Australia: Immigration ‘character test’ bill to strengthen visa-cancellation powers to be reintroduced by government

Australia and Canada continue to diverge:

The federal government is again seeking greater discretionary powers to cancel or refuse immigration visas on character grounds after its initial proposal was defeated two years ago.

An amendment to strengthen the migration ‘character test’ — which would see visas cancelled or refused for people convicted of a serious crime — could be introduced in the Senate as early as today.

The Morrison government first attempted to pass the laws in 2019, but they failed to win the support of Labor or crossbench senators.

Under the proposed laws, a non-citizen who has been convicted of a ‘designated’ offence punishable by at least two years’ prison — such as violent or sexual assault crimes — could be refused a visa at the government’s discretion, regardless of the sentence they actually serve.

Currently, the power to cancel visas is only available in cases where a person was actually sentenced to serve more than 12 months’ prison.

The government also argues that people whose visas should have been cancelled have been allowed to stay thanks to technicalities, such as discounts to prison time for guilty pleas, or judges who reduced a sentence to avoid mandatory visa cancellation thresholds.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the current laws leave a gap that allows for people who are a risk to the community to stay in the country.

“Holding an Australian visa is a privilege that dangerous and violent non-citizens do not deserve,” Mr Hawke said in a statement.

“Anthony Albanese needs to back these new laws this week for the safety of the community — or explain to all Australians why he will not.”

Labor is considering the proposed amendments.

However, Shadow Immigration Minister Kristina Keneally has previously expressed concern that low-level offenders could unintentionally be caught up in the changed laws and be deported unnecessarily.

The laws have caused tension with New Zealand, whose Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has repeatedly pleaded with Australia to drop the practice of deporting its criminals.

Ms Keneally has previously called for retrospective offenders to be excluded from legislation, and for extra consideration to be given to New Zealanders.

Minister less likely to be overturned under new laws

The proposed laws would also make it harder for decisions to deport people to be defeated on appeal, the government has argued.

Currently, the immigration minister — or a delegate of the minister — have discretionary power to cancel a visa on character grounds, but the decision can be appealed.

In the past, ministerial decisions have been overturned by the courts, such as when former home affairs minister Peter Dutton attempted to deport murderer Frederick Chetcuti, who had lived in Australia since he was two years old.

Mr Dutton’s decision to cancel the 73-year-old Maltese man’s visa was overturned after he was unable to prove that he spent more than 11 minutes considering the case.

The government expects its bill to make those situations less common, as a more “objective” test of conviction, rather than time sentenced, would leave less room for appeal.

Mr Hawke said the amendments would be introduced in the Senate this week, and as early as today.

Source: Immigration ‘character test’ bill to strengthen visa-cancellation powers to be reintroduced by government

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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