Topics: Strengthening the character test, visa cancellation for non-citizen criminals, Australia’s relationship with China, immigration detention.
LAURA JAYES: Let's go live now to Sydney and Immigration and Citizenship Minister, David Coleman. We’ll get to your portfolio in just a moment Mr Coleman. Do you agree with Andrew Hastie?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look in terms of the relationship with China, Laura, I think I'll leave detailed comments on that to the Foreign Minister, but obviously it's a very important relationship, it's a very important economic relationship. There are matters on which we obviously disagree with China but we continue to work very closely together on a whole range of issues. But in terms of the broader comments around the relationship, that's probably a matter for the Foreign Minister.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. The Government is at the moment seeking to strengthen the immigration character test. You already have some pretty wide ranging powers, why do you need to strengthen this further?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well at the moment, Laura, over the past six years, the Government's cancelled 4700 visas under the provisions of the Migration Act. Labor in the preceding six years cancelled less than 700. So we've cancelled about seven times as many, so we already have a strong record in this area.
But one of the issues is that if someone's been convicted of a serious criminal offence with a sentence of less than 12 months, it can be difficult to remove that person. And so what these laws will do is say that, if you've been convicted of a serious offence such as an offence involving violence, sexual offences, firearms offences or breaches of AVO's, that as long as the maximum penalty for that sentence is two years or more, your visa can be cancelled even if your sentence is less than 12 months.
So say someone has a sentence of nine months for a serious criminal offence, then in our view it is self-evident that that person should fail the character test and it is self-evident that that person has effectively abused the hospitably of Australia and that they should not be here. These changes will make it far simpler to remove those people - that's a good thing, because it will help to keep Australians safe and it will mean that we can remove more foreign criminals.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. But how many people do you want to remove at the moment that you can't because these laws aren't broad enough?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, we're not stating a specific number of people that we expect to remove under the new rules, Laura, but it will have a significant impact. I'll give you an example. There was a person recently who was convicted of six months - to a six months' jail - for serious criminal offences. Under the existing rules that person's visa was cancelled and that person then appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, who then reinstated that person's visa. Because the existing rules don't state very clearly that in that situation the person has objectively failed the test, there is that uncertainty and that ability for the AAT for instance, to overrule the department.
So what we want to do is make it unambiguously clear that if you're convicted of a serious criminal offence - an offence involving violence, an offence involving sexual matters, an offence involving firearms, breaches of AVOs - if you're convicted of a serious offence and you're not an Australian citizen, then frankly you shouldn't be in Australia and that's what these laws will make very clear.
It's remarkable in my view, Laura, that the Labor Party is not supporting these laws. Back when they were first introduced earlier this year, they opposed these laws, they continue to oppose these laws and I think that's an outrageous position because these laws are basically about protecting Australians, ensuring that we can kick out people that have committed serious crimes. It's self-evident that they should be supported.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. But there's a long list and diverse list of people and groups that oppose what you're putting forward. Looking at Section 501 of the Migration Act, it looks like you do have already broad discretionary powers, as I say. It's not just Labor, it's the New Zealand Government, the Law Council of Australia, the Human Rights Commission, the Refugee Council, Legal Aid, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties. The list goes on.
Looking at Section 501, you have the ability to kick people out or deny a visa for anyone who has vilified a certain section of Australian people. So people watching this this morning might be thinking: well, you have the powers to stop people like Mr Kassam entering and you haven't used the powers already available to you.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, on that point about the discretionary powers, Laura, the reality is that because those powers are subjective and discretionary, they are subject to appeal and they are subject to the overruling decisions that are made.
What this law is about saying is making it objective. So rather than a subjective ability, we say very clearly in the legislation - if you have committed a serious crime and you have been convicted and the maximum sentence is two years or more, then we want to make it crystal clear to everyone, including the AAT and including non-citizens in Australia …
LAURA JAYES: Sure. But you have your power at the moment. You have the discretion to stop people like Mr Kassam coming into the country. You haven't chosen to do that, have you?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, in relation to that matter and there's obviously, always issues involving different visa applications and I'm not going to comment on individual cases. What I think is very notable though, Laura …
LAURA JAYES: Why didn't you use your discretionary power in this sense though?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well again, Laura, I'm not going to comment on individual cases but I think the really key point, Laura, is that the Labor Party is opposed [audio skip] law to make it very clear that if you are convicted of a serious criminal offence, you should not be in Australia. That's the bottom line. They're opposing that, I think that's an indefensible position. I think that the average Australian would entirely support the idea that if a non-citizen commits a serious crime, then we shouldn't be offering them a visa. I think that's self-evident and I think it's extraordinary that Labor is opposing that.
LAURA JAYES: You have a lot of discretionary power as Minister. I just want to ask you this final question about this young Tamil girl from Biloela that, I think it shocked a lot of people to see the state of her teeth, they were rotting, she's in immigration detention. Have you been able to use your discretionary power to do anything about this little girl?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, again, Laura, I'm not going to go into individual cases. I would note that border- the Australian Border Force put out a statement in relation to the medical care and so on that's available at the centre in Melbourne.
LAURA JAYES: So is this all up to Border Force? Or do you have any power as the Immigration Minister?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well obviously, as you say, the Minister has various discretionary powers but I'm not going to comment on individual cases other than to point you to the…
LAURA JAYES: Okay. I'm not asking you to comment but are you using that discretionary power to do anything in this case?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well again, Laura, I'm not going to comment on individual cases. But in relation to the conditions in the centre in Melbourne, there's been some quite extensive information released by Border Force about the nature of that- about the nature of that accommodation and the fact that healthcare is absolutely available and of high standard.
LAURA JAYES: It doesn't seem that the evidence has produced that though, does it?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well no. I don't accept that at all. Have a look at the statement that Border Force put out on this. People who are held in detention have full access to medical care, to mental health care and to a range of other facilities as you would expect. That's the case for everyone who's in detention in Australia.
LAURA JAYES: David Coleman, we appreciate your time this morning.
DAVID COLEMAN: Thanks, Laura.