Federal government push for stronger visa cancellation powers passes lower house


On Wednesday, the opposition did not object to the government’s decision to introduce the laws in the House of Representatives, but signaled that it could still seek changes in the Senate.

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The measures would give the government greater discretion to deny or cancel the visas of foreign nationals with criminal histories based on their conviction, rather than their prison sentence.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke earlier held a press conference in a bid to exert further pressure to corner Labor on the bill.

“The Morrison government will not negotiate community safety and the safety of women and children,” he told reporters.

“We will not negotiate on serious and violent crimes.”

Mr Hawke says he thinks cross-support can be garnered for the laws and will try to push them through with just two sitting days in the Senate before an election is held in May.

When asked if the bill would be put to a vote in the Senate, he replied, “We certainly will.”

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Under its personality enhancement bill, foreign nationals could have their visas refused or canceled if they have been convicted of a crime punishable by more than two years in prison.

The government says the laws would fill a gap in existing legislation by allowing the application of the character test to people who have been sentenced to less than 12 months in prison for their crimes.

It says this would include designated offenses such as stalking, domestic violence, assaulting police officers and convictions related to child abuse or possession of a weapon.

Labor had previously expressed concern about the need for the measures, given that the Immigration Minister already holds wide discretionary powers to cancel and refuse visas.

Shadow Home Secretary Kristina Keneally said Labor would not oppose the Bill’s route to the Senate but wanted to continue negotiating changes to the Bill.

“The question here is whether the government wants a solution or does it want to fight,” she told reporters.

“Let’s call a shovel a shovel. It is a desperate government trying to mount a corner-to-corner campaign to distract from its incompetence.

SBS News understands that Labor is seeking amendments to remove the ability to apply laws retroactively to the date of application, as well as to reduce the risk that it could catch low-level breaches, using the existing definition of ” significant criminal record” in the Migration Act.

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The latest version of the government’s bill includes an amendment clarifying that a presumptive offense would be defined as an offense that substantially contributed to the bodily harm or damage to the mental health of another person, or if it involves domestic violence to prevent low level offenses from being included.

Opposition immigration spokesman Andrew Giles later said that although Labor supported the bill, the government had yet to explain what it would allow the minister to do that he would not couldn’t already do.

“The potential unintended consequences of the bill need to be addressed,” he said.

Minister Hawke thanked the opposition for their “lukewarm” support.

“It’s something that we have consistently pursued over the past 1,200 days for important reasons,” he said.

“This is not a racist bill… our whole immigration policy is non-discriminatory and crime has no nationality.”

But Greens leader Adam Bandt said Labor was backing a bad bill from a bad government that wanted to be above the law.

“This bill will not make this country any safer. The government already has sweeping powers under legislation – divine powers – to deport people on the basis of their character,” he said.

“In these situations, where someone has really done something so horribly wrong that it poses a threat to the Australian community, the government already has the power to do something about it.”

In Australia, most visa cancellations are done under Sector 501 of the Migration Act.

With these powers, the government can cancel the visas of non-citizens on character grounds as well as criminal convictions, or if they are considered part of a group suspected of wrongdoing.

Migration law scholars have consistently opposed the government’s attempt to bolster its visa powers with this latest measure, first proposed in 2018.

Jana Favero, director of advocacy and campaigns at the Resource Center for Asylum Seekers, said the laws would “explicitly subject non-citizens and refugees to a separate legal system”.

“It’s a racist law, plain and simple,” she said.

“This law is nothing more than a political stunt, which will harm families and undermine the rule of law.”

Sanmati Verma, a migration lawyer and vice chair of the visa waiver task force, also said the laws risked endangering migrant women and children.

“It fundamentally endangers migrant families, it fundamentally goes above the results rendered by specialized courts and exposes women and children who hold dependent visas,” she said.

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Mr. Hawke addressed those concerns at his press conference, saying his department would work with victims of domestic abuse to make sure it doesn’t happen.

“If they are victims of domestic violence, they will be given another visa or a pathway to Australia,” he said.

In September 2019 and October 2021, Labor and the Greens voted against an earlier version of the bill in the Senate.

With the AAP

If you or someone you know is affected by family and domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.


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