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Wednesday, 21 June 2017
Page: 22


Mr McCORMACK (RiverinaMinister for Small Business) (11:32): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

On behalf of the government and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection the government takes its role to protect the Australian community very seriously. For the protection of the Australian community, it is essential that a government can take action where noncitizens in Australia do not abide by the law and who engage in criminal activity.

It is a privilege for noncitizens to enter and stay in Australia—not a right. The Australian community expects that the Australian government can and should have the ability to cancel visas of those who do not abide by Australian laws.

In late 2014, this government strengthened the character provisions of the Migration Act, making it mandatory to cancel a visa if a noncitizen does not pass the character test. Since those changes, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has cancelled the visas of over 2,600 noncitizen criminals, including more than 140 organised crime figures.

The purpose of this bill is to uphold the visa cancellations, and application refusals, on character grounds of certain noncitizens who have committed crimes in Australia and who pose a risk to the Australian community.

Specifically, this bill amends the Migration Act 1958(the act) to preserve existing section 501 character decisions which have relied on information that is protected from disclosure under section 503A of the act.

These amendments will not apply to cases where people have had a visa application refused or a visa cancelled based on information protected from disclosure, and they have had their cases either fully heard, or finally determined, by a court before the amendments come into operation.

Section 503A of the act protects information from disclosure when it is provided to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection by gazetted law enforcement or intelligence agencies to support a section 501 character visa application refusal or cancellation decision.

This protects the information from disclosure to a court, tribunal, a parliament or parliamentary committee or any other body or person.

The measures in this bill are in response to current proceedings in the High Court of Australia, in which the validity of section 503A is being challenged.

In practice, law enforcement and intelligence agencies will only provide information to the department because it can be protected from disclosure.

Successful strategies to counter crime necessitate that agencies like the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Agency and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) are able to share information on the activities of non-citizen criminals with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, while their intelligence and sources remain protected.

Protected information has informed many character decisions involving, for example, outlaw motorcycle gang members. Without the information supplied by the intelligence agencies, these criminals may have kept their visas and have been free to continue their illicit activities.

The minister at the table, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, and the government make no apologies for using every means at their disposal to keep the Australian community safe. That is our No. 1 priority.

Should the High Court find any part of section 503A invalid, there is a real risk that such an outcome could result in several non-citizens of serious character concern being released from immigration detention into the Australian community, or being allowed to return to Australia where they are currently offshore.

These would present an unacceptable risk to the Australian community and would understandably undermine public confidence in the integrity of Australia's migration framework.

The amendments in this bill proactively address the risk to the safety of Australians and reflect the government's and the Australian community's low tolerance for criminal behaviour by those who are given the privilege of holding a visa to enter into and stay in Australia.

All members who support tough measures to protect the Australian community from non-citizens who break the law should support this bill.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.