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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 569


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (10:01): When this debate adjourned last week I was speaking about the nature of this bill, the Migration Amendment (Character Cancellation Consequential Provisions) Bill, specifically about the fact that it extends the minister's power to cancel visas and, in fact, not only allows him to overrule decisions made by officials of his department but gives him the power to overturn a decision of a review tribunal. As I was pointing out, that exempts him from the rules of natural justice.

It is also worth the Senate's noting that these amendments also mean that those subject to a minister's cancellation power could be detained if there is a mere reasonable suspicion that the minister might cancel their visa—in effect, allowing the government to pre-empt a ruling by the judicial system. Another way of putting that, of course, is to presume a person guilty before they have an opportunity to prove their innocence. In that context, it is worth noting also that in Australia these days you can be retained in prison for something you might do in the future. It is an incredibly Orwellian series of amendment bills that we are seeing this government bring before the parliament, that continue an erosion of the human rights and civil liberties in this country that so many Australians have fought to protect over the last century and more, and for which so many Australians have, tragically, died.

This bill removes important procedural safeguards which deprive those affected of information regarding their legal and administrative options. We are talking here about people who are potentially in prison, people who are already extremely vulnerable people and who may not know their rights, who may not know the law and who in some cases may not even speak or understand English to a satisfactory level.

The Refugee Council of Australia summed it up very well, in the Australian Greens view, in their submission to the inquiry into the bill. They said the bill 'compounds the grave unfairness' of provisions introduced in 2014, including:

… automatic cancellation of visas on certain grounds, new personal powers of the Minister to set aside decisions by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or Departmental officers, and increasing the circumstances in which a person would fail the 'character test'.

The powers have the practical effect of depriving a person of liberty and the right of residence in this country at the virtually unfettered discretion of the Minister, without any real review.

That is the problem in this bill, articulated in a nutshell, very succinctly and clearly, by the Refugee Council of Australia. It is the Greens submission to the Senate that there is a lack of procedural fairness in the amendments proposed and an absence of appropriate safeguards in the new cancellation process. Of course, submissions to the inquiry into the bill reflect that. Those submissions include that of the Refugee Council of Australia but are not limited to that one. The Greens will not be supporting this unfair bill.

During my second reading contribution last week I foreshadowed that the Greens would be moving a second reading amendment, so now I move the amendment on sheet 8040 revised:

At the end of the motion, add "but the Senate is of the opinion that the Australian Parliament should have the right to deny entry to any Head of State or Head of Government on character grounds".

I want to speak briefly to this amendment. At the moment, character test provisions are indeed in place, thanks to the construct of the existing act. However, they are to be applied by the minister for immigration. We have no confidence that the current minister for immigration will apply the character test as constructed in the act in any reasonable way at all.

We want to be clear that we are only talking here about a potential entry by a head of state or head of government. One of the reasons we think the parliament should have the capacity to make this decision is that visits by heads of state or heads of government are inevitably very symbolic visits. The things that happen while a head of government is here are widely reported in the media, and whether or not Australia as a country allows a head of state to visit our country is something that will influence the political conversation in this country and something that a lot of Australians will feel very strongly about.

Rather than the consideration around the character of a head of state or head of government happening inside the minister's head, which is where it happens at the moment under the current provisions of the act, we think that the parliament should have the right to make that determination. In other words, the parliament should be able to have a debate about whether a head of state or head of government can come into Australia in the context of that person's character. We could have the debate in front of the Australian people, in front of the media who report on what we do in this place. It is effectively a motion which allows for sunlight to be shone on an assessment of the character of a foreign head of state or head of government. We believe an appropriate mechanism would be for any senator to be able to effectively move a disallowance motion that would allow the Senate to reject the entry of a foreign head of state or head of government on character grounds.

I am not going to make any bones about this. This was crystallised for us by the election of Donald Trump as the US president, and I said that publicly last week. We would submit that, on any reasonable assessment of Mr Trump's character, he would fail the character test. He has greenlighted sexual assault on women. He has mocked people with disabilities. He is undermining fundamental rule of law in the United States. There have been any number of actions taken by Mr Trump and words uttered by Mr Trump, whether they be in interviews, press conferences or via his Twitter account, that call into serious question his character. Voting against this motion put forward by the Greens would effectively be the parliament voting to deny itself the opportunity to make their views heard on this matter. So I do commend this amendment to the Senate.