PM accused of double standards

By Meaghan Shaw, Andrew Stevenson
The Age
20 May 2004

The Federal Government has been accused of double standards by granting an exemption to the refugee son of killed Iraqi leader Izzedin Salim to visit his family.

Mr Salim's son, Riad al-Hujaj, holds a temporary protection visa, which prevents him from returning to Australia if he leaves the country. But Prime Minister John Howard said he would be granted an exemption if he wanted to travel to Baghdad to grieve with his family after the Iraqi Governing Council head was killed in a suicide bombing.

The decision stands in contrast to previous refusals for exemptions following the Bali bombing and the sinking of an overloaded boat carrying asylum seekers. Mohamad Ebrahim Samaki was refused permission to visit his two children stranded in Bali after the death of their mother as a result of the Bali bombing. And Ahmed Alzalimi was not allowed to travel to Indonesia to comfort his wife after their three daughters drowned when the boat dubbed the SIEV-X sank with the loss of 353 lives.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said each case was assessed on its merits. "There are pretty appalling circumstances here and I can understand the result," she said.

Mr Hujaj described the decision as the best consolation he could get in his time of grief.

"I was not expecting this would happen so I am extremely thrilled. I am very grateful to the Government to be able to go and come back," he told an interpreter. "It's probably the first time someone in my position could travel like this."

While welcoming the decision, Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett said it smacked of double standards. He said it was easy to imagine the criticism and accusations of hypocrisy if Mr Howard refused Mr Hujaj permission to attend the funeral of his father, who was trying to bring democracy to Iraq. "I've no doubt that's his reason but it shows the basic unfairness in temporary visas," he said.

Opposition immigration spokesman Stephen Smith urged the Government to amend its policy to allow such travel on a case-by-case basis. "I call on the Government to indicate that this is not a one-off, but a shift in policy from a blanket ban to a case-by-case exercising of ministerial discretion," he said.

South Australian magistrate Brian Deegan, who tried to sponsor the children of Mr Samaki to allow them to visit their father in Australia, said it was "high time" the Government showed some compassion.

"It's quite clear the alleged rules that have been put in place by this Government can be bent where it suits them," he said.

The Samaki family was granted permanent visas and reunited in Australia last year.

Refugee advocate Juliet Flesch said there was one rule for the children of the powerful, another for those of the powerless.


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