Migration Amendment (Clarifying International Obligations for Removal) Bill 2021 and Migration Amendment (Tabling Notice of Certain Character Decisions) Bill 2021

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) (17:50): I want to thank all members for their contributions to this debate on both the Migration Amendment (Clarifying International Obligations for Removal) Bill 2021 and the subsequent Migration Amendment (Tabling Notice of Certain Character Decisions) Bill 2021.

I want to thank the opposition, of course, and other members who have constructively engaged on the nature of this bill and the amendments that I'll subsequently be moving to the bill. This has been a good process to ensure that there is transparency in our Migration Act and in this very vexed area of international obligation versus criminal cancellations and the implications for Australia.

I would say to the members who have made contributions that we've had some obviously profound experience from people like the members for Fowler, Monash and Clark—people who have taken a long-term interest in these matters. On balance, the contributions have shown that there is an acceptance that this is a needed and necessary amendment to the Migration Act, and that isn't always obvious in this parliament. It's good to see that people on all sides have reached the same conclusion about our international obligations and the non-refoulment of people who we owe protection to, and the balance of ensuring that the Australian community is safe where we have criminal cancellations.

I would say to the member for Clark that there are two things I would disagree with in his contribution. The bill in no way is retrospective, and I can say that confidently to the House: it doesn't operate retrospectively. We're doing this because, as he points out, there are a series of court decisions, the interaction with the Migration Act and the consequences. I can absolutely say to him that, if we were to follow the intended outcome of those court decisions, Australia would be in breach of its international obligations by being forced to refoul people. That's why we're here. I know he doesn't agree with that; I know he doesn't support that, and he didn't say that. But we have to have these amendments because of this serious sequence of events.

There is a small cohort of people who we do owe protection to who are also serious criminals. They have been convicted—not arbitrarily and not detained, but they have served serious criminal sentences and are the subject of adverse security assessments by our agencies or, objectively, they pose an ongoing risk to the community and any fair minded member of this parliament would come to that conclusion about this small cohort of people. In this situation, indefinite detention can arise. Obviously, sometimes it does, because we can't refoul them in breach of our international obligations—and no-one here would call for that—but we may not be able to release them. It is a difficult situation in all regards. The government will continue to look at its options in relation to that.

Obviously, circumstances can change in countries. Countries change their situations regularly over years: safety can be re-established, order can be re-established and protection obligations can be revisited from time to time. Or the risk posed to the community can change over time as well. There's regular assessment of those matters and, hopefully, a resolution can be found. But, of course, difficult and complex situations will arise in a small number of cases.

Again, the parliament can have confidence that both the opposition and the government have carefully considered the matter and understand this to apply to a small cohort. With the amendments that I will be moving under the discretionary national interest cancellation and refusal power under 501(3), the parliament will get notice, obviously, that the power has been exercised, except in cases involving significant criminal offending or national security concerns. That means the government and the parliament will be committed to increased transparency in relation to the operation of these provisions, which should satisfy the parliament, the courts and the public that we are doing the right thing in relation to protecting the community and exercising our international obligations.

We understand that it's a grave topic. I acknowledge the concerns of the member for Clark, but the government takes these concerns very seriously and I believe the opposition has taken these concerns very seriously on both elements in this case. We worked together to ensure that we have a strong law and that the operation of the law will continue both to give effect to our international commitments and to protect the Australian community. We can do both by the proper operation of the law. I want to provide that confidence to the member for Clark and to any other concerned members that these bills do nothing other than provide that certainty to the government, the community and the parliament about the operation of our character cancellations with our international obligations of non-refoulement.

Without further ado, I commend these provisions. I thank all members for their thoughtful contributions and I thank the opposition for its support for these bills. It is a good example of the parliament coming together.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.