Topics: Strengthening the character test, visa cancellation for non-citizen criminals.
MARK BRAYBROOK: Well, the Government is reintroducing the Migration Amendment Bill, the Strengthening the Character Test Bill. Now, a previous attempt to change the character test was put on hold in the previous Parliament. The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is due to report back next month. Now, currently the Home Affairs Department, for it to cancel visas of offenders not sentenced to more than a year's jail has to prove they’re a risk to the community for that to be cancelled. Now, the changes mean - are widespread and could have positive impacts, I think potentially, on who can stay in this country once they commit a violent crime.
The Immigration Minister David Coleman is the man in charge of this bill and he joins me now. Minister, good afternoon.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good afternoon.
MARK BRAYBROOK: The Migration Amendment Bill - what is this about?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, this is about making it easier for the Australian Government to kick out foreign criminals that have committed crimes in Australia. So this is about people who aren't citizens of Australia but who have committed violent offences, sexual offences, firearms offences and AVOs. Those crimes of course, Mark, have very serious consequences for their victims and their families. And we believe that if a non-citizen has committed one of those crimes, and a crime that has significant maximum sentences, they've given up the privilege of being in Australia; they've abused the hospitality of Australia; and they should objectively fail the character test. So, this law will mean that people who have been convicted of those crimes will objectively fail the character test, which makes it much simpler for the Government to cancel their visas, and that's a good thing.
MARK BRAYBROOK: Because if they were convicted of these crimes before they came to the country, they wouldn't get in, would they?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, the way the law works at the moment, if you've been convicted of a crime of 12 months - a 12 month sentence - automatically, your visa is cancelled. If it's less than 12 months, it's more difficult. It's more difficult for the Government to either refuse that visa or to cancel it. In fact in a recent example, we had someone who committed a serious criminal offence, six-month sentence, cancelled their visa, and then it went to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the AAT, who reinstated the visa under the existing law. Now, this change will mean that that would be very unlikely to happen because the person will fail the character test and that means that they won't be in the country anymore.
We've already, in the last six years, cancelled 4700 visas - about seven times as many as the Labor Party did in the previous six years. So we've already taken strong action in this area. But this is about taking further action because if people have committed these serious crimes, they're not citizens of Australia, they either should have their visa cancelled, or we should be able to ensure they don't get here in the first place.
MARK BRAYBROOK: As it stands though, I believe you don't have the support of the Opposition and the Greens. Here's a little of what Kristina Keneally told Sky News earlier today.
MARK BRAYBROOK: How do you respond to that?
DAVID COLEMAN: Look, Labor's position on this, Mark, is absolutely ridiculous, and completely indefensible. This law says: let's make the law clearer and simpler so that if a foreign criminal commits a serious crime, they can be kicked out of Australia. That's what it says. Labor says they don't support that. Now that is completely indefensible.
In the example I just gave where someone has committed a serious offence with maybe a six-month sentence or a nine-month sentence, and we're talking about, as I said, violent offences; sexual offences; firearms offences; breaches of AVOs. These are serious matters with serious consequences. We want to change the law to make it simpler and easier to get those people out of Australia. And Labor's saying no. And I think that is an outrageous position, and they need to change their position because it's totally indefensible.
MARK BRAYBROOK: Well I would- I believe that the majority of people listening now would agree with you and find it very hard that anyone would disagree with getting rid of criminals who aren't resident - or aren't citizens of this country back to where they came from. I mean, it just seems common sense to me. But where do you stand now with this bill, it has to - where does it go next?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well we're very determined to get this through the Parliament, so when Parliament goes back next month we'll be seeking to get this through the Parliament. And you know, you're absolutely right, because we're a welcoming country and we accept people who come to Australia and do the right thing. And as you know, we welcome people from all parts of the world. But if someone comes to our country and commits a serious criminal offence, they have completely broken faith with the Australian people. They have demonstrated that they are not someone who we should have in our country as a guest, and they should go. And it is ridiculous that the Labor Party is not supporting this law. So when Parliament goes back, we'll be working very hard to try to get this legislation passed.
MARK BRAYBROOK: The New Zealand Prime Minister also is not keen on it because a lot of these people are from New Zealand. Is this having a- is this causing a problem with our relationship with New Zealand?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look Mark, what I'd say on that is, obviously a law has to apply equally to people from all parts of the world. So if someone is in Australia and they're from Sweden and they commit one of these offences, they'll be affected, and so will somebody from France or the UK or wherever. And New Zealand is obviously a part of that, it will obviously wouldn't have a separate rule for New Zealanders as for other countries. So the only people that are affected by this are people that have committed serious crimes to be frank, and it's a very important sovereign responsibility of every government to put in place laws that protect the safety of the country and protect the safety of its citizens. And that's what this is about.
MARK BRAYBROOK: It just doesn't make sense to me. The bottom line there- and you just pointed it out - if you obey the laws of the country, you have nothing to worry about.
DAVID COLEMAN: That's right.
MARK BRAYBROOK: Simple as that. Appreciate your time Minister, thank you for it.
DAVID COLEMAN: Thanks Mark.
MARK BRAYBROOK: Immigration Minister David Coleman. What are your thoughts? I just - it's a no brainer to me. If you're not a criminal, there's nothing to worry. Why do we want criminals, we have enough of our own, that we don't want to import them. And if you come to this country and you commit violent crimes - we're talking murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, threatening violence, non-consensual sex acts which in other words rape or sexual assault, sharing an indecent image, using or possessing a weapon, on your bike. What is so hard about that? Why don't the Labor Party and the Greens support criminals who are not citizens of this country being deported? It just makes sense to me that if you cannot abide by the laws of the country- maybe we're still being too weak. Maybe any sort of crime is enough to have you deported. Any criminal conviction potentially enough to have you out of the country, what are your thoughts?