regret speaking out against same-sex marriage. "I say what God says and that's why I've spoken out," she said. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. "I have a right as a minister to say that. You look at the decline in the world today. I think it's so important for values and morals and righteousness to come forth like never before."


Free schooling gets expensive in NSW

SCHOOL costs are rising so fast that one in three parents can't afford the $3000 a year needed to send a child to a public primary school.

The cost of preparing a child for the first day of school has become so expensive, more parents are seeking financial assistance from principals and teachers, or turning to charities and second-hand stores for uniforms.

A survey of 12,000 parents shows they can expect to pay up to $514 this year for uniforms, textbooks and stationery for a public primary student, rising to $739 a year in high school.

Parents sending their children to Catholic or private schools face costs as high as $892 in primary and $1355 in high school. Fees, excursions and extracurricular activities are also on the rise.

The Australian Scholarship Group figures show the total cost of high school as high as $4360 a year in the public system, $11,518 at a Catholic school and $24,376 at a private college. Their survey also found one in three families couldn't cope with the cost of their child's education.

Teachers told The Sunday Telegraph many parents struggled to pay a compulsory "book pack" fee of between $10 and $25, depending on the school, to cover exercise books, textbooks and basic school supplies.

Canley Vale Public School principal Cheryl McBride, chairwoman of the NSW Public Schools Principals Forum, said schools were seeing more disadvantaged families each year but principals could help.

"Every principal has a discretionary fund called Student Assistance," Ms McBride said. "It's not a lot of money but it's designed to assist parents who are really struggling with things like uniforms or excursions. No kid should ever miss out on their books."

Tuition fees at NSW public schools were voluntary but wearing the correct school uniform is compulsory.

The Smith Family CEO Dr Lisa O'Brien said the charity was having one of its busiest periods and had launched a Back to School appeal to sponsor an Australian student.


New dam revelations

Wivenhoe Dam operators were so busy minimising disruption to downstream bridges they failed to protect urban areas until it was too late, documents indicate.

Fernvale's Geoff Fisher Bridge, the Mt Crosby Weir, Colleges Crossing, Burtons Bridge, Savages Crossing, Kholo Bridge and Twin Bridges are used by an estimated 20,000 vehicles a day.

They are vital links for their local communities, but keeping traffic flowing pales into insignificance when tens of thousands of residents are at risk of a devastating flood.

Documents now show dam operators may have focused on protecting some bridges instead of cities on the crucial weekend before the floods - in breach of its manual - as water levels soared.

"By protecting those crossings, did they keep too much water in there until it was finally too late?" Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale demanded yesterday.

"Someone would have put pressure on not to close the Brisbane Valley Highway (the Geoff Fisher Bridge)."

The Fernvale and Surrounding Communities Action Group said the bridges were central to local life.

"I have no doubt that they were not releasing the water because of the problems that it would cause for some of those low-lying bridges," co-ordinator Dennis Ward said.

The $15 million flood inquiry was about to release its final report when The Australian newspaper last week revealed dam operators may have used the wrong strategy on the weekend of January 8-9 last year and then misled the inquiry.

A huge mass of water was released from Wivenhoe to protect the dam on Tuesday, January 11, flooding Brisbane two days later and pushing water up the Bremer River to Ipswich, according to expert inquiry evidence.

Supreme Court judge Catherine Holmes will now hold nine extra days of hearings from Thursday, and is facing demands to take a new look at whether releasing water earlier could have prevented the flood.

The bombshell revelations could expose the state to a billion-dollar payout as government-owned dam operator SEQWater is only liable if it breached the dam manual. Under the manual's strategy, known as W1, operators are required to "minimise disruption to downstream rural life".

Lead flood engineer Robert Ayre testified at the inquiry: "We take that (W1) to be interpreted as we're endeavouring to keep the low-level bridges from being submerged prematurely."

When the dam level rises to 68.5m, the manual requires escalated strategies, known as W2 and W3, which have the primary consideration of protecting urban areas from inundation.

Mr Ayre's testimony - that W3 was implemented at 8am on Saturday, January 8 - is contradicted in official reports the inquiry will only now scrutinise.


Government-created midwife shortage in NSW

A DIRE shortage of midwives is being fuelled by the absence of refresher courses in NSW, forcing people to go interstate before they can return to the profession.

Midwives who have not worked for more than five years can't renew their registration without retraining under new national laws although there is no accredited refresher course available in NSW.

They must travel to South Australia to upgrade their skills to meet new nationalised retraining laws and even then it is difficult to find the right course, the Australian College of Midwives said. "We know there are midwives out there who are really caught up in this," Australian College of Midwives NSW president Joanne Gray said.

According to Nurses Association's Judith Kiejda NSW was "crying out for midwives".

The Sunday Telegraph last week revealed nurses wanting to get back into the industry after five years had been told they must pay $10,000 for a refresher course.

The course for retraining in general nursing is only available full-time at the College of Nursing and participants must travel to Burwood to do it. The college has been swamped with inquiries and has more than doubled the number of places it has offered this month.

But only three of the students starting the next course did their original training in Australia. The rest were overseas-trained nurses wishing to get accreditation to work here, college chief executive Tracey Osmond said.

The college does not offer a midwifery refresher course because demand was low and the cost of setting up and delivering such a course was too high, she said. There is no retraining course available for midwives in NSW, Victoria or Queensland.

One midwife caught out by the changes, Lorraine Kelly of Sutherland, suggested giving nurses an extra 12 months to earn their registration back by working in the profession.

Ms Kelly said NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner's comment to The Sunday Telegraph last week that "I can't see how there is a problem" was a joke. "That is a statement from someone who is obviously out of touch with what is happening," Ms Kelly said.

Ms Kiejda said nurses with 1015 years experience would be lost to the profession because of these changes.


1 comment:

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