Batemans Bay man David Degning is home after being released from the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre by the Federal Court of Australia. Mr Degning has been locked up since January 2018 and was slated for deportation by the Federal Government after Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton cancelled his visa.
But yesterday his appeal to Justices’ Allsop, Collier, and Thawley won out, ending a saga that started with a dawn raid by 16 Border Forces officers on his coastal home.
Mr Degning arrived in Australia from the UK at the age of seven in 1968 as a ‘Ten Pound Pom’ with his parents and siblings. For the last 30 of those 50 years, he has earned a living in Batemans Bay, and raised a family with his wife.
However, in the past ten years, Mr Degning had gained some notoriety for his run-ins with the law.
The Department of Home Affairs acted on the grounds of several criminal convictions against Mr Degning, the most recent being on September 21, 2015, for drink driving. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse with a person with a cognitive impairment in 2009 and was given a suspended 17-month sentence.
Although his criminal charges have been dealt with by the Australian judicial system, the Department of Home Affairs decided that under section 501 of the Migration Act, Mr Degning failed the Minister’s character test.
Court documents show that when travelling overseas, Mr Degning failed to declare his criminal convictions on Incoming Passenger Cards dated January 4, 2004, April 20, 2004, and March 2, 2006. Minister Dutton considered “this was indicative of a further disregard for the law.”
However in a majority decision, the Federal Court found that “the Minister acted unfairly by not drawing attention to how incorrect answers on incoming passenger cards… would be used by the Minister to determine that he was not of good character,” his lawyer Stephen Blanks said.
According to his family, Mr Degning voted in elections, interacted with the Australian government for all the normal reasons, and has no relationship with the UK. They say Mr Degning considered himself Australian. The 59-year-old is married to an Australian. His two adult daughters are Australian. His son, who tragically died at the age of two, was Australian.
Speaking to Region Media, his daughter Sharon said, “We are feeling very overwhelmed and still in a bit of disbelief that our 16 or so month ordeal is over. Dad is very grateful. He has been very happy then goes quiet. I can’t even begin to imagine how he’s feeling.”
“It’s been hard, emotional and eye-opening. It is very easy to sit in our small town and forget about the big world out there. There is a lot I wasn’t aware of but as I grow older I will pay more attention for voting purposes etcetera.”
Sharon says her dad was home last night and now wants to be with his family after 16 months behind the wire and high-security of Villawood. “Honestly we are still in a daze. We just want to move forward,” she says.
“Media can put such a horrible spin on immigration. There is much more to it. It’s real people, real families, and real feelings. Thank you to everyone who has supported us and thank you to our lawyer, Stephen.”
Mr Blanks says he is pleased to have obtained a favourable result for his client “who deserved a fair go,” and while Mr Degning is currently a ‘free man’ the Minister is entitled to start the visa cancellation process over again.
However, Mr Blanks said that the case “reaffirms the need for the Minister to give practical fairness to people facing visa cancellation”, in this case regarding the Minister’s reliance on incorrect answers on incoming passenger cards.
In the context of the current election campaign, Mr Blanks says, “the government’s response should be to review its policies and procedures to ensure that everyone does get a fair go. Unfortunately, the tendency for governments in recent years is to make themselves more immune from challenge”.
The Federal Court ordered that the Department of Home Affairs pay Mr Degning’s legal expenses and Mr Blanks says a compensation claim is being considered.
The full judgment is available online at the Federal Court’s website.
Original Article published by Ian Campbell on About Regional.