Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2021

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) (19:17): I thank all members for their contributions in relation to the debate on the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2021. I welcome those who have recently come to the position of supporting the bill. I thank them for their lukewarm support. I note that there is still opposition in this House to a straightforward bill with simple matters in front of the House. I will briefly address those concerns.

As I've been saying for a number of days, this bill has sat in front of this House for around 1,200 days. It's been in here and out of here, and it's back here again now. It's not something the government has come to at the end of our term; we've been consistent in pursuing it for the last 1,200 days for important reasons. It's certainly not a racist bill as the member for Clark would have us believe. Our entire immigration policy is non-discriminatory; our cancellation policy is non-discriminatory as well. Crime doesn't have any nationality or race or ethnicity. Any person, from any background or any culture, can be good or bad. The government has no view about that. So it is odd to introduce the topic of race after 1,200 days of a pretty serious debate about crime and the victims and impact of crime. And the member for Melbourne had some bizarre objections about sympathy for people who have committed crimes. We're talking about convicted criminals in relation to this bill—serious convicted criminals with serious sentences.

Again I'd urge members in this place to be focused, as Australians want us to be, on the victims of crime rather than the criminals themselves. We need to focus on the victims as a priority because the victims in this case are the Australian community and the perpetrators are non-Australians. The primary responsibility of the House of Representatives in the Australian parliament is to think about the impact of serious and violent offending on Australian citizens. In many cases, we're talking about vulnerable people and groups. Women are victims of sex based offences. In these offences we're talking about, children in particular are victims. Their families are victims. Having administered much of the domestic violence cohort for a number of years, in a junior role and now in this role, I can tell you that those crimes are shocking, they're graphic. They're difficult to deal with as a minister, when you read the material repeatedly—as do law enforcement officers when they do their job and as do courts when they do their job, but here in this job you do that as well—and there are serious impacts upon the victims. So anything we as a government and as a parliament can do in this space, to ensure that we don't see these crimes happen in the first place, is absolutely wise and the right approach in relation to a bill of this nature.

That's why it has been surprising that people have, for 1,200 days, obfuscated about what this bill entails. Labor has suggested that this will capture trivial offences. The government has gone out of its way, every day, to demonstrate that there are no trivial offences captured by this bill. There are no trivial offences at all. In fact, when you check out the list of designated offences and the requirements for a minimum two-year sentence, you'll understand these are the most heinous of crimes. These are the ones that have the most impact upon victims, whether they are armed robberies, aggravated burglaries or sexual assaults.

Looking at other crimes, members haven't spent a lot of time in this debate focusing on possession of a firearm, something we all agree on. We agree on that for our own citizens. We think people should have gun registrations and firearm licences, and there have to be rules about possession of a weapon, but why would we allow a noncitizen or temporary resident to possess a firearm? Why would we think that was okay? It's against the law. If a temporary resident or visa holder possesses and is convicted of possessing a firearm, that's a serious offence. I know the policy of the member for Melbourne's party, the Greens, is against the possession of weapons. That's one of the designated offences here. You spoke about needing to have sympathy and compassion for perpetrators on a number of occasions in your speech. I truly don't understand where you're coming from on this one. I know you've got concerns about parts of the Migration Act that the government has addressed over the years in many ways, but here we're talking about serious, violent crime and serious, violent criminal offenders who have been convicted, including for possession of firearms, something I suggest all members actually agree on.

I came to this role and picked up this bill, with the Labor Party opposing it a couple of times, and addressed some of the concerns that Labor has had. There are no further concerns, I believe, that are valid in relation to this bill because it is very simple: the designated offences are there for every Australian to see—for lawyers to see and for judges to see. It provides clarity and certainty to the law around cancellations. It means we'll have more discretionary power, not mandatory power. There wasn't even an objection raised by the member for Melbourne about mandatory use of the power. It's discretionary and it gives the government and the minister the option to cancel whenever we have people who've committed these crimes, not just crimes here in Australia but the same crimes offshore.

Yes, it is retrospective; that's a criticism I've heard. I make no apology for that, and the Morrison government makes no apology for the retrospectivity, because it would make no sense otherwise. If you are a repeated convicted sexual offender in an offshore country, we want to know that before we give you a visa. We want to have the option of saying, 'No, you can't have that visa.' The powers don't exist in a sufficient way, or a lawful way, for us to be able to do it now—and that's been tested in the courts. The evidence has mounted around section 501 of the Migration Act over the years. I can provide examples to any member here of the judiciary over time in different courts—it might be the Victorian courts or the ACT Supreme Court—taking into account, in sentencing, the fact that this government will be deporting a person or cancelling their visa, with sentencing thereby coming in under the mandatory cancellation thresholds. This evidence has mounted for some years in different courts at different levels. This is the serious work of government. We've mounted this case for about 1,200 days because that evidence from the courts has mounted. Some people criticise courts for that. The public is often critical of courts for that because they feel that serious criminals are getting off on technicalities and getting around our laws. But, to be fair to the courts, it's the job of everybody here to improve the law so that the courts can interpret it properly. That's what the courts are saying to us. That's why the Morrison government has put this bill into the House—to say that we will define the law in the way we want to do it, preferably together as a parliament, on serious and violent crime. Then courts can see that the law is clear. There won't be challenges to our system. There won't be people getting through after the AAT overturns ministerial cancellations in serious crime cases. There won't be people coming from offshore who have committed sexual based defences offences over a long period of time in other countries.

I have to say that many of the objections that we've heard here and continue to hear I find to be excuses. I'm reminded of the lateness of the hour. After 1,200 days, I think everybody's minded to get onto a vote on this bill. I will finish up. I have a lot more to say on this, but maybe I'll have to say it somewhere else. I do think this serious bill requires the support of this House. I want this to be supported in the Senate. We have spoken to the crossbench, and we believe we have support. It is sensible law. It is a good law. It will protect Australians. Frankly speaking, there are not many bills that will pass in this place that will not just deal with crime when it happens but prevent crimes from happening in the first place. When we can do that, we should do that and we must do that. I commend this bill to the House.

The SPEAKER: The question is that the bill be now read a second time.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

The SPEAKER: As there are fewer than five members on the side for the noes, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Adjournment proposed and negatived.