The release of the report of the Clarke inquiry into the Dr Mohamad Haneef debacle that occurred at the tail end of the previous government has generated a lot of commentary. This report on the ABC’s website drew over a 100 comments in just a few hours.
I followed this issue with interest, as I had a lot of contact with the Muslim community in south-east Queensland in the months and years prior to the Haneef incident and I saw up close the huge apprehension that was unleashed due to the obvious injustice that was occurring. Because Dr Haneef had worked at the Gold Coast Hospital and some people knew him from his visits to the Gold Coast mosque, this felt very close to home for many people. One incident of bad faith like this can generate years of suspicion and apprehension and take a lot to undo. It makes us all less secure.
It seems likely the Clarke report will lead to improvements in the anti-terrorism laws, but the big message for me from the whole saga is the importance of maintaining a clear perspective. Better laws are of little value if they are administered and implemented in a flawed way, and above all else, it is seriously flawed implementation that the Clarke Inquiry found. However, as Michelle Grattan has noted, despite the findings of widespread mistakes, and a finding that the former Immigration Minister Keving Andrews had made a “mystifying” decision to cancel Dr Haneef’s visa and “did not reflect deeply” on the information before him, the Clarke report is “forensic, but light with the knife”.
I have never been particularly interested in heads rolling for the sake of it. Having a “scalp” might satisfy the media narrative, but is fairly pointless unless it would achieve some improvement. However, the finding of how lightly Kevin Andrews might his decision is a clear example that the enormous significance of keeping someone locked up for prolonged periods without charge has been lost on far too many people in the Coalition. The lack of recognition of how serious this is is reflected in the Coalition taking its usual approach of refusing to offer an apology for locking a man up wrongly and causing him to lose his job and traducing his reputation.
I suppose there may be some legal concerns that making an apology might generate some legal liability, but I doubt that it’s the driving factor here. The refusal to apologise is undoubtedly driven mostly by politics. In politics, any type of apology is usually seen by the media as a total admission of complete guilt, so it’s not surprise that nothing is forthcoming on that front – although the Coalition’s shadow attorney-general, George Brandis, is taking it one step further by suggesting that it is former Liberal Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, who is owed an apology! I guess bare-faced gall is a perquisite for high office, but it is still not attractive to witness.