Friday, 15 September 2006

Alternate Victory Conditions Achieved

From a Previous Post, regarding the letter I sent way back on July 26th to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade:
Barring that, please send me a letter to the effect that although you are satisfied at to my Identity and Citizenship, it is not feasible for me to obtain an Australian Passport through normal means due to unresolvable questions regarding my gender. This would allow me to apply for an Australian Declaratory Visa from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

And another, from August 4th :
Now for the flanking attack.

Immediately afterwards, I headed for the ACT regional office of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. I figured a copy of the letter demanding to know the reasons for my passport refusal just might be enough to convince the dreaded Immigration Bureaucrats that they should give me an Australian Declaratory Visa for my UK passport.

Talk about chalk and cheese.

They were helpful, trying to find ways within the labyrinthine Immigration Act to make things happen in my favour. Suggesting things I could do, like getting my Citizenship Certificate changed, they got the right forms, photocopied all the documents needed and certified them so I wouldn't have to... and all late on a Friday Afternoon when everyone just wanted to go home. They stayed back late, photocopying, looking up databases, consulting with head office on the phone, and I confess I shed a few tears simply because they were so supportive.

Instead of being treated by the organisation as some sort of subhuman that they just wanted to dissappear, I was treated with extra consideration, as someone who had more difficulties on her plate than most.
They weren't able to give the ADV I wanted then, simply because I didn't have enough evidence. They thought the citizenship certificate would cause the APO to change their mind.

No such luck.

Yesterday, I went in to see Immigration again, bearing the copies of my correspondence with the APO. When they saw the explanatory notes to the Australia Passport Determination 2005 they were frankly incredulous.

But.... that's Discrimination !!!

Yes, but it's not illegal.

Then when they saw the letter, the record of all I'd done to try to get a passport through normal channels, the way their additional evidence had been ignored, well, they were not impressed.

Immigration administers Citizenship issues you see. It's a Big Deal to them, and rightly so. They make a big fuss about how Australian Citizenship confers automatic right of re-entry without restriction. Now this was all called into question by another department acting unreasonably, and by blatant discrimination within the law.

A quick-as-possible but lengthy and tedious time consulting manuals, superiors, entrails of goats etc later.... I was given an application form for an ADV. With instructions on what in broad terms to put in the explanatory letter. It had been determined that under these bizarre circumstances, I qualified for an ADV because of the APO's intransigence.

Today, I came in again, all the documentation in hand. As soon as I did, I was whisked aside to a counter, and they started processing the application immediately.

So at 1645 today, I was issued with a Class 998 Visa in my UK passport, good for multiple travel before 15 sep 2011. This from Immigration, not the Passport Office.

I must emphasise this is not the case of me being an unreasonable person quibbling over trifles and making life difficult for the officials. I was cheerful and co-operative with both Immigration and the APO, doing whatever they required, usually the same day if I could. Making their lives easy, putting in all the right words in my letters so they could justify any reasonable decision.

With Immigration, my co-operation and understanding that they were doing their best in a most unusual situation, not getting impatient if things didn't go my way immediately, was rewarded by them making extra efforts on my behalf.

It took the person processing my visa application 9 tries on 3 separate numbers to get through to the right section to get some data she needed to process it - (she needed my last date of arrival back in Australia back in 1995). This late on a Friday, I was the last customer of the day, everyone just wanted to go home ASAP. She could have given up at the first attempt, and told me to come back on Monday.

But she didn't want me to stress over the weekend.

Halfway through the process, the instant the visa was granted, she told me. The whole staff even waited after I got the visa, and gave me a chance to look at it, to make sure it was real. They all wished me well. I even got told that they were glad to have met me.

That is the usual kind of Public Service you get here. Human. Doing their best to administer government, doing their best to Serve the Public.

The APO acted quite differently. Not the counter staff. They were uncomfortable, embarressed that they had been directed to be non-co-operative. But to the "Policy Branch", the faceless ones I never met, to them I was never someone, just some Thing that had no right to even exist.

Yet if you called the people high up in the APO mini-Eichmanns, they'd be horrified at the very thought.

I can't blame them overmuch. I too am a child of their era. But I intend to stop them doing the same thing again.

I can come home. I can be there when my son opens his Christmas presents, and not have to watch over a video link. I can come home, and not have to face a European winter, while still recovering from surgery, penniless and without a National Insurance Card.

As and added bonus, I can even travel as required for my PhD too, no petty restrictions.

Lastly... my faith in Human Nature was restored. It had been flagging a bit recently. Oh, I'll continue pursuing the Passport Issue as much as I can, but that's now for the benefit of others. Not everyone has dual citizenship and can avail themselves of this opportunity. Of those who can, their transition is already stressful enough, many will have lost jobs, families, income, they won't be in any position to fight. They certainly won't have the resources I do. I want to make sure that no-one is ever treated like this again.

But now... I can come home. I really can.

You know, I've been taking out my passport, looking at the Visa every few minutes, just to assure myself it's real? That I've won the crucial battle, the one I had to win. I think I'll sleep with it under my pillow tonight. I don't know if it's obvious in my Blog entries over the last few weeks, but this was starting to really get to me.


Steve said...

Having been lurking a while following this sorry saga, I must say "What wonderful news!" I can only begin to imagine what a weight has been lifted.

Dr. Alice said...

You finally got it?! Thank God. I've been following your posts over at Tim's.

Best of luck.

Zoe Brain said...

Well, I didn't get a passport...that's still beimg denied me... but I managed to finagle re-entry anyway.

Courtesy of the humane and wonderful treatment from the Dept of Immigration, who were absolutely horrified at the evidence I showed them from the APO.

They treated me with extra kindness and consideration because of all I'd been through. And all the time, when I was thanking them for their efforts, which I really think went beyond their duty to me, all they said was that as Public Servants they were just trying to serve the Public. Just doing their job.

To be treated as a human being, and a special one at that, well, I teared up a bit.

I'll be writing a letter too, to the Minister for Immigration, letting her know of their efficiency and kindness. Just as I'm going to lambast the APO, so praise should be given where it's deserved, and the whole ACT branch of the DIMEA were very obviously on my side. Even if they hadn't have been able to help me, I'm sure they would have done their best, and I'm sure they would have been absolutely scrupulous at following the letter and spirit of the law too. When they said something wasn't possible (as they had to sometimes), I believed them, because they knew their job. I trusted them. They are a well-functioning, humane and efficient team.

Unlike the APO, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Hi Zoe

I have also been following your progress and I am so happy that you at least have a working solution.

Well done!


Paula Jean

Zoe Brain said...

Thanks Paula.

I'll be pursuing the matter further though.

Most transitioners wouldn't have this escape hatch to crawl through, not being dual citizens. Most transitioners will have lost some combination of livelihood, family, children, and self-esteem. I'm a monster of arrogance and ego, but I think not many have quite the same impressive CV as I do, and certainly wouldn't have my experience of looking up legislation and caselaw.

Re Kevin showed that, on the balance of probabilities, gender was something biologically determined in the brain. But I think only I am in a position to make a convincing argument that my own transition, while very welcome, was entirely involuntary. It's the result of a medical condition, one that any layperson seeing the pictures can understand, even if confused by Basal Cell Layers of the Hypothalamus etc. No-one can say I'm in this position by choice.

Finally, I'm a RWDB - my blog shows pretty conclusive evidence that I'm actually quite conservative in my views, not out to radically remake society into some gender-free trendoid chaos. I'm no professional activist with an anti-government axe to grind. Quite the contrary, I've been highly complimentary of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Hon Alexander Downer, and am on record as consistently defending him. I still think that in the "Big Picture", where we're talking the fate of millions of people, the current Government has done very well indeed.

I would love to let someone else do the work, I'd love to keep a low profile. But conservative principles stress personal responsibility, and I can't let someone who is bound to be less well-equipped than I am fight this battle.

This may be arrogance, this may be ego, overweaning pride, but objectively, I think it's my turn to put my head up over the trench.

Ah spit.

I'd welcome anyone with good, objective reasons to show me I'm wrong. I don't want to do this, and now I have the ADV, it's no longer for my own benefit. I no longer have the courage born of desperation and neccessity. But I know what it's like now for others, and I can't just ignore it because I'm alright.