Senators urged not to grant further powers to Minister Dutton to cancel visas of vulnerable people

Media Release

2 September 2020

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2019 is once again before Parliament this week and is currently listed for debate in the Senate today.

Under the Minister’s proposed new powers, if a person has been convicted of an offence that falls into a category carrying a possible term of imprisonment of at least two years, they will automatically fail the ‘character test’.

Even where they actually receive a light penalty, such as a fine or a short community-based order, indicating a less serious crime, they will still automatically fail the character test, and be subject to immigration detention and forcible removal from Australia.

The Bill increases the risk that people who are owed refugee or complementary protection obligations may be returned to their country of origin in breach of international law, or remain in indefinite detention in Australia without legal recourse.

The Minister currently cancels visas for convictions in a foreign country, even though they are often an unreliable and an unjust basis for assessing character, particularly for those fleeing political persecution.

People of pension age who have lived in Australia since before they were five, and who have children and grandchildren in this country, even people who have been found to be refugees undergo visa cancellation or refusal.

The proposed amendments will unduly impact children, who have never been tried as adults, and other vulnerable people, including victims of domestic violence who are dependent visa holders.

Submissions made to the 2019 Senate Inquiry indicated that this law change could result in five times the number of people facing visa cancellation than current levels, which are already at an all-time high.

This will include “people who are unlikely to be an ongoing threat to the Australian community.” The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has said its workload will increase fourfold, creating further backlogs and delay, causing further havoc in an already dysfunctionally overloaded system.

People are detained for many years in poor conditions that cause mental and physical health to deteriorate, at a great cost to the taxpayer.

Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Jana Favero said:

“There is no justification for the amendments proposed in the Bill, which seek only to expand Ministerial powers to serve a political agenda and will offer no greater protection or safety to the Australian community beyond what is already provided for in existing law.”

“In light of the adverse implications for refugees, children and vulnerable persons, we urge Senators to not pass this Bill.”

Principal Lawyer of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Carolyn Graydon said:

“These new powers deeply harm Australian families of those who are subject to visa cancellation or visa refusal as a child can be without a parent, child or partner.

“This Bill disregards the careful sentencing work done by criminal justice systems in each state, by arbitrarily ignoring a judge’s assessment of the level of wrong-doing reflected in the actual sentence.

“ It disproportionately penalises people based only on the category of offence and not on their actual level of wrongdoing. The irrational approach proposed by this Bill will create acute injustice and hardship to individuals and result in even more families all over Australia being ripped apart.”

Deputy Chair of the Visa Cancellations Working Group and Accredited Specialist in Immigration Law, Sanmati Verma, said:

“Since 2014, constant changes have stretched visa cancellation powers to their limit.

“The Department already has the power to cancel visas on the basis of mere suspicion of criminal conduct or even suspected association – much less a criminal charge or conviction. The vast spike in these decisions over the past five years has clogged review bodies and Courts, separated families, and strained Australia’s international relationships. “Detention centres are now filled with long-term residents and people from war-torn countries.”

“This Bill makes an over-complex system even more unclear. It will lead to unfair and disproportionate outcomes, further out of step with community values.”

“It is unnecessary and unsafe for cancellation powers to be extended in this way. It concerns us greatly that so little thought has been given to justifying the Bill or contemplating those dangers.”


Click here to read submission to Senate Inquiry 2019

Media contact: Marcella Brassett, 0411 026 142

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