Monday, February 20, 2012

More on Immigration's secrecy

Last year, I raised some questions about the Department of Labour's Internal Administration Circular 11-10 [PDF], which requires immigration officials not to record reasons for their decisions, in violation of both the right to justice and the Public Records Act. An OIA on the subject was absolutely damning, revealing that the decision had been made explicitly to thwart oversight from both the courts and the Ombudsman.

Last week, these issues were raised during the department's annual financial review before the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee. The good news is that the department is currently discussing the issue with the Ombudsman, which may see some change:

The Department of Labour's general counsel George Mason said yesterday the Law Society's immigration group had raised concerns about the decision to remove rationale.

''It's a matter the department is currently discussing with the Ombudsman.,'' he told Parliament's transport and industrial relations select committee.

The bad news is that the Minister doesn't think its a problem at all:
Immigration Minister Nathan Guy said hiding rationale was not inappropriate for an agency charged with protecting New Zealand's borders.

''Persons who are unlawfully in New Zealand can't expect to be treated in the same way as those who lodge proper immigration applications.''

The problem for the Minister is that the law says they have to be. The right to natural justice applies to "every person" dealing with the government, not just to citizens. As for the Public Records Act, it imposes clear duties around public records, regardless of who the records are about. Immigration can't just ignore it simply because they think non-citizens are untermenschen.

As Darien Fenton points out, there's a problem of accountability here. With no records, we can't tell whether Immigration is making the right decisions. And when people's lives and futures are at stake (not to mention the integrity of New Zealand law and immigration policy), we need to be able to tell that. But thanks to Immigration's convenient information black hole, we have no way of telling this - and thus no way of confirming that they are, in fact, doing their job properly.

Unaccountable immigration officials are probably perfectly happy with that. As one of the people paying their salaries, I am not. I want to be able to tell if our public servants are in fact applying the law as it is written. To do that, we need transparency. And we absolutely cannot trust them otherwise.