Pacific Islanders are among the thousands trapped in limbo over an Australia migration policy that appears to lack compassion.
Due to the pandemic, Australia has closed its borders to almost everyone except Australian citizens, permanent residents, resident New Zealand citizens or immediate family members.
However, more than 100,000 people stranded abroad are waiting to obtain visas to be with their partners in Australia. The situation is ostensibly subject to the annual cap on the number of visas the government will grant in all visa categories – last year it was capped at 160,000.
In an apparent effort to clear the backlog of partner visa applications, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this month that his government is introducing an English-language requirement for partner visa applicants.
But in the words of a former deputy secretary of the Immigration Department, Aboul Rizvi, not since White Australia Politics had an Australian government acted to interfere in Australians’ decisions about who they chose to marry.
According to a former judge from Papua New Guinea, Brian Brunton, who was an Australian citizen before PNG independence in 1975, Australia’s migration system is poorly managed and racist.
Her son, Richard, is just one of more than 200,000 people currently separated from their partners due to Australia’s migration policy and, in his case, a series of visa denials.
“All his life he’s been to Australia for family and work reasons, but now he’s basically banned,” said the former judge.
“There is a real problem here. The normal principles of citizenship are normally by descent. So by normal principles he should be considered an Australian, at least until he is eighteen, when he could do one. choice.”
But according to Brunton, Australian law remained problematic when it came to the transition of PNG nationality.
Richard grew up in Australia as the child of two Australians and was educated there. It was also there that he met his fiancee – an Australian – decades ago. But he found it very difficult to return from his country of birth, PNG, to live with her in Australia, although he never lost his Australian nationality as a child.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said he could not comment on individual cases due to privacy laws, but claimed that “people born in Papua before independence have acquired Australian nationality at birth “.
However, he said that “Australian citizens born in Papua do not have an automatic right of permanent residence in any Australian state or internal territory.”
The spokesperson said that in some cases a person may not be aware that they have ceased to be an Australian citizen.
“When the Department becomes aware of such cases, it works with the individual to regularize their migratory status in Australia and, if appropriate, to subsequently apply for Australian citizenship,” the spokesperson said.
Being told to apply for citizenship is somewhat ironic for Richard Brunton as he never knew he had lost Australian citizenship in the first place.
Meanwhile, after living with his fiancee in Australia for most of 2018, Richard asked to visit him five times in 2019. Visa applications were refused on spurious grounds, including the claim that he was unlikely to comply with visa rules.
Brian Brunton said his son was “a legacy of the poorly administered decolonization process which has taken a number of lives.”
“There is a lot, a lot of injustice,” Brunton said, citing the case of Zen Lee Troyrone, a man born in pre-independence PNG who recently won a legal battle against the Australian Minister for Immigration when the Federal Court recognized his Australian citizenship.
It remains to be seen whether the Australian government will live up to the challenge Scott Morrison’s comments on how his country views the Pacific Island countries as a “family”.
But there are many Australians who are Pacific Islanders, as well as Australians who are aware of the historical ties that unite the various communities of this great ocean region.
Brian Brunton played an important role in the passage of a former Australian territory to independence as a PNG, as a judge, annotator of the young country’s constitution and educator among others. It is thanks to people like him and his family that PNG has been able to emerge as a sovereign nation.
Richard Brunton appears to be as Australian as Papua New Guinea, not least due to the contributions his family has made to Australia as Papuans Australians and to Papua as Australians. He could make more contributions to Australian communities if only the migration system let him in.
With a career in PNG’s IT industry since 1987, he has done important work in empowering remote grassroots communities in low-cost infrastructure, including assisting education systems through the Hope Academy, an online learning group started by the Catholic Church and providing training to students in remote communities in Milne Bay, PNG. Richard’s skills would be useful in boosting online secondary education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
When asked if Australia owed a “duty of care” to people who were children while still administering Papua, Brian Brunton offered a frank assessment.
“All I can say is the words ‘duty of care’ don’t fit well in the mouth of the Australian Immigration Department, never have,” he said.
“So Australian policy has been bad because in the past it separated the issue of citizenship from the right of movement. It wasn’t Papua New Guinea so much as it was Australia itself. “
Brunton pointed out that Australia previously created two Territory Departments – one to deal with First Nations and the other to deal with what was previously the British territory of Papua.
“In essence, a first nation Australian couldn’t come without a piece of paper. They had to have permission. Plus, they were never counted as Australian citizens until very late in the room.
“And certainly Papua was Australian territory the same way the Northern Territory and ACT were Australian territories. But you had to have a piece of paper if you wanted to move.
“So this separation of movements and citizenship is pretty fundamental in dropping Australian law. It’s bad for individuals, and it’s definitely bad for the Pacific as well.”