Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2021

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) (09:42): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

If noncitizens do not abide by the law or they pose a risk to the safety and good order of the community the government can and should prevent the entry and stay of such individuals.

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2021 strengthens the character test in section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 by providing a new specific and objective ground to consider visa refusal or cancellation where a noncitizen has been convicted of certain serious criminal offences—called 'designated offences' in the bill—regardless of the length of sentence imposed.

At present, not all noncitizens convicted of serious criminal offences objectively fail the character test. Certain criminal offences against Australian or foreign laws may involve violence against a person and have a significant impact on victims. Nevertheless, the perpetrator may receive a sentence of less than 12 months for their crimes.

The bill sends a clear message that the Australian community has no tolerance for noncitizens who have been convicted of such crimes. The amendments in the bill will ensure the character test aligns directly with community expectations that noncitizens who are convicted of offences will not be permitted to enter or remain in the Australian community.

By strengthening the character test in this way, I and my delegates will have a clear and objective ground with which to consider cancelling the visa of, or refusing to grant a visa to, a noncitizen who has been convicted of a designated offence regardless of the length of the sentence imposed.

A designated offence is defined as an offence committed in Australia or in a foreign country which is punishable by at least a maximum sentence of two-years imprisonment and involves:

violence, or a threat of violence, against a person; or

non-consensual conduct of a sexual nature; or

breaching an order made by a court or tribunal for the personal protection of another person; or

using or possessing a weapon; or

procuring, or assisting in any way with the commission of one of these designated offences.

The bill also provides that, for an offence with one or more physical elements that involve violence against a person, a person's conviction for an offence of common assault (or equivalent) will not be taken to be a conviction for a designated offence, unless the act constituting the offence:

causes or substantially contributes—temporarily or permanently—to bodily harm to another person or harm to another person's mental health; or

involves family violence.

This will ensure that low-level offending is not captured. However, any offence of common assault that does involve family violence will be taken to be a designated offence regardless of whether the offence causes bodily harm or harm to a person's mental health. This aligns with the government's position on combatting family violence.

The amendments in this bill do not change the framework within which the character cancellation powers function. This new ground does not enliven mandatory cancellation powers. The amendments only seek to provide an additional, objective ground to consider refusing or cancelling a visa. The decision to refuse or cancel a visa using this ground will be discretionary.

Decision-makers exercising the discretion to refuse or cancel a person's visa are guided by comprehensive policy guidelines and ministerial directions, and take into account the individual's circumstances and the relevant international obligations.

This means any decision to refuse or cancel a visa is a proportionate response to the individual circumstances of each case.

In summary, this bill sends a clear and unequivocal message on behalf of the Australian community—that entry or stay in Australia is a privilege, granted only to those of good character.

I should add that we've been here before. We'll be here again and again until the opposition stops blocking the government's measures to deport dangerous foreign criminals, or prevent them entering here in the first place.

Entry and stay in Australia is a privilege, not a right.

Labor is yet to convincingly explain why they oppose these simple, straightforward, logical laws.

However, through this bill the government will be giving them another opportunity to do this.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.