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Thursday, 4 July 2019
Page: 314

Mr COLEMAN (BanksMinister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) (12:03): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2019 is to strengthen 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 very clear message to all noncitizens that the Australian community has no tolerance for foreign nationals who have been convicted of such crimes.

The number of people crossing the Australian border is rapidly increasing, and while this brings overwhelmingly positive benefits for our country, it also enables threats to our security. We are 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 ensure that we remain safe and secure.

Consistent with community views and expectations, the Australian government has a very low tolerance for criminal behaviour. Entry and stay in Australia by non-citizens is a privilege, not a right, and the Australian community expects that the Australian government can and should refuse entry to non-citizens, 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 safer and be safer. The committee has more recently urged the government to pass and enact this bill in their report on Review processes associated with visa cancellations made on criminal grounds, noting this important legislation addresses community concerns related to non-citizens who commit acts of violence in Australia.

This bill will amend section 501 of the Migration Act to provide that a person will objectively not pass the character test if the person has been convicted of a designated offence which carries a maximum sentence of not less than two years. I and my delegates within the department will then have the discretion to cancel or refuse a visa on that basis.

By strengthening the character test in this way, the minister and their delegates will have a clear and objective ground with which to consider cancelling the visa of, or refusing the grant of a visa to, a non-citizen who has been convicted of offences that involve:

violence against a person, including murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, assault, aggravated burglary, and the threat of violence,

non-consensual 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.

In making a decision to refuse or cancel a visa on this ground, the department will need to take into account a wide range of factors contained within a binding ministerial direction. Those factors include:

the protection of the Australian community from criminal or other serious conduct;

the best interests of minors in Australia;

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.

In summary, this is an important bill that sends a clear and unequivocal message on behalf of the Australian community—the 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 non-citizens who are found to have committed these serious crimes. We make absolutely no apologies for protecting the Australian community from these harmful people, and we will act decisively whenever we are made aware of that.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.