Morrison Government Bill that would introduce a two-tier legal system voted down

Media Release
20 October 2021

The Morrison Government’s Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2019 was voted down in the Senate today thanks to opposition against the legislation, which would have introduced punitive new powers and a two-tier legal system.

The second reading debate of the Bill was voted down by crossbenchers, Labor and the Greens, with fears around the damaging effects it would have on families and children as well as the significant additional power it gives the Morrison Government.

Kristina Keneally the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff as well as Greens Senators Nick McKim and Mehreen Faruqi all spoke against the Bill.

This Bill would have allowed the Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke to revoke or refuse visas for people who committed an offence based on the maximum possible sentence a person could receive, rather than the sentence they actually received.

If an offence’s maximum punishment is at least two years imprisonment, anyone convicted would automatically fail the ‘character test.’ This will see the person affected lose their visa. For refugees or stateless persons, they would then be subject to indefinite detention and others could be forcibly removed from Australia including to countries where they have little or no connection.

This disproportionate punishment would occur even when a person receives a small penalty of community service or a fine, indicating a less serious offence.

If passed, this Bill would have created a two-tier legal system, one in which refugees and non-citizens are not only punished for their crimes, the same as others, but then also additionally subjected to indefinite detention in breach of international law, or for other non-citizens, removal from Australia and permanent separation from family.

The impact this legislation will have on children is also of great concern, as it will see families torn apart through an estimated five-fold increase in forced removals of people from Australia.

The Morrison Government has kept this unpopular and dangerous Bill before Parliament for years, despite two Senate Inquiries challenging its relevance and need.

Jana Favero, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) said: “I applaud the united front against this terrible Bill. For three years the Morrison Government has kept this Bill alive despite all advice, it is good for the country to see the end of it. This law effectively sets up a two-tier legal system, one in which refugees and non-citizens are disproportionately punished. Under this law, we could see one person paying a small fine and another person paying a small fine, losing their visa, being sent to indefinite detention, for the same crime.”

Dr Carolyn Graydon, Principal Solicitor of ASRC’s Human Rights Law Program said: “The Minister already has unacceptably broad powers to refuse or cancel visas on character grounds. This Bill would have given even more unaccountable power to cancel the visas of people for even minor offending, denying them access to a fair process, including merits review of the Minister’s decisions. It would have meant a likely five-fold increase in the number of refugees and stateless people indefinitely detained or non-citizens removed from Australia and permanently separated from their families.”


Media contact: Sam Brennan 0428 973 324 or

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