It’s a decision that proves either the Department of Immigration has an excellent sense of humour, or no sense of humour whatsoever.
A man seeking to come to Australia and present at a major libertarian conference has had his visa denied, leaving the organisers – whose political goals include easing Australia’s restrictions on cross border movements – to rue the irony.
The 3rd Friedman Conference will feature a glittering galaxy of free-market champions from the Institute for Public Affairs, and kindred think-tank the Centre for Independent Studies, as well as the Federal Parliament and the Australian Human Rights Commission (no prizes for guessing which Commissioner that would be).
Crossbencher and avid libertarian David Leyonhjelm will be one of the speakers.
“It was an excellent conference last year and the speaker’s list this year looks to be even better. I think the dinner speaker will be particularly interesting,” Leyonhjelm said.
The dinner speaker is Leyonhjelm.
But one key guest won’t be there to hear the NSW Senator’s oration when the freedom-loving throng gathers in May.
The man hails from a less developed nation but has asked for his name and nationality to remain anonymous, as his country of origin is not one where political dissent can be freely expressed (safe to say, he’s not from the world’s newest ‘country’ Liberland). We’re going to call our mystery freemarketeer ‘Milton’.
New Matilda understands the Department rejected Milton’s visa because of fears he would not return to his homeland after the conference, in spite of the fact the event’s organisers were happy to vouch for him.
In correspondence with New Matilda, Milton said he had intended to talk about his homeland’s experiences with privatising nationalised industries. He said he would return home after the event.
“What I find disappointing is how your government ignores the wishes of your citizens to invite a guest and accept responsibility for them during their stay,” Milton said.
“I find it ironic that your government treats an invited guest as they do refugees and immigrants.”
“And there is something to be said about a nation of immigrants refusing refugees and immigrants, but I wouldn't presume to lecture you on that.”
We wouldn’t go so far as to say Milton has been treated like a refugee, given he hasn’t been arbitrarily detained on a tropical island or beaten to death, but you get the point.
One of the reasons cited by the Department for rejecting Milton’s application was a lack of family ties in his home country.
Leyonhjelm for one isn’t phased by the risk, and told New Matilda a single defecting libertarian was still a better outcome than a married socialist coming to the country.
“I gather that the reason the Immigration Department refused his visa was because they suspect he won’t go home again. So the question is then whether Australia – if that were [to happen]– would be any better off with a libertarian from that country versus a married socialist from that country,” Leyonhjelm said.
“I’m generally in favour of immigration so accepting more libertarians seems to me would be good for Australia,” he said.
John Humphreys, a co-organiser of the event and president of the Australian Libertarian Society, was left less than impressed by the Department.
“It’s a disappointment. I mean I wasn’t planning on crying myself to sleep or anything so I don’t know if I have much to add except that I’m disappointed and note the irony,” he said.
“A group of people who believe it should be easier to cross borders can’t have someone come to a meeting because he can’t cross a border.”
Humphreys said he would try to visit Milton later in the year – if he can get a visa.
“I wish he would move to Australia, but sadly he is not interested. And now he can't even visit.”
New Matilda put a series of questions to the Department last week, including this one: “Does the Department derive any pleasure from the fact it has denied a visa to someone trying to come to Australia to talk at a libertarian conference, which promotes ideas including the opening of borders.”
There was no response at the time of publication.
Leyonhjelm said the incident raised some concerning questions.
“How on earth do you ever get speakers from suspect countries to talk to us if that’s the kind of response they’re going to get,” he said.
“If we had a scientist, for example, or an engineer or someone coming to tell us something really revealing and they happen to be from that country, would that mean we’d never get to hear it?”