KATINA CURTIS: Public patience with constant immigration disasters & Andrew Giles is wearing thin

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Katina Curtis
The Nightly
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has shifted the blame to his department after admitting drones were never used to monitor 150 released immigration detainees.

Opposition to mandatory minimum sentences is a shibboleth for parts of Labor’s base.

It has been in the party’s platform for decades (though, so too has pushing for the reunification of Ireland).

Labor’s grassroots are not alone — lawyers don’t like legislated mandatory jail terms because they infringe on judicial discretion and human rights advocates don’t like them either.

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Little wonder then that there was discontent among Labor rank and file about the Government agreeing last year to the Coalition adding compulsory one-year jail terms for any former immigration detainees who breached visa conditions.

Labor veteran and one-time minister Kim Carr labelled the move deeply disturbing and accused the Government of acting in a state of panic.

Last month, the first of the 153 people released after the High Court’s NZYQ decision was convicted for breaching the strict visa conditions under the emergency laws passed in November.

Kimbengere Gosoge, 42, pleaded guilty in a Perth court to breaking his curfew five times and failing to keep his ankle monitor charged.

He walked free with a suspended sentence.

Shadow Home Affairs minister James Paterson was perplexed as he teased the matter out with Federal police and Attorney-General’s Department officials in estimates.

“I’m pretty sure that, you know, ministers and others said, ‘If you breach this, you will go to jail’,” he said.

“That was my understanding. I don’t think there was an asterisk that said, ‘You might get a suspended sentence and be let out’.”

It does make one wonder rather why Labor stuck with the internal pain of rolling over on mandatory minimums if they weren’t going to apply in practice.

They risk leaking voters to the left who are unhappy with the copycat hard-line approach to foreign criminals.

And they’re never going to win over those who believe Labor is too soft on asylum seekers and immigration issues.

It’s yet another strand of the muck the immigration portfolio has descended into since the November High Court ruling.

The tangle continues to drag on Labor, not aided by perceptions of Immigration Minister Andrew Giles’s performance.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles remains under fire over a contentious ministerial direction. Credit: Mick Tsikas/AAP

There is still sympathy within Government ranks for the position Giles finds himself in.

But patience is wearing thin at the flat-footedness to respond to new problems.

Giles went on Sky last week and declared that former detainees were being monitored with drones.

He was pleased with the interview, his third in 24 hours after previously being hamstrung from being more proactive in the media.

But the mention of drones meant his office was bombarded with media calls, including, “Really? Drones?”

Queries were referred to the department, which responded with a standard nothing-to-see-here line.

Yet it took four days of doubling down — not to mention the dispatching of senior minister Murray Watt to back in the claim on Insiders — for the office and the department to sort out that, whoops, really, no drones.

Giles isn’t the only one muddying the waters.

The PM’s office dissembled on whether he’d heard from Christopher Luxon until the New Zealand leader revealed he had spoken frankly with Albanese some 24 hours earlier about the Direction 99 back down.

However, Giles is the one in the spotlight.

It may be true he has been repeatedly let down by his department, which had a reputation for poor culture long before it got merged into the Home Affairs behemoth.

But the public’s patience will also wear thin. After all, blame-shifting was supposed to have ended with the demise of the Morrison government.

Some within the Government are looking askance at newish department boss Stephanie Foster, who publicly admitted to failing to inform the minister about legal cases being lost.

The reminders that she was among the senior public servants involved in Morrison’s multiple ministries are quick when her name is mentioned.

Labor cannot carry the pain being inflicted by the immigration saga all the way to an election expected to be a tight race.

It has to find a path between reassuring its own base and convincing the swing voters in the centre that it is serious.


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