Australian minister has no sympathy for Vietnamese student who was battered by racist thugs.
Duong Minh Tuan, 23, with serious injuries after a racially-based attack in Australia in 2012. PHOTO: FAIRFAX MEDIA
The year has not started well for Scott Morrison.
Australia’s famously salty immigration minister began the week apologizing to Indonesia for his navy’s repeated incursions into that nation’s territorial waters.
The apology was tempered, however, with an insistence on Australia’s right to pursue its martial border security campaign—one that has included a long list of fatal interdictions, illegal offshore detentions and the installation of American listening posts at embassies and consulates.
Morrison makes the perfect spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s “stop the boats” campaign given that he nearly sank his own political boat four years ago when he kicked up a fuss about the cost of a funeral for 250 dead asylum seekers who drowned off the coast of Java—on the day of their funeral, no less.
The man who coined and viciously defended the national tourism slogan “where the bloody hell are you?” has an impressive ability to navigate reality.
Armed with a weird Pentecostal prism (the preacher at his mega-church drives a Harley), Morrison can transform a boatload of destitute individuals floating toward one of the richest and most sparsely-populated nations in the world and turn them into an existential threat.
It is perhaps through this lens that Morrison cast his eye on the terrible case of Minh Duong.
The 23-year-old Saigonese student was well on his way to earning an accounting degree at Swinburne University until two drunk neo nazis robbed, stabbed and bricked Minh Duong as he walked home through a Melbourne suburb, listening to music, in June of 2010.
(Note to other non-Australians: “brick” (v.)=to smash a brick over someone’s head until either the brick or the head breaks. In the case of Minh Duong, it was both.)
His assailants broke bones in his jaw, around his eye and caused multiple fractures to his skull. They knocked out many of his teeth and kicked him over 70 times while screaming racial epithets.
Following the attack, the young man had difficulty speaking, developed a crippling fear of strangers and stopped going to school.
Inspired by local television coverage of the crime, compassionate Australians rallied to his cause. A music teacher named Adrian De Luca offered him free piano lessons as a kind of musical therapy. A taxi driver gave him free rides to those lessons.
Gradually, according to the young man’s own tearful account of his recovery, he learned to trust people once again. It seemed Australians had redeemed Australia.
Then, early this month, he was refused entry to the country.
According to Australian media coverage and Minh Duong’s own accounts published in online videos, De Luca took the young man to Ho Chi Minh City to see his mother for the first time in five years.
When he returned to Melbourne on January 8, Minh Duong was refused entry at the airport. An immigration officer allegedly told him his multi-entry student visa had expired in 2012 making him an “unlawful non-citizen” who could reapply for another visa in three years.
Minh Duong has since produced an email that allegedly granted him a multi-entry student visa valid until March 2014. He has posted videos, directly addressed to the Minister Morrison, assuring him he would swear as much in court.
Now he sits in HCMC, uncertain of his fate.
And we’re all left to wonder who is at fault.
A Swinburne University spokesman named Tom Hyland claims the institution has been assisting the young man through it all, leaving any question of what went wrong squarely with Morrison’s people.
“The suggestion in media reporting that Minh Duong's visa issues are based on advice that Swinburne provided the Department of Immigration and Border Protection—that he had ceased attending classes, without informing the department of the circumstances—is false,” Hyland wrote in an email. “International students can be granted leave of absence from their studies in compelling and compassionate circumstances.
The department is notified when such leave is granted. This information was provided in Minh Duong's case, which clearly involved compelling and compassionate circumstances.”
In videos posted online, Minh Duong has expressed his sincerest hope of returning to Australia to resume his studies and attend a crime compensation hearing, which could entitle him to $25,000 work of dental reconstruction.
The minister’s office remains pretty vague about where the bloody hell they are on making that happen.
Initially, some spokespeople suggested that they had never received a petition or request for action from Minh Duong. More recently, they’ve told television reporters they have no record of the email granting him permission to stay until March and have even implied that it may be fraudulent.
No one responded for my demands that they clarify whether they were actually accusing the battered young man of leaving the country on an expired visa, then concocting a fake government email and duping nearly 90,000 Australians into signing a petition for his reentry.
He would seem an unlikely conman.
Kevin Burke, the police Sergeant that arrested his assailants, has personally appealed to Morrison in an open letter detailing Minh Duong’s egregious injuries and describing him as “a contributing member of Australian society.”
President of the Melbourne Overseas Vietnamese Student Association Nguyen Huynh Phuong Bao says the Embassy of Vietnam and the Council of International Students Australia area all working together to secure his reentry. And they seem hopeful.
“As we know, the Australian Consulate in Vietnam is helping to reissue his visa, so that he can return to his studying as soon as possible,” Bao wrote in an email.
Most Vietnamese people seem to just want to get Minh Duong back into Australia as soon as possible without thinking too hard about the implications of the case.
“This is just a case of bullshit bureaucracy,” said one Vietnamese-Australian immigration attorney, speaking on condition of anonymity.
I’m inclined not to think so. If so, it would be quickly resolved.
“You’d think that’d be a wonderful thing to have a minister intervene on and have a picture taken,” said Carlyle Thayer a widely-quoted expert on relations between Vietnam and Australia.
Morrison didn’t see it that way.
On Wednesday, the minister got on television to angrily dispel suggestions by media outlets that he could do anything at all about the case. After offering terse sympathy for the young man, he refused to comment on whether Minh Duong would make it back in time for his compensation hearing or even to complete the semester.
But that’s just classic Morrison.
“He has become a creature of the capital’s hyper-adversarialism and also of his Cronulla constituents’ parochialism,” wrote the BBC’s Nick Bryant in a 2012 profile.
In a way, Morrison could be one of those the bewildered Justice Betty King was referring to while sentencing Duong’s attackers in December of 2012.
“Whilst all sorts of psychiatric names and conditions are attached to all of this anger and rage, at some stage our society needs to work out why there are so many angry and unhappy young people, particularly males,” she said.
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