Liberty Victoria urges Parliament to reject a flawed and unjustified Migration Bill

The Morrison Government is seeking to re-introduce the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Character Test) Bill 2021 (Cth) (the Bill) — which has already been rejected by Parliament twice because it is unnecessary and will result in unfair outcomes for vulnerable people.

This Bill has been before Parliament for 1,200 days and a number of Parliamentary Inquiries have looked into the Bill and experts have overwhelmingly criticised the bill and recommended that it be rejected. The Senate did just that in October 2021 when it refused to pass the Bill.

Liberty Victoria in its submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee said that the Bill was flawed as:

  • No compelling case has been put forward by the Government to justify the Bill;
  • The Bill sets an arbitrary and inconsistent standard of ‘character’;
  • The Bill, far from creating an objective standard, creates considerable uncertainty;
  • The Bill is inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations;
  • The Bill would have a severe impact on vulnerable groups within the Australian community, including victims of family violence, children, refugees and people with mental illness and the families who support them; and
  • The Bill would have numerous unintended consequences, including on the criminal and administrative jurisdictions and service providers in those spaces.

In prosecuting this Bill, the Government has made a number of misleading and incorrect statements about the current state of the law.

Currently, the Minister and his delegates already have extraordinary powers to cancel visas and there is no minimum standard of criminal conduct for a visa cancellation or refusal – the current test is broad enough that a visa can be cancelled on the basis of any criminal or general conduct, including on the basis of charges alone (without a finding of guilt). The Minister has previously cancelled a visa even where a person was acquitted.

Under the current law, any visa can be cancelled – irrespective of whether that is a permanent, temporary, refugee or family visa.

This Bill will have a chilling effect on victims of family violence who also hold a visa. The Bill jeopardises the recommendation of the Fourth National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children. In particular, we know that there is often a misidentification of victims as perpetrators of family violence, which leads to risks that family violence victims will face risks of having their visa cancelled and be further victimised by perpetrators who can weaponise the risk of a visa being cancelled against a victim.

Further, it is naive to think that victims of family violence will report breaches of protection orders if it may result in mandatory visa cancellation and break-up of the family unit (often people subject to such orders are allowed to live under the same roof as affected family members provided they don’t engage in family violence, and the family is economically dependant on them as primary breadwinners). Paradoxically the reforms could make things much worse for victims and discourage reporting. 

The Bill ought to be rejected by Parliament again – it is unfair, it is not needed and it will have a chilling effect on the most vulnerable people in our society.

Comments attributable to Michael Stanton, President of Liberty Victoria:

This Bill should again be rejected by Parliament. It is unnecessary, unfair and will create hardship for vulnerable people. We have seen through the Djokovic saga that the powers of the Minister and his delegates to cancel visas are incredibly broad

Instead of prosecuting this Bill, the Government should focus on ensuring that the process of visa cancellations is transparent, fair and reviewable.

For further information or comment, please contact: Michael Stanton, President of Liberty Victoria  or Hannah Dickinson on 9670 6422.