‘Cash for visas’ inquiry ‘obstructed’

Committee Chair, Labor Senator Joe Ludwig says all requests for information were met with resistance and refusal from the Immigration Department and the current Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone.

The committe’s report has made 21 recommendations in relation to the broader subject of ministerial discretion.

It says ministers should report to parliament on how many times they excercise discretion in visa application cases.

Senator Ludwig says the minister’s decision making process lacks transparency and accountability, a serious deficiency in need of urgent attention.

But he says he’s particularly concerned the department and Senator Vanstone refused to give the committee access to information that could have put accusations against Mr Ruddock to rest.

‘The refusal can only add to the speculation that the former minister may have improperly exercised his discretion powers under the migration act. The committee is concerned that Senator Vanstone’s refusal to provide the case, documents and ministerial notebooks and other information held by the department preventing it addressing in full the inquiry’s terms of reference.’

The select committee has spent the past six months investigating the immigration minister’s discretionary powers on migration issues after Mr Ruddock’s handling of visas was criticised.

Labor linked his granting of three visas to Liberal Party donations totaling $113,000, saying it was proof of a major scandal within the migration system.

The federal government has dismissed the senate committee report.

Liberal Senator Santo Santoro says the the inquiry and the report is nothing more than a nasty piece of politicking by the Labor party.

‘It was always going to be a political witch hunt to bring down one of the most effective and efficient and honest ministers of the Howard government. The allegations, Mr Acting Deputy President, that were made in the house of representatives were put forward without a shred of evidence behind them. They were and still are scurrilous allegations without any foundation whatsoever.’

The Democrats’ leader Senator Andrew Bartlett says he too was disappointed by the obstructions placed in the committee’s way.

But, Senator Bartlett says the report contains some extremely valuable insights into the problems surrounding the minister’s powers of discretion.

‘There’s a real overall systemic problem with the system of ministerial discretion the real problem and what this report, the vast majority of this report is actually about is the problems of how ministerial discretion power has evolved and the extent of it, the vast extent of it now under the migration act and how widespread it is. how common it’s use is for an area that should be for exceptional circumstances.’

The Justice Minister Chris Ellison says a separate Federal Police investigation has cleared Philip Ruddock of granting visas in return for political donations.

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