Topics: Strengthening the character test, visa cancellation for non-citizen criminals, Australia’s relationship with China.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good morning. Recently the Government introduced to Parliament bills to strengthen the character test, under which non-citizens can have their visas cancelled or their visas refused. These are very important laws and it is outrageous that the Labor party is opposing them.
What these laws will mean is that foreign criminals who have committed serious crimes like violent crimes, sexual offences, firearms offences and the breaching of AVOs, can have their visas cancelled on an objective basis and have their visas refused.
This is really important because it means that we will be able to stop more foreign criminals from entering Australia and it also means that we’ll be able to kick out more foreign criminals from Australia.
These are very serious offences – offences involving violence, sexual offences, firearms offences and the breaching of AVOs.
The Labor Party’s position is that the Government should not strengthen the law to make it easier to kick out foreign criminals who have committed serious crimes, violent crimes, sexual offences, firearms offences, breach of AVOs. The Labor Party says the law should not be strengthened to enable that to happen. That is an outrageous position for the Labor Party to take and I am calling on the Labor Party to reverse its position on this issue, to support the Government in these every important measures, to strengthen the character test and to protect Australians from non-citizens who have committed violent crimes. These are very important laws, it’s outrageous the Labor Party isn’t supporting them and they need to change their position.
JOURNALIST: Are you prepared for an even stronger backlash from our Kiwi cousins over this?
DAVID COLEMAN: These laws will apply across the board, regardless of what country people are from, whether you are from the UK, from Sweden, whether you are from New Zealand or wherever. What matters is, a person has committed a crime, not where they come from.
Obviously it will apply to New Zealand in the same way that the laws will apply to people from other countries around the world.
JOURNALIST: What are you doing to explain this to New Zealand, to the UK, where they have large numbers of citizens that could be caught up in this now.
DAVID COLEMAN: As you know, this issue’s been raised over the years by New Zealand, but the reality is the Australian Government sets the laws for Australia. We set those laws so that they apply regardless of what country people are from. They apply equally across the board, and that's appropriate. We obviously don't exclude particular countries, it applies to everyone.
This is about protecting Australians from serious criminals. That is a fundamental responsibility of the Government. That's what this is about. Frankly, if someone has come to Australia and committed a serious crime, we don't want them in this country. And the Labor Party is saying we should not make laws stronger to enable us to keep those people out.
JOURNALIST: Do you have an assessment of the current number of people that could be caught up in this net once the legislation passes?
DAVID COLEMAN: Look, we're not forecasting a particular number of people but there's no question this will affect a substantial number of people, and this will mean more criminals who are not citizens of Australia get kicked out of Australia. That's a good thing.
We've already cancelled visas, seven times as many people as Labor did. So in the first six years of this Government, we cancelled the visas of 4700 non-citizens. In the six years of Labor, they only cancelled 650 visas. So we've already put in place much stronger laws but we need to strengthen them further so that we can kick out people that break the laws of Australia, that frankly disrespect our hospitality, and get them out of Australia.
JOURNALIST: But do you have a figure - hundreds or thousands? Any sort of ballpark?
DAVID COLEMAN: I wouldn't say a particular figure but I would say these are significant laws. It is outrageous that the Labor Party is not backing these laws. I mean, what is the Labor Party saying here? The Labor Party is saying that the Government should not strengthen the law of Australia to make it simpler to kick out foreign criminals. That is the Labor Party's position. That is an absurd position for them to take. It is an outrageous position.
If someone has committed a crime, a serious crime in Australia, and been sentenced to six months or nine months in jail, why would we not want to send a very clear message that that is unacceptable. Australians will not accept that, and that person's visa should be cancelled. It's very clear that the Labor Party is saying that Government should not do that, it's a ridiculous position.
JOURNALIST: On another matter, are you concerned about how Chinese Australians would feel about Andrew Hastie’s recent comment?
DAVID COLEMAN: In terms of the Chinese Australian community, we obviously have a large number of Australians with Chinese background who contribute immensely to our country. We have a very important relationship with China obviously in terms of our economic relationship. Obviously there are matters on which China and Australia disagree, but I'd leave more detailed comments on those matters to the Foreign Minister.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with that position though, that Australia is at risk of being complacent with Beijing?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, again, I wouldn't - I'm not going to respond specifically to those comments.
JOURNALIST: Do you have a position on that?
DAVID COLEMAN: Look, again, I'm not going to respond specifically to those comments, other than to say that it's obviously a very important relationship we have with China, a very strong economic relationship. Other areas of the relationship, there are matters obviously on which we disagree, but the broader matters of our relationship with China are matters for the Foreign Minister.
JOURNALIST: Are Australian MPs afraid to talk about this because of the economic relationship?
DAVID COLEMAN: We have a very important relationship with China; an important economic relationship, we have manners on which we disagree, but again, the more detailed discussions about those international relationships, whether with China or with other nations, are a matter for the Foreign Minister.
JOURNALIST: Back on the character strength test, why is it being made retrospective?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, if a foreign criminal has committed a serious crime, then we want to do everything we can to get that person out of Australia. We have no tolerance for that whatsoever.
If someone has committed a sexual offence, a violent offence, a firearms offence in Australia, then our priority as a government is to keep Australians safe. That person is not an Australian citizen, they are a guest in our country, and if they've committed such a crime, then they should objectively fail the character test, and that's the case, that's very strongly the Government's position, and indeed as it is with some of the existing rules that are in place, in terms of the timeframes that apply.
We make no apology for taking a strong stand on this issue. We're going to do everything we can to protect Australians. The Labor Party needs to explain why is it opposing the Government in putting in place stronger laws to protect Australians from people who aren't Australian citizens, and who commit serious crimes. And the Labor Party has a lot of explaining to do on this issue.
JOURNALIST: Just lastly, Australia has a very Australia-centric policy of keeping Australia safe, but on the world stage, it is important to build cooperation. Does this not make it harder at all with New Zealand and the UK?
DAVID COLEMAN: Every nation has the ability to set its own sovereign policies. That's what we're doing. We're the Government of Australia. And our overarching priority is to keep Australians safe. And if there is someone that has committed a serious criminal offence, who is not an Australian, the means by which we can cancel their visa is very important. This is about strengthening what we already have in some very strong laws that are already in place, mandatory cancellations for people who commit crimes with more than 12 months sentence. But we need to further strengthen those rules, so that we can also more easily cancel the visas of criminals who have committed these very serious crimes.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]
DAVID COLEMAN: We introduced these laws in the last sitting week of Parliament, and they will be coming back to Parliament when we resume. We need to get these laws through the Parliament. If the Labor Party [indistinct] us, they will sail through the Parliament. Why is the Labor Party not backing the Government, and laws that are all about protecting Australians from foreign criminals; people who have committed extremely serious crimes. The Labor Party says the Government should not strengthen those laws - that's an absurd proposition, it's indefensible, and it needs to be changed.