As the election clock ticks along remorselessly for the ruling coalition in Australia, the beleaguered Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews faces more flak over the Haneef episode.
New evidence suggests that a senior police official had certified that Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef was no security threat before Andrews moved in to cancel his work visa in a desperate attempt to torpedo a favourable court ruling on Haneef's bail plea.
AdvertisementBesides two medical groups have claimed that the bungled attempt to link the Indian doctor to the failed Glasgow airport bombing of June last had meant a calamitous decline in the number of aspirants from abroad to work in Australia.
Close on the heels of releasing an e-mail transcript suggesting that Australian Federal Police and Immigration Department had a "contingency plan" to detain him, Dr. Haneef's solicitor Peter Russo has released further evidence that shows that the counter-terrorism chief for the Australian Federal Police, Assistant Commissioner Frank Prendergast, had indeed concluded after a fortnight of intense investigations in July that Dr. Haneef posed no threat to anyone in Australia.
Prendergast stated in the July 16 document, a request for a Criminal Justice Stay Certificate, released by Mr. Russo: "There is no currently available information held by law enforcement to suggest Dr. Haneef has been involved in, or engaged in planning of, violent/terrorist conduct in Australia."
The certificate adds: "As detailed above, there is no information available to law enforcement at this time to indicate that he presents a danger to the community or that he would engage in acts of violence. The evidence relates to his alleged association with, and support to, members of an alleged terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom."
In another development, the Overseas and Australian Medical Graduates Association (OAMGA), in a joint statement with the United Indian Associations (UIA), asserted Sunday that the entire affair had triggered a 90 per cent reduction in the number of overseas-trained doctors wanting to work in the country and that it all would exacerbate staffing shortages.
"This spells disaster for an already overstretched and under-resourced medical workforce, particularly for rural and regional areas where many of these doctors are posted," OAMGA president Nagamma Prakash said.
However Minister Andrews has continued to insist that Haneef's visa was cancelled on character grounds, not because of his nationality or occupation.
If doctors don't come anymore that could be because state health systems leave a lot to be desired, the minister's spokeswoman said.
"Doctors will come to work in Australia if there are quality hospitals and good working conditions, and that's up to the individual state health system.
"But if you look at the reports of the New South Wales (NSW) hospital system, it's perhaps not surprising someone might not be wishing to come and work in the NSW health system," she argued.
The NSW Government has been battling to restore confidence in its health service following a series of incidents, including a woman miscarrying in the toilets of Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital.
Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson, whose state has had to contend with a backlash over the malpractice scandal involving overseas-trained doctor Jayant Patel, has previously confirmed there was a downturn in international interest in working in the state as a result of the Haneef affair.
Dr Haneef and a colleague, Mohammed Asif Ali, were working at the Gold Coast Hospital when they became embroiled in the investigation into two failed terror attacks in Britain.
Dr Haneef was initially suspected of being linked to a terrorist group, while Dr Asif Ali was found to have embellished his CV. Both have returned to India.
Dr Prakash said there was "growing anger among Australians of Indian background" over the Howard Government's handling of the Haneef affair, adding it could bring "discredit to the Indian community in Australia."
"There is a growing body of evidence Dr Haneef was used as a political pawn," Dr Prakash said.
"UIA and OAMGA strongly urge the federal Government, and the Immigration Minister, to restore credibility to the recruitment process for overseas-trained doctors in order to avoid the looming crisis in the health delivery system."