A secret blacklist of lawyers and migration agents compiled by the Department of Immigration has been discovered, sparking outrage about the ''vindictiveness'' of the department and calls for an immediate inquiry.
The list of so-called ''agents of concern'' names 30 lawyers and migration agents around the country who have been deemed to be ''high risk'' or of concern by the department, leading to greater scrutiny of their applications for clients seeking partner visas.
Some of the lawyers and agents on the covert ''Agents of Concern List A and List B'' have been in business for decades and more than three-quarters of them have never had any official sanction against them.
Documents obtained by The Sun-Herald under freedom of information laws have revealed that Department of Immigration officers were supposed to use the list as part of a risk assessment of applications for partner visas, then ''destroy'' it. But a number of copies have been unoffically released through different sources.
One migration agent said on an industry website: ''The very existence of such a categorisation of migration agents, for whatever purpose, is shameful; it exposes the secretive and clandestine activities for which the department has a reputation.''
Barrister Greg Barns, a spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, warned the list was highly defamatory. ''McCarthyism is alive and well in Australia and it's in the Immigration Department,'' he said.
Mr Barns said the list questioned the professionalism and integrity of everyone on it.
''I have never heard of a government department having such a list in existence and not telling anyone about it,'' he said. ''It means the person who is representing a client is not getting a proper and impartial hearing for their client.''
He said it also revealed the ''vindictive'' nature of the department.
The national president of the Migration Institute of Australia Angela Chan said the department needed to have an open and transparent process and, if agents were put on a list, they should have the opportunity to respond. However, Ms Chan said the department had admitted there was a flaw in the system and had stopped using the list.
A spokeswoman for the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the list was used to assess risk and allocate cases to officers according to levels of experience. She said it had ''no impact'' on assessing cases.
''It simply ensures the application is assessed by an officer at the right level and experience to provide the best outcome for the applicant without compromising integrity.'' She said it ''currently'' contained no migration agents' details or names.
But agents spoken to by The Sun-Herald had concerns their applications might not have been treated fairly and called for an inquiry.
One lawyer, who was astounded at their inclusion on the list and questioned the department about it, was told in an email, obtained by The Sun-Herald, from the department's first assistant secretary Garry Fleming that ''you should never have been on such a list''.
Mr Fleming said: ''It is of concern to me that the list was being used without appropriate oversight and control to ensure accuracy and currency.''
He said in the same email that ''there was never any suggestion that you lacked integrity and I apologise on behalf of the department for any perception otherwise''.
Do you know more? firstname.lastname@example.org