Perth midwife Tracey Robinson and her husband, Paul, have won a six-year battle against the Immigration Department to stay in Australia with their Down syndrome son. Immigration Minister Chris Evans has foreshadowed reform of the visa process for families with disabled children after using his discretion this week to grant the Robinsons permanent residency.
Senator Evans conceded that health requirements, which reduce the chances of families with disabled children being allowed to stay because of potential costs to the taxpayer, were “a bit inflexible”.
“I don’t think it gives the department enough discretion, and I have actually argued for more discretion for the department and less ministerial intervention more generally,” he said.
“I will have something to say on the broader treatment of these matters some time in the short future.”
The Robinsons’ son, David, was eight in 2001 when Ms Robinson was granted a 457 work visa that enabled the family to move to Perth from Southport in England.
Mr Robinson is a painter and found work quickly.
Ms Robinson became emotional as she told The Weekend Australian that when she and her family decided they wanted to make their home in Perth, it became a long and stressful challenge to obtain permanent residency.
The department refused visas on the basis that David would be a burden on the Australian health system.
“It’s been six years of having a feeling of not belonging,” she said. “You have to be a strong family to go through that completely unscathed.”
The Robinsons’ good news comes after child health expert and former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley revealed that she had advocated in the visa application process for the parents of several Down syndrome children.
This week, she told how she helped obtain permanency in Australia for petroleum engineer Mike Buchanan, his wife, Yvonne, and their Down syndrome daughter Sarah, 14, from Scotland.
The issue made national headlines this month when German doctor Bernhard Moeller told how he had been denied permanent residency in Australia because his son Lukas has Down syndrome.
Professor Stanley says the existing rules for parents such as Dr Moeller are discriminatory and shameful.
Down syndrome children were usually healthy, made a valuable contribution to Australian society and did not burden the health system, she said.
Acting pro-bono for the Robinson family, Freehills lawyers took their fight to the Federal Court and appealed twice for ministerial intervention.
The second appeal was successful, and Senator Evans overturned the department’s ruling.
Freehills partner Steven Penglis said Senator Evans should be commended for assessing the Robinsons’ case on its merits.
But there remained serious problems with the application process, he said.
Mr Penglis urged a review of the rules.
“The minister got it right, the department got it wrong,” he said. “While it’s a pleasing outcome for the Robinsons, the problem is that the department’s approach still continues to be one that, until fixed, will continue to discriminate against families such as Tracey’s.”
Mr Penglis said applications for permanent residency by families with Down syndrome children were effectively always refused, because the medical officers assessing such requests assumed the children would be a significant cost to Australian taxpayers.