FEDERAL COURT OF AUSTRALIA
IMMIGRATION ASSESSMENT AUTHORITY
DATE OF ORDER:
THE COURT ORDERS THAT:
Note: Entry of orders is dealt with in Rule 39.32 of the Federal Court Rules 2011.
1 This is an appeal from a judgment of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCCA). The primary judge dismissed an application for judicial review of a decision of the Immigration Assessment Authority to affirm a decision of the first respondent Minister to refuse to grant the appellant a Safe Haven Enterprise (subclass 790) visa (SHEV) under the Migration Act 1958 (Cth): see ABH18 v Minister for Home Affairs & Anor  FCCA 1112.
2 The appeal should be dismissed for the reasons given below.
THE VISA APPLICATioN
3 For the appellant to be eligible for the SHEV it was necessary that he fulfil one of the alternate criteria in s 36(2) of the Act. It relevantly provides:
(2) A criterion for a protection visa is that the applicant for the visa is:
(a) a non-citizen in Australia in respect of whom the Minister is satisfied Australia has protection obligations because the person is a refugee; or
(aa) a non-citizen in Australia (other than a non-citizen mentioned in paragraph (a)) in respect of whom the Minister is satisfied Australia has protection obligations because the Minister has substantial grounds for believing that, as a necessary and foreseeable consequence of the non-citizen being removed from Australia to a receiving country, there is a real risk that the non-citizen will suffer significant harm; or
4 The word “refugee” in s 36(2)(a) is defined in s 5H of the Act:
5H Meaning of refugee
(1) For the purposes of the application of this Act and the regulations to a particular person in Australia, the person is a refugee if the person:
(a) in a case where the person has a nationality—is outside the country of his or her nationality and, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution, is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country; or
(b) in a case where the person does not have a nationality—is outside the country of his or her former habitual residence and owing to a well-founded fear of persecution, is unable or unwilling to return to it.
5 The appellant arrived in Australia on 14 November 2012. He is a Tamil from the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka.
6 In support of his application for the SHEV, the appellant claimed that during the Sri Lankan civil war, two of his brothers were active members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He claimed that his older brother was killed by the Karuna party in 2007 and that his younger brother had been jailed between 2008 and 2011, then re-arrested and jailed again. The appellant claimed that he and his family were forced to relocate a number of times during the civil war as a result of threats related to his brothers’ involvement with the LTTE. He claimed that the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) frequently visited his family on suspicion that they were involved with the LTTE. He claimed that in 2012 he was arrested, detained by the CID and interrogated and beaten over five days about his brothers’ connections. He claimed that after his release the CID frequently enquired about him at his place of work and that he had been placed on a CID watch list. He also claimed that the Sri Lankan police had attempted to force him to give false evidence in a theft trial and that when he refused to do so they threatened that he would be charged “in a different case” and put in jail.
7 The Minister’s delegate accepted that the appellant’s older brother had fought with the LTTE and was killed by the Karuna group in 2007, that the appellant and his family had been displaced on several occasions during the conflict, that his younger brother had joined the LTTE and had been involved in military action and had been detained and rearrested. The delegate also accepted that the appellant had been questioned and intimidated by unidentified men in 2012, that many in the appellants’ village, including his family, were regarded as LTTE sympathisers, and that he had been visited by the police or CID at his workplace. However, the delegate did not accept that the appellant had been tortured, nor that he had been asked to give false evidence in a court case or threatened with arrest over a false charge. The delegate was not satisfied that the appellant remained on a CID watch list. The delegate concluded that the appellant “does not face a real chance of persecution on account of his connection to his brothers”.
8 The delegate’s decision to refuse the SHEV was automatically referred to the Authority for review under s 473CA of the Act.
THE AUTHORITY’S DECISION
9 Section 473CB of the Act provides that the Secretary of the then named Department of Immigration and Border Protection must give to the Authority, among other things, material provided by a referred review applicant to the person making the decision before the decision was made, together with any other material in the Secretary’s possession or control considered by the Secretary to be relevant to the review. The Authority’s power to obtain and consider any additional information is conferred and conditioned by s 473DC and s 473DD of the Act respectively:
473DC Getting new information
(1) Subject to this Part, the Immigration Assessment Authority may, in relation to a fast track decision, get any documents or information (new information) that:
(a) were not before the Minister when the Minister made the decision under section 65; and
(b) the Authority considers may be relevant.
(2) The Immigration Assessment Authority does not have a duty to get, request or accept, any new information whether the Authority is requested to do so by a referred applicant or by any other person, or in any other circumstances.
(3) Without limiting subsection (1), the Immigration Assessment Authority may invite a person, orally or in writing, to give new information:
(a) in writing; or
(b) at an interview, whether conducted in person, by telephone or in any other way.
473DD Considering new information in exceptional circumstances
For the purposes of making a decision in relation to a fast track reviewable decision, the Immigration Assessment Authority must not consider any new information unless:
(a) the Authority is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances to justify considering the new information; and
(b) the referred applicant satisfies the Authority that, in relation to any new information given, or proposed to be given, to the Authority by the referred applicant, the new information:
(i) was not, and could not have been, provided to the Minister before the Minister made the decision under section 65; or
(ii) is credible personal information which was not previously known and, had it been known, may have affected the consideration of the referred applicant’s claims.
10 The appellant provided a statutory declaration to the Authority, relevantly containing the following information:
Recently CID officers approached my parents’ home and asked about my whereabouts. My sister answered the CID officers that I am in a foreign country. The CID officers warned my parents and my sister that they want to know the correct details about myself. The CID officers told them that I will be detained and arrested as soon as I return back to Sri Lanka. My parents are very afraid of the CID enquiries and informed me that it is not safe for me to return back to Sri Lanka as the CID officers are enquiring about me. My family is in the CID watch list and under pressure now. If I return back to Sri Lanka, it will enhance the problems and I will be arrested, detained and then will be killed.
11 In an accompanying written submission the appellant’s migration agent asserted that the delegate had breached an obligation imposed by s 54 of the Act to consider all of the information before it, and an obligation imposed by s 57 of the Act to give certain information to the appellant and provide him with an opportunity to comment on it. The agent submitted that the events referred to in the statutory declaration had occurred recently and so could not have been provided before the delegate’s decision. The agent submitted the recent visit made by the CID to the appellant’s family home showed that he was a person of present interest to the Sri Lankan authorities, including because of his brothers’ associations with the LTTE. The agent submitted that the new information was very important to the appellant’s claims for protection.
12 In its written decision record, the Authority said that the information about the recent CID visit was not before the delegate and was “new information”. It nonetheless refused to consider the new information for the following reasons:
6. The applicant’s representative submits that the new information relates to matters that occurred only recently and could not therefore have been provided to the delegate before the decision was made. The representative also submits there are exceptional circumstances to consider the new information as the applicant was denied procedural fairness because the delegate breached sections 54 and 57 of the Act by not having regard to all the material before him and by not providing the applicant with an opportunity to provide comments on his perceived links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Having regard to the terms of Part 7AA of the Act I do not accept that the delegate breached either section 54 or section 57 of the Act.
7. The applicant does not state when the CID came to his home and asked about his whereabouts only that it occurred recently. On that basis I am prepared to accept that the new information could not have been provided before the date of the decision. However, I note the following about the new information. Firstly, the information provided by the applicant about the claimed visit by the CID is in the most general of terms. He claimed they wanted to know ‘the correct details’ about him and that he would be detained and arrested as soon as he returned. However, he does not state why he would be arrested and in my view, if he was of such interest to the CID, I would expect them to tell his family the basis for their interest and intention to detain and arrest him. Secondly and relatedly, the applicant did not leave Sri Lanka while under investigation or formal reporting conditions and the most recent interactions he claimed he had with the CID concerned his identification of a person wanted for theft. In the absence of any interest by the authorities in him personally in the intervening period, there would appear to be no basis for the sudden escalation of interest in the applicant. Thirdly, in the written statement submitted with his SHEV application, he did not claim that any member of his family had experienced interest from the authorities because of him either while he was living in Sri Lanka or subsequently. It is, in my view, inherently implausible that the Sri Lankan authorities would suddenly escalate their interest in the applicant, some five years later. I further note the coincidence of this claim being made one month after the delegate’s decision. The applicant has not satisfied me that s.473DD(b) is met nor am I satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist to justify considering the new information.
13 The Authority went on to reject significant portions of the appellant’s claims (including some aspects of the claims that the delegate had accepted). It did not accept that the appellant’s younger brother had been a member of the LTTE, nor did it accept that the appellant had been made to give false testimony, nor that the appellant had been detained and beaten in 2012. The Authority did not accept that the appellant would be falsely charged or arrested if returned to Sri Lanka.
14 To succeed on his application for judicial review, it was necessary for the appellant to show that the Authority’s decision was affected by jurisdictional error: Act, s 474; Plaintiff S157/2002 v Commonwealth (2003) 211 CLR 476.
15 The appellant was legally represented in the proceedings below. His sole ground for judicial review alleged that the Authority had committed jurisdictional error by failing to construe and apply s 473DD of the Act to the new information contained in the appellant’s statutory declaration. The particulars to that ground are to be considered on this appeal and so should be extracted in full:
1.1 On 28th March 2017 the Applicant provided to the IAA, through his migration agent, a submission which supplied further information, including new information obtained from his relatives in Sri Lanka.
1.2 This new information included a claim that the Applicant’s parents had been visited by officers of the CID on account of the Applicant’s links with LTTE members and the fact that his brothers were members of the LTTE.
1.3 Faced with this new information, the IAA was required to determine whether it satisfied the requirements of s. 473DD and would be taken into consideration for the purpose of the review: BCZ17 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  FCA 902.
1.4 The new information concerned matters which occurred only after the delegate’s decision, and therefore was not and could not have been known and provided to either the Applicant or the delegate before the decision under review was made, therefore satisfying s. 473DD(b)(i): Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v BBS16  FCAFC 176, at . Only one of the two limbs of s. 473DD(b) is required to be met.
1.5 The IAA erred in concluding that the requirements of s. 473DD(b) were not met: Decision, at .
1.6 Further, having been satisfied that the new information met one of the two limbs of s. 473DD(b), the IAA was then required to consider whether it was satisfied that there were exceptional circumstances to justify considering the new information, under s. 473DD(a), taking into account that the IAA’s satisfaction as to either of the limbs in s. 473DD(b) may contribute to its satisfaction that there are ‘exceptional circumstances’: BVZ16 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  FCA 958.
1.7 The IAA adopted an inappropriate narrow reading of ‘exceptional circumstances’, considering only those matters in s. 473DD(b) as to whether s. 473DD(a) was met: CHF16 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  FCAFC 192, at .
1.8 There was no independent and separate consideration of whether exceptional circumstances existed, including because the information was not previously available as per s. 473DD(b)(i).
1.9 Further, or in the alternative, the IAA’s reasons for rejecting the new information as set out in the Decision at  were not rational.
16 The primary judge said this of the appellant’s arguments:
28. As identified above in the Court’s reasons, the Court does not accept that the Authority’s reasons should be read with such a keen eye for error. On a fair reading, the Authority was identifying that the requirements of s 473DD(b)(ii) of the Act were not met. The analysis is an analysis clearly referable to s 473DD(b)(ii) of the Act as well as to the consideration of exceptional circumstances. Further, the express reference to exceptional circumstances and the use of the word ‘nor’ makes clear that the Authority did consider the whole of s 473DD of the Act.
29. Further, the reasons given by the Authority as summarised above were not illogical or irrational and provide an evident and intelligible justification for the Authority’s conclusions under s 473DD of the Act. There was no legal unreasonableness by the Authority in the adverse finding under s 473DD of the Act. The Authority’s reasons as summarised above were logical and cogent. It cannot be said that no reasonable decision maker could have concluded that the requirements of s 473DD of the Act were not met. No jurisdictional error as alleged in ground 1 is made out.
17 The appellant appeared self-represented on this appeal. He relied on the following ground:
1. The decision of the Federal circuit court is affected by jurisdictional error
a. By taking into account irrelevant considerations.
b. By not taking into account relevant considerations.
c. By not taking into account the relevant country information.
d. By agreeing with the IAA that it had asked a reasonable number of questions in order to ascertain the applicant’s credibility and making a fair decision.
e. By not finding the applicant met the provisions of complementary protection.
18 These grounds bear no relation to the arguments raised in the proceedings below. Leave is required to introduce them. I do not consider it to be expedient in the interests of justice to grant leave to raise the arguments for the first time on this appeal for two reasons.
19 First, the arguments amount to generalised assertions. The appellant has not filed written submissions to clarify his intended meaning, nor did the appellant’s oral submissions articulate any particular appealable error on the part of the primary judge or, for that matter, any jurisdictional error on the part of the Authority.
20 Second, the appellant was legally represented in the proceeding below. It is reasonable to infer that careful consideration was given by the appellant’s former legal advisers to the range of arguments that might be advanced to assist him: cf AAD16 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  FCA 1433 at  – . There is no evidence before me to suggest the contrary.
21 The Minister nonetheless acknowledged that the Court could and should proceed on the basis that the appellant intended to submit that the primary judge erred by rejecting the ground for judicial review that had been advanced at first instance. I consider that to be the appropriate course. For the purposes of what follows, the grounds of appeal will be taken to include an assertion that the primary judge committed appealable error by rejecting the arguments that had been advanced on the application for judicial review. To that end, the Minister did not object to the Court reading the written submissions upon which the appellant’s counsel had relied in the proceedings before the primary judge. This Court’s consideration will be confined to the issues identified in the particulars to the ground for judicial review, as enlarged upon in those written submissions dated 8 March 2019.
22 Considered together with the written submissions, the ground for judicial review raised three issues:
(1) whether the Authority erred in concluding (at  of its reasons) that the requirements of s 473DD(b) of the Act were not satisfied;
(2) whether the Authority erred in its conclusion that the condition in s 473DD(a) was not satisfied; and
(3) whether either error (if established) is material and so properly to be regarded as jurisdictional: see Hossain v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (2018) 264 CLR 123.
23 Particular [1.9] of the ground of review alleges that the Authority’s rejection of the new information was “not rational”. That contention will be dealt with in the course of determining the first issue. The remaining issues may be determined together.
24 It is well established that the conditions in s 473DD(a) and (b) are cumulative: both must be satisfied before the Authority can consider the new information: Plaintiff M174/2016 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (2018) 264 CLR 217 at  (Gageler, Keane and Nettle JJ). It is just as well established that the two conditions in s 473DD(b)(i) and (ii) are alternatives: Plaintiff M174/2016 at .
25 The Authority was not obliged to give reasons for its essentially procedural decision under s 473DD of the Act: CVS16 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  FCA 951 at  –  (Bromwich J); CAQ17 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  FCAFC 203 at . However, in the present case, the Authority did provide reasons and it is reasonable to infer the Authority intended to disclose its mental processes in the passages extracted at  above.
26 As the primary judge observed at , the Authority’s reasons are to be read beneficially. That accords with the well-known caution issued by the majority in Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs v Wu Shan Liang (1996) 185 CLR 259 at 272 (Brennan CJ, Toohey, McHugh and Gummow JJ):
…the reasons of an administrative decision-maker are meant to inform and not to be scrutinised upon over-zealous judicial review by seeking to discern whether some inadequacy may be gleaned from the way in which the reasons are expressed.
27 I have concluded that there are two conflicting aspects of the Authority’s reasoning in the present case that cannot be sensibly reconciled, even on a beneficial reading of the reasons.
28 On the one hand, the Authority was prepared to accept that the information about the recent visits of the CID to the family home was information that could not have been provided to the appellant’s delegate. That statement is plainly referrable to s 473DD(b)(i) of the Act and has two natural consequences. First, the Authority must be taken to have accepted that the events had indeed occurred after the delegate’s decision as the appellant’s agent had asserted. Second, the Authority must be taken to have concluded that the condition in s 473DD(b)(i) was satisfied. That was sufficient to fulfil the requirements of s 473DD(b). It follows that the Authority erred in its later conclusion that s 473DD(b) was not satisfied. It also follows that the primary judge erred in rejecting the proposition articulated at [1.5] of the grounds for judicial review.
29 The materiality of the Authority’s error depends upon its reasoning in connection with the other criteria in s 473DD.
30 Having accepted that the new information could not have been provided to the delegate, the Authority went on to ask itself whether the appellant should be believed in his claim that there had been recent CID visits to his family’s home. It referred to a number of aspects of the appellant’s case in support of its conclusion that it was “inherently implausible” that the Sri Lankan authorities would suddenly escalate their interest in the appellant. It noted the “coincidence” that “this claim” had been made one month after the delegate’s adverse decision.
31 Read naturally, that part of the Authority’s reasons must be understood as involving a finding that the information about the recent CID visits was not “credible” for the purposes of s 473DD(b)(ii). In my view, the Authority’s reasoning amounts to a substantive conclusion that the claimed recent CID visits had not happened, and that they had been invented to overcome the delegate’s adverse decision. There could be no other reason for the Authority to “note” the coincidental timing of the claimed CID visits.
32 For the Minister it was submitted that the reasons should be interpreted as involving a finding that s 473DD(b) was indeed met because the Authority had gone on to consider the criterion in s 473DD(a) when it would otherwise have been unnecessary for it to do so. I cannot accept that interpretation of the reasons. To accept it would be to ignore the Authority’s express statement that s 473DD(b) was not satisfied. And, as I have said, the Authority’s conclusion that s 473DD(b) was not satisfied cannot be reconciled against its earlier acceptance that the information could not have been provided before the delegate’s decision. The reasons involve illogicality in that respect, as the grounds for judicial review correctly asserted.
33 In my view the illogicality signifies that the Authority proceeded on an erroneous construction of s 473DD as a whole by wrongly assuming that the criteria in s 473DD(b)(i) and (ii) are cumulative rather than alternative. That conclusion does not arise by reading the reasons with an eye too keenly attuned to the perception of error. The error is patent. The Authority could not otherwise have found (as it did in express words) that the condition in s 473DD(b) was not met.
34 For an error in the application of s 473DD to be material (and so to be properly characterised as jurisdictional) it must be shown that the ultimate outcome of the exercise of the Authority’s powers on the review may have been different, had the error not been made: Hossain at  (Kiefel CJ, Gageler and Keane JJ).
35 The Court is concerned to identify how (if at all) the error in the application of the procedural power to consider new information may have affected the ultimate exercise of the Authority’s power to affirm the decision under review under Pt 7AA of the Act. In the ordinary course, an erroneous interpretation or application of s 473DD may be expected to result in the Authority erroneously proceeding on the basis that it is precluded by s 473DD from considering new information. Such an error may be material if consideration of the new information may conceivably have resulted in a more favourable outcome for the review applicant. Whether that is so must turn on the particular circumstances of the case.
36 Where an error is identified in the construction of one of the two cumulative criteria in s 473DD(a) and (b), an antecedent issue will arise as to whether that error could have materially affected the Authority’s procedural decision not to consider the new information in any event. If the Authority erroneously denies the existence of one of the essential pre-conditions to considering the information, the error will not be material if its conclusion that the other pre-condition does not exist is a conclusion that is unaffected by error.
37 Applying these principles, I conclude that the illogicality in the Authority’s findings under s 473DD(b) did not materially affect its assessment of whether exceptional circumstances existed for the purposes of s 473DD(a).
38 The Authority’s conclusion that there were no exceptional circumstances to justify considering the information is not elaborated upon. It may nonetheless be inferred that that conclusion is founded upon all of the reasoning that preceded it at  and  of the Authority’s reasons. Whilst the Authority is not mandated to take into account factual maters bearing on the issues in subs (b) in determining whether exceptional circumstances exist under subs (a), it may do so, and it is plain in the present case that it has.
39 Notwithstanding the illogicality in its reasoning in relation to subs (b), it is apparent that the Authority’s conclusion about the credibility of the information bore heavily in its analysis as to whether the exceptional circumstances justified its consideration. Critically, in this case, the grounds for judicial review did not seek to expose any error in the Authority’s express conclusion that the new information was implausible nor in its implied conclusion that the claimed recent events did not happen. In the absence of any ground for judicial review impugning that aspect of the Authority’s reasons, the Court must proceed on the basis that the Authority permissibly took into account its adverse assessment under s 473DD(b)(ii) in assessing whether exceptional circumstances existed within the meaning of s 473DD(a). In my view, the illogicality I have identified in the Authority’s reasoning did not materially impact on that assessment.
40 Nor am I satisfied that there is any other error affecting the Authority’s finding under subs (a). Whilst the appellant’s representatives advanced a contention that the delegate had denied the appellant procedural fairness by not observing the requirements of s 54 and s 57 of the Act, that assertion was not accompanied by any particulars of the alleged breach, nor any explanation as to how the breach related to the particular information now forming the subject of this appeal. On a fair reading of the submissions made to the Authority, the breach of s 54 and s 57 related to a failure to afford the appellant the opportunity to comment on information before the delegate but did not (and could not logically) relate to events that occurred after the delegate’s decision was made.
41 The appellant’s representatives made a submission to the Authority about the importance of the new information to the appellant’s case. That submission was undoubtedly relevant to the Authority’s assessment of whether exceptional circumstances justified its consideration of the information. However, there is nothing in the Authority’s reasons to suggest that it did not appreciate the importance of the information to the appellant’s claims. The Authority’s reasoning proceeds from the premise that if the recent events occurred as the appellant had claimed them to be they would support his claim to be a person who is presently of interest to the CID. It is the Authority’s finding that the events had not occurred at all that furnishes an intelligible basis for its conclusion that no exceptional circumstances existed to justify its consideration.
42 The question of materiality may be approached another way.
43 The phrase “credible personal information” in s 473DD(b)(ii) means information which is open to be or capable of being accepted by the Authority as truthful: CSR16 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  FCA 474 at  (Bromberg J). The word “credible” does not require that the information be believed or judged by the Authority to be more likely than not true: BOS17 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  FCA 75 at  (O’Bryan J); ALJ18 v Minister for Home Affairs  FCA 491 at  (Mortimer J). What is required under s 473DD is a preliminary assessment of the information with a view to precluding consideration of that which is incapable of being believed and that which could not materially assist a referred applicant’s case if it were to be believed.
44 The Authority in the present case assessed the claimed events against other material before it and made a substantive assessment that the claimed events had not occurred. In so doing, it took into account the circumstances that the appellant did not leave Sri Lanka while under investigation or formal reporting conditions and that the most recent interactions he had claimed to have with the CID concerned his identification of the person wanted for theft some five years prior. It referred to the absence of any interest in the appellant in the intervening period and concluded that there appeared to be no basis for the CID now escalating its interest in him. It referred to the absence of any prior claim by the appellant that any of his family members had experienced interest from the authorities because of him, both while he was living in Sri Lanka and subsequently. It was against those circumstances that the Authority expressed the view that it was inherently implausible that the authorities would escalate their interest in the appellant after five years and noted (in my view adversely) the “coincidence” that the claim had been made one month after the delegate’s adverse decision. That line of reasoning evidences substantive consideration being given to whether the new information could be believed (as opposed to whether it was capable of being believed), and a substantive conclusion that it could not.
45 Even if that were an erroneous approach (and notwithstanding the illogicality I have identified earlier), I am not satisfied that it materially affected the ultimate outcome of the Authority’s review. If the new information satisfied the requirements of s 473DD of the Act, the appellant was entitled to have that material assessed against the whole of the material before the Authority. The obligation to consider the information would have included an obligation to make a finding as to whether or not the claimed recent events had in fact occurred in light of all of the circumstances of the appellant’s case. That is substantially what the Authority did, albeit purportedly under the procedural framework of s 473DD. In the unusual circumstances of the appellant’s case, the Authority did give substantive consideration to the information of the kind it would have been obliged to give, had it not determined that it was precluded by s 473DD from doing so.
46 To the extent that the Authority’s approach was erroneous, the errors were not material and hence not jurisdictional.
47 It follows that the appeal must be dismissed.