Internet Crusading and the E-petition (Just Sign Here – Trust Me)

A phenomenon that we have seen develop in recent years is the e-petition and the exploitation of the internet to harness public support for all manner of causes.  We have seen the creation of websites like ‘’ and ‘getup’ who’s entire raison d’etre is exactly that.  Social media has become an effective tool for all kinds of lobbyists in influencing public opinion and garnering support for pretty much any cause you can imagine.

Today I received an ‘invitation’ to add my signature to a petition which aims to influence our Minister of Immigration to intervene in a decision by the Immigration Authorities to decline granting permanent residency to a professional couple who are currently living in Australia.

These people are a young couple who studied and qualified in this country.  They have a young son who has been diagnosed with mild autism.  It is this fact, that is presented as the single reason for them being denied permanent residency.  A friend of theirs has organised an e-petition, asking the Minister to intervene and overturn the decision of his Department. At least one TV station and one Newspaper have taken up the story,  They are no doubt motivated by nothing other than an altruistic sense of fair play.  The fact that it makes good ratings/subscription material probably has nothing to do with their decision to get involved in this issue.

I felt very much inclined to sign the petition and allegedly, twenty five thousand other Australians already have.   Its a classic case where the cause seems noble, it involves zero effort on my part and I can feel morally elevated if I participate. If the only reason for these people not becoming permanent residents is, in fact, their son’s minor disability, then I think the Minister should indeed intervene.  The very idea of people being expelled on those grounds alone is just plain unacceptable and wrong.

Therein though, lies the problem.  Just because we are presented with information by an apparently decent and well-meaning source, doesn’t make that information correct.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that all of the relevant information has  been presented.  We have an immigration Department that costs Australian Taxpayers a great deal of tax money to maintain and its there to consider cases such as this on a daily basis.  It is their job to look at all of the relevant information and to determine these matters based on the policies that are agreed from time to time by our government.

The E-petition that I am invited to sign doesn’t ask the Minister to review this case and ensure that it has been dealt with appropriately.  It instead states that  “We, the undersigned, express our dismay at the rejection of the Skilled (Residence) Visa application of the XXXX  family by the Australian Government Migration Review Tribunal and ask that you intervene and reverse this decision.”

What this is about then is apparently a decision by the petition signatories, that these people should be granted residency in this country … full stop!

Its not about asking the Minister to review the matter to ensure that a proper decision is being made, that proper procedures have been followed and complied with and that the decision is fair and unbiased.  (failure to meet these criteria, it can be assumed, is implied in the invitation to become a signatory to the petition.)  In short, this petition is saying that immigration approval should be based on whether we happen to like the applicants!  I don’t believe that reflects a mature or a proper approach to immigration policy.

Let me restate my view.  If the ONLY reason for these folks being denied residency is the fact that their child has mild autism, then I would vehemently disagree with the decision by the Immigration Authorities (to reject their application) …….  and I think the Minister should review ALL OF THE RELEVANT ISSUES and make a decision based on that review.  To tell the Minister WHAT he should decide, without being in possession of all of the relevant information is, for me, a bridge too far ….. as it would be for any  thinking and unbiased person.

While I can see a real benefit in using the internet to spread information and engender support for just causes, I see a significant danger as well.  It is too easy for organisations or individuals to filter information and create a biased and unbalanced view of pretty much any issue. Its too easy too, to appeal to the moral indignation of a lazy populace, especially when their participation is effortless, painless and provides the instant gratification of a warm fuzzy feeling.  Actually thinking about issues, researching them and making informed decisions requires a great deal more effort.

As much as my sense of fair play would have me sign that e-petition, my mind tells me that I don’t have access to all of the facts and that determining the outcome of specific visa applications isn’t my job.  I live in a  democracy with an elected government to determine policy and a paid public service to administer it.  The e-petition has the potential to  be a powerful tool in the hands of an artful lobbyist.  Unfortunately, its a tool that lends itself to manipulation and misuse.  I don’t think I’m ready for government by knee-jerk, emotional  reaction.  Its unfortunate if politicians sometimes are!

Andrew Caddle 2013-12-20


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Thank you, Andrew.


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