Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has granted a permanent visa to a refugee who arrived by boat, despite fighting the boy's case in the High Court and signalling he would not be swayed when the court found against him.
In a decision that could have implications for many others, the Immigration Minister announced the backflip in a letter to lawyers representing the 15-year-old Ethiopian on Monday.
Decided to grant a 15-year-old Ethiopian asylum seeker a permanent visa: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
It was greeted with incredulity and joy by the boy, who has been living in Melbourne after stowing away on a ship and arriving at Gladstone 16 months ago.
"It has saved my life," he said, confessing that his life had been a roller coaster, climaxing in a High Court decision that Mr Morrison signalled he intended to ignore.
"It's a huge relief to finally have an answer,'' the boy said through his lawyer, David Manne. ''Lots of things kept changing from good news to maybe bad news."
"[It is] a great outcome for our client, the rule of law and the nation at large": David Manne, lawyer. Photo: Paul Rovere
Mr Manne urged Mr Morrison to now take the same approach to other refugees who arrived without visas, saying it was essential that they have the chance to rebuild their lives.
The decision, believed to be the first by Mr Morrison to issue a permanent visa to a refugee who arrived by boat, follows the minister's determined, but so far unsuccessful, efforts to reintroduce temporary protection visas for unauthorised arrivals.
After the senate rejected TPVs, the minister imposed an effective freeze on the granting of permanent protection visas to about 1400 asylum seekers who had already been found to be refugees, with many thousands more claims still to be assessed.
After the court ruled last month that the freeze on visas was unlawful, Mr Morrison said: "The Coalition government will not be providing permanent visas to illegal boat arrivals.''
A week later, he signalled that he would deny the teenager a visa by personally applying a "national interest" test to every application for a permanent protection visa.
In a letter to the boy's lawyers, Mr Morrison maintained that it would not be in the national interest to reward "people who arrive illegally" with the same permanent visa outcomes available to people who "abide by Australia's visa requirements".
He also suggested the granting of such a visa would undermine "the integrity of Australia's visa systems and its sovereign right to protect its borders".
The letter gave the boy's lawyers 28 days to explain why he should been given a permanent visa. They replied last week, asserting that the test as described was inconsistent with the Migration Act.
It would also, they asserted, "transmute" the question of whether non-citizens were entitled to visas from legal decisions to political ones.
Mr Manne described the decision as "a great outcome for our client, the rule of law and the nation at large".
Meanwhile, the High Court challenge on behalf of asylum seekers being held on a customs boat on the high seas returns to the High Court for a directions hearing on Tuesday.