Our recommendations

Inquiry into decision by Hon Shane Jones to grant citizenship to Mr Yang Liu.

Recommendation 1

We recommend that the Department of Internal Affairs improve its system for:

  • identifying high-risk citizenship application files;
  • ensuring that those files are managed by officials with an appropriate level of experience and expertise; and
  • ensuring that the Minister making the decision fully understands the issues and risks.

Under the current system, the Department prepares a separate submission on each application that requires individual consideration. In our view, additional steps could be introduced to identify high-risk files in this group and ensure that those risks are appropriately managed.

Applications we would consider high risk include those:

  • in which other departments or agencies have an active interest;
  • supported by advocates who might be seen to be able to exercise particular influence over the Minister's decision;
  • where a departure from normal policy or procedure has been requested or approved; or
  • where the decision has been transferred to a Minister who would not normally make such decisions. In such cases, the decision-making Minister will need to be fully briefed on the requirements of the Citizenship Act 1977 and relevant policies.

Recommendation 2

We recommend that the Department of Internal Affairs introduce a standard practice, each time a new Minister of Internal Affairs is appointed, of helping the Minister set up a system for dealing with citizenship application files in the event of a personal conflict of interest.

The Cabinet Manual contains guidance on the range of options available to Ministers for managing conflicts of interest when they arise.

There is always a risk that the Minister of Internal Affairs will have a personal connection with someone applying for citizenship. Whenever a new Minister takes up the portfolio, the standard introductory briefing process should include discussing and deciding on arrangements to manage such situations.

Recommendation 3

We recommend that the Department of Internal Affairs and the Minister record the reasons for any significant decisions they make on citizenship applications, particularly when the decision involves a departure from normal policy or procedure.

Recording the reasons for decisions is important to ensure transparency. It also provides an important protection if concerns are raised that the decision has been made for an improper purpose.

Recommendation 4

We recommend that a Minister considering making a citizenship decision against the advice of officials should explain their reasons, and give officials the opportunity to respond, before finalising the decision.

Although ultimately the decision is for the Minister to make, this additional step would give officials the opportunity to confirm that the proposed decision is within the terms of the Citizenship Act 1977 and is not based on any misunderstanding of relevant policies or the facts.

Recommendation 5

We recommend that the Minister of Internal Affairs require that any representations made on behalf of citizenship applicants are made "on the record", preferably in writing.

Informal approaches to discuss particular applicants are understandable if the advocate knows the Minister (for example, if the advocate is a fellow member of Parliament). However, informal interactions are also open to misinterpretation.

Similarly, it is not uncommon for advocates, such as immigration consultants, to request a meeting with the Minister to discuss a particular applicant. If such meetings are held, a witness should be present and the minutes of the meeting should be recorded.

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