Topics: Strengthening the character test, visa cancellation for non-citizen criminals, Australia’s relationship with China.
OLIVER PETERSON: The Government, Federal Government this is, is ramping up the pressure on Labor to support tougher migration laws, making it easier to deport foreign criminals. It's going to strengthen the characterisation test and anybody who could be sent behind bars for two years, that is if they're on a visa, could be deported. To tell you more, the Immigration Minister is David Coleman who joins me on Perth LIVE.
Minister, good afternoon.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good afternoon, Ollie.
OLIVER PETERSON: Why do you want to strengthen these laws?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well because we need to ensure we do everything we can to protect Australians from non-citizens who commit violent crimes. So what these laws do is say if a non-citizen has committed a violent offence, a sexually related offence, a firearms offence or breached an AVO, then even if their sentence is less than 12 months, they should fail the character test. And what that means is it's a lot simpler for the Government to kick those people out of Australia, and that's the right thing to do. Because they are guests of Australia while they're here, and if you're a guest of the country, to go and commit a serious criminal offence is absolutely unacceptable.
OLIVER PETERSON: Okay, some things around it, Minister. Does it matter whether or not you've actually gone on to jail?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well under this new law, there are four offences that are captured; violent crimes such as assault and so on, sexually based offences, firearms offences, and AVO related offences. As long as the thing that you've been convicted of has a maximum sentence of two years or more, you will be found to have objectively failed the character test. So regardless of the sentence that's actually imposed, they're very serious offences, you know.
OLIVER PETERSON: Sure. So if you have a sentence imposed of 18 months, if the maximum is two years or more, you could still be booted out of Australia?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well absolutely. And at the moment, there's already a provision that allows us to do that for sentences of 12 months or more. But it's much harder if the sentence is less than 12 months. So for instance, we had a case recently where a person was convicted of threats of violence and stalking. They were sentenced to six months' imprisonment. We then refused that person's visa, as you would expect. The person appealed to the AAT and won, and the reason they won is because the law doesn't currently make it clear that if the sentence is less than 12 months, there's a very clear power for the Government to cancel or refuse the visa.
Now what this law will mean is even if the sentence is less than 12 months, it's very clear. And that's going to mean that we're going to be able to cancel the visas of more criminals who are not Australians. It's the right thing to do. And the amazing thing, Ollie, is that the Labor Party is opposing this. The Labor Party is saying we should not do this, and I think that is completely indefensible. This is about protecting Australians. I mean these are crimes that have serious consequences on the victims. You know, these are serious matters. And why on earth would the Labor Party not support a law that is designed to ensure we can make sure these people aren't in Australia.
OLIVER PETERSON: Well, I'll ask Anthony Albanese, because he will join me live in the studio after 4 o'clock this afternoon. Minister, how many people are at risk and would this plan be retrospective?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, we've cancelled 4700 visas over the last six years. To put that in perspective, Labor cancelled 650 in their six years. So we've cancelled about seven times more than them already. Now, this obviously is going to affect more people. We're not putting a specific figure on the number of people, but you know, there will be a significant number of people who are being convicted less than 12 months who will now be captured by this law, and that's a good thing, a very good thing.
OLIVER PETERSON: Well I read some numbers that it could be up to 10,000, and it could be somebody who has been convicted six months ago. So if this law, say, came into effect say 1 October, hypothetically, could that person, who was convicted last year, could they be deported?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well yes, these are very serious offences, and it's very important that we're able to protect the Australian community - bearing in mind that the only people who are affected by this law are non-citizens of Australia who have committed very serious crimes and been convicted. So, if someone's not convicted of a very serious crime, they're not affected by this law.
We have no tolerance for people who would come to Australia, commit serious crimes, and expect to stay. We don't think that's appropriate. And other provisions of the Migration Act already act in a similar way. We make no apologies for these new laws because they're going to help us to remove people that have done very serious things and, as I said, I think it's absurd and ridiculous that Labor's not supporting it.
OLIVER PETERSON: Well another person who's not a fan of this as we know is the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who recently on a trip here to Australia described these laws as having a corrosive effect on the relationship between Australia and New Zealand. Minister, are these laws designed to keep Kiwis out of Australia?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look Ollie, what I'd say is that the laws don't operate against people from any particular country; they apply equally across the board. So if someone's here from Sweden and they commit a serious crime, then they will be treated in exactly the same way as someone from France or the US or New Zealand or wherever. And I think that's common sense, that's what the Australian people would expect, that we would apply these laws consistently. It obviously wouldn't make sense to say, well, it applies to these countries but not to others, because what matters is the nature of the offence.
As I said before, the only people who are affected are people that have committed serious crimes. So, the simple point is that unless an individual has committed a serious crime, this has no impact on them. And obviously these issues around the character test have been raised by New Zealand over a number of years, but we're a sovereign government, we set the policies of Australia, that's the right thing to do, that's what we should do, and that's what we're doing here.
OLIVER PETERSON: Well as you say, don't commit the crime, then you've got nothing to worry about.
DAVID COLEMAN: Yeah, that's right. Unless you've been convicted of a violence offence, a sexually related offence, firearms related offence, or breach of an AVO, you're not affected. And if you've done one of those things, then frankly we should have strong powers to ensure that we can remove that person from Australia, and I'm sure that that would have very broad support in the Australia community.
OLIVER PETERSON: Just want to ask you about your backbench colleague Andrew Hastie, and the opinion piece he penned for Nine newspapers this morning, likening China's advance to that of Nazi Germany. Has he got a point, Minister?
DAVID COLEMAN: Oh look, I think the PM's addressed these matters earlier today in terms of the China relationship, and so on. Andrew's got absolutely every right to express his views, he has every right to do that. And the PM's made some comments about the importance of the China relationship in terms of our economic relationship and other matters. Of course there are matters in which we disagree with China, but I think the PM addressed those earlier in the day.
OLIVER PETERSON: Well, he's said that he's entitled to his perspective, he doesn't believe it will damage relationships, but the Chinese embassy this afternoon said it is of a Cold War mentality, and ideological bias. So, will this put at risk the relationship between Australia and China?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, look, again I would simply point to the remarks the PM's already made on this issue, and Andrew's got the right to express his views, and the PM's talked more generally about the relationship with China and I wouldn't propose to add to that.
OLIVER PETERSON: Immigration Minister David Coleman, appreciate your time on Perth LIVE, thank you very much.
DAVID COLEMAN: Thanks very much Ollie.