Topics: Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character) Test Bill.
GRAEME GOODINGS: Well, the Federal Government is launching a renewed push to boot foreign‑born criminals out of the country. Legislation is being put before the Senate which will make it easier to deport offenders who have committed a serious crime. Joining me now is Karen Andrews, Federal Home Affairs Minister. Minister, thanks for joining us. The legislation has been a long time coming.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the Morrison Government has always taken very seriously its responsibility to protect Australians from non-citizens who engage in criminal conduct. What we are doing is pursuing further legislation to make sure that we have strong powers to quickly deport any non-citizens who commit violent or sexual offences. Now, we are talking about serious crimes, so it includes things such as date rape offences, breaching on AVO, it could be possessing weapons, it could be concealing child sexual abuses. So, these powers are very important to us. We need to make sure that Australians feel safe and secure here. We don’t want these foreign criminals being able to roam around the streets. They need to be deported if they have committed these serious offences.
GRAEME GOODINGS: Will it make it more difficult for overseas tourists to get into the country?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we don’t want people coming into this country who have a significant criminal history, particularly for serious crimes, such as breaching an AVO, child abuse offences, date rape; we don’t want these people here in this country. So, what this legislation will do is effectively make it more of an automatic process to exclude these people from coming into Australia. Now, if foreign visitors are here and they are convicted of a crime here, we will make sure that we have the powers in place to be able to deport them.
GRAEME GOODINGS: The Bill has been defeated in the past. What makes it different this time?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, firstly, I think the important thing is that this legislation has been before the Parliament for a very long time. It should have been passed quite some time ago. So, it’s almost beyond belief that the likes of Labor and the Greens have voted consistently against strengthening these laws, which would mean that these people are not allowed to keep roaming around the streets here in Australia. So, what we have done, we have looked at that Bill. We have looked at what we can possibly do to tighten some of the concerns that have been raised but let me be very clear: We are very determined that we are going to put this legislation back to the Parliament.
GRAEME GOODINGS: Does this Bill pretty well work both ways? It will stop criminals coming into the country and if they’re in the country already, make sure that we can get them out?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, so, there’s two parts to it. Basically, it means that people who have been convicted of these crimes will not be able to come into the country, but it also means that if these foreign criminals are here and they are convicted in Australia, then we will be able to deport them. So, basically, what this means is that if they’ve been convicted of something punishable by two years or more imprisonment but if they are only sentenced for less than 12 months, we are going to be able to deport them; and that’s been the issue in the past. So, this is really strengthening the character grounds to make sure that they’re not going to be able to stay here.
GRAEME GOODINGS: Do you have ready access to criminals’ records in other countries?
KAREN ANDREWS: We rely on sources of information to make sure that we are able to determine who is coming to this country and the grounds on which their application is made for a visa. People are required to provide information to us. They do attest to that information upon arrival in this country but in order to get a visa you need to go through a process and a character test is part of the requirements that you need to pass.
GRAEME GOODINGS: In the past, convicted criminals have had the opportunity to go to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. What happens in those cases?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, there will still be opportunities for these criminals to be able to pursue options within the Australian legal system and they are able to do that; and we see this played out all the time. And we see courts making various determinations. That’s why it’s so important that we have stronger legislation in place to make sure that what people want in Australia, which is to make sure that these criminals are thrown out of the country.
GRAEME GOODINGS: Will the powers be discretionary?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, there are discretionary parts of various Acts anyway which enable ministers to be able to step in and, quite frankly, we’ve seen that exercised in the past and they will be exercised as required in the future. But what these amendments will mean is that it will become much more of an automatic process, and it won’t rely on ministerial discretion.
GRAEME GOODINGS: Any indication of how it will be received in the Senate?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, it is now time for Labor and the Greens and the Independents to look seriously at how they are going to support Australians and make sure that they are not at risk of having these people roaming around their country wean they come out of jail. I think, quite frankly, it’s beyond belief that Labor and the Greens have not passed this legislation already. Quite frankly, it’s shameful.
GRAEME GOODINGS: Minister, good luck with the bill.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you very much.
GRAEME GOODINGS: That’s Karen Andrews, Federal Home Affairs Minister.