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Thursday, 25 October 2018
Page: 11109

Mr COLEMAN (BanksMinister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) (09:32): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2018 strengthens the current legislative framework in relation to visa refusals and cancellations on character grounds. This bill ensures that noncitizens who have been convicted of serious offences and who pose a risk to the safety of the Australian community are appropriately considered for visa refusal or cancellation. The bill presents a clear message to all noncitizens that the Australian community has no tolerance for foreign nationals who have been convicted of such crimes. This bill is in line with community expectations.

Australia is an accessible and attractive destination to visit, to do business and to live. We are a welcoming, multicultural, open and cohesive society. At the same time, we need to always ensure that we remain safe and secure. The government will not tolerate criminal behaviour of noncitizens. Entry and stay in Australia by noncitizens is a privilege, not a right, and the Australian community expects that the Australian government can and should refuse entry to noncitizens, or cancel their visas, if they do not abide by the rule of law. Those who choose to break the law and fail to uphold the standards of behaviour expected by the Australian community should expect to lose that privilege.

Following 115 public submissions, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration's report on migrant settlement outcomes, titled No one teaches you to become an Australian, noted that strengthening the character provisions will make Australians feel safe and be safer. Currently, a noncitizen would need to be sentenced to a minimum of 12 months in order for mandatory cancellation or refusal of their visa. However, this threshold is not capturing all those found guilty of serious criminality, including those who may not serve any custodial sentence and who may pose a continued risk to the safety of the community. This bill proposes that noncitizens who have been convicted of certain designated crimes be considered for discretionary cancellation or refusal regardless of the custodial sentence imposed.

Strengthening the character test in this way provides a clear and objective ground for which to consider cancelling of the visa or refusing to grant a visa to a noncitizen who has been convicted of offences that involve violence against a person, including murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, assault, aggravated burglary and the threat of violence, nonconsensual conduct of a sexual nature, using or possessing a weapon or breaching an order made by a court or tribunal for the personal protection of another person.

It is important to note that the amendments provide for a discretionary power only. It allows consideration of cancellation or refusal of a visa if a person is convicted of a designated offence. In making a decision to refuse or cancel a visa on this ground, a wide range of factors contained within a binding ministerial direction will need to be taken into account, including the protection of the Australian community from criminal or other serious conduct, the best interests of minors in Australia, the expectations of the Australian community, Australia's international obligations, the impact on victims and the nature and extent of the person's ties to Australia.

This bill sends a clear and unequivocal message on behalf of the Australian community that entry or stay in Australia is a privilege granted only to those of good character. Like the Australian community, the government has no tolerance for noncitizens who are found to have committed these serious crimes. We make no apologies for protecting the Australian community and will ensure our migration program is one of integrity and available only to those who will make a positive temporary or permanent contribution to our nation. I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.