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This man is our problem, not Britain's

By Richard Laidlaw - posted Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Clifford Tucker may be a petty criminal, a dysfunctional individual, and a complete waste of space. None of these things, if true, are beneficial to him or to the country in which he has lived his life. But none of them warrant deportation in his particular circumstances.

He did not arrive in our country as a criminal (or any of the other things he may or may not have turned out to be). He arrived as a small child, involuntarily you could say, because his parents wanted to migrate to Australia and we let them in.

At that time, long before passage of the Australia Act, there was no compulsion or even social pressure on Britons (or any other Commonwealth citizen from a country whose head of state was the reigning British monarch confected by curious constitutional alchemy as local sovereign). If you wanted to sign up, that's all you had to do: It's how I became a citizen of the country that is now indelibly my home. I did so as soon as I was able, in 1972.


There was no razzamatazz, no saccharine hand-on-heart schmaltz, no wrapping yourself in the flag, or waving it, no compulsion to attempt to sing the slightly ridiculous words of the national anthem. You just said, hey, send me a certificate and they did.

A lot of sensible British migrants took this trip, although it was for many years the road less travelled. Many didn't, however, for all sorts of reasons, and they only became "tolerated aliens" with the passage of the Australia Act in 1986 that finally swept away the residual odds and ends of former imperial tutelage.

For many people of Tucker's vintage - those who arrived as children (I was 26 and knew what I was doing when I made the move) - this was a crack in the constitutional floorboards tailor-made for unwitting pratfalls. Not many Australians understand the constitutional arrangements under which they are governed; not many care. Apart from mastering the complexities of the welfare system for their own benefit, most people in Australia, citizen or alien, don't give a jot about the apparatus that rules their lives.

It's a safe bet that Tucker, 21 in 1986, didn't give it a thought. He'd been here for 15 years, had grown up conditioned by the Australian circumstances in which he had been immersed, and to the extent that he formed any thoughts about it at all, probably considered himself as native as a gum tree (or maybe a Stobie pole) by that time.

If he then embarked on a life of law-breaking, or had indeed commenced these activities earlier, it was our problem. We treated it as such - through the law enforcement and judicial systems - until he went on holiday to Bali and applied for an entry visa renewal and a little red flag popped up in Big Brother's intercommunicative computer systems. Bingo! An undesirable alien had been spotted attempting to access the special biosphere. This - as we all, along with countless asylum seekers, know only too well - is a political crime.

Tucker is an alien in the formal sense. On that there can be no argument. Doubtless that fact informed the Federal Court in February when, on strict administrative grounds, it rejected his appeal against deportation. But Tucker didn't come to Australia as an adult with criminal intent. We can safely assume, since he was but six years old at the time, that he didn't come here either with any formal plan to become a miscreant when he grew up. His record - and on what's been published he's very small beer - is home-grown. He's not a threat, except perhaps to himself, and if such idiocy were grounds for removal from Australia the population would be very sharply reduced indeed.


Under the immigration act the minister for immigration has the call on this, subject ultimately to the High Court. The present minister is a sensible and thoughtful man with, on his own record, a significant social conscience.

Beyond that, it is crass to argue that Tucker is Britain's responsibility. I have a British passport (as well as the Australian one I customarily use) partly for reasons of sentiment but also for practical purposes; but since I left the UK permanently in 1969 - I got to Australia by a circuitous route - there's no way I'd say the Brits owe me anything at all. They certainly don't owe me welfare housing and social benefits.

This is what happens to you over a period of four decades. Home is where you live; you are socialised by the prevailing customs and way of life and by your (hopefully sentient) response to these. I feel comfortable in Britain but I don't feel at home there. You live your life at whatever level you're capable of or comfortable with and your human rights would be completely violated if, on some administratively specious and wholly concocted grounds, you were forced to leave your country.

Stephen Kenny, the lawyer for the Tucker family, said precisely this in his attempt to get the minister's attention. Minister Bowen was not disposed to listen. For all the reasons set out above, he should change his mind, thank his department's data matching surveillance system for its great role in keeping undesirables out of Australia, and work up a paper to take to cabinet on the cruel anomaly the case of Clifford Tucker, local problem, has exposed.
(Tucker was deported on Monday.)

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This article first appeared on Tropicalities.

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About the Author

Richard Laidlaw is a former Queensland journalist and political adviser who now divides his time between Western Australia and Indonesia. He writes a blog and a diary at Email

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