August 22, 2006
Immigration Dept defends citizenship decision
The Department of Immigration has defended its decision to allow 110 people who allegedly paid bribes to obtain Australian citizenship to stay in the country.
The Department says the Chinese nationals should be allowed to remain here because they say they did not know the payments were illegal.
An ongoing investigation has raised allegations that between 1995 and 2001 the migrants paid up to $200,000 each to an Immigration Department officer and another man to obtain their place in Australia.
The Immigration official involved in the alleged bribery scam is facing criminal charges.
Spokesman for the Department of Immigration Sandy Logan says despite the bribe allegations, the Department accepts the migrants because they were unaware of any wrongdoing.
"We have no indication at this stage and no information that would suggest to us that any of the recipients of these citizenships... had at any point in time an awareness or an understanding that there was a fraud - or an alleged fraud - being perpetrated," he said.
He says even though the money paid was allegedly as much as $200,000, there was no reason to believe the migrants should have realised the payments were illegal.
"Charges levied by migration agents, by various organisations representing applicants and clients... around the world vary from country to country... It certainly wouldn't surprise [people] in places like Hong Kong," he said.
But immigration lawyer Michaela Byers - who represents 25 Chinese asylum seekers now going through proper channels - says it is inconceivable the migrants would not have been aware the money paid was a bribe.
"That is a lot more than is expected for any type of application fee or professional service, that's an extraordinary amount of money and even in China that would be considered to be a very large bribe," Ms Byers said.
She says Chinese nationals immigrating or seeking asylum in Australia are well aware of the rules and would know that a $200,000 payment would amount to a bribe.
She says many of her clients using legitimate methods are in detention in Villawood and the Department appears to be applying a double standard.
"[My clients] would be very angry, they have genuine protection claims against Chinese authorities, they're being run through the mill here in Australia and most of them ended up in detention and they've been given a really hard time in being able to reach their goal of getting permanent residence," she said.
"And to hear that some people were able to bribe their way to citizenship and be allowed to stay is quite hypocritical I believe."
Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone says she was not sure if the migrants might have the decision reversed because of the bribe allegations.
"[Just] because someone's had influence exercised in terms of a grant doesn't mean the grant wouldn't have at some point been made in any event," she said.
Mr Logan says the migrants have all passed permanent residency checks and there would be no reason to revoke citizenship on those grounds.
However, he says the Department will move to introduce legislation to allow citizenship to be revoked if it can be proved fraud was involved.
"There is now this amendment to the legislation that is currently before the Parliament and it provides for the revocation of citizenship if it can be proved it was obtained as a result of third party fraud," he said.