9 April 2024

Committee's first words on deportation bill not good for the government

| Chris Johnson
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The Senate committee is highly critical of the government trying to rush voting on its deportation bill. Photo: James Coleman.

The Senate’s powerful Scrutiny of Bills Committee has blasted the Federal Government for trying to rush legislation through parliament that would strip some legal rights from refugees while giving unprecedented powers to immigration ministers.

Rubbing salt into the government’s already weeping self-inflicted wound, the committee comprises Labor senators who have joined the Coalition and crossbench to condemn the backfired political tactics.

Labor senators Raff Ciccone, Tony Sheldon and Jess Walsh are on the committee, along with Liberal and Greens senators.

The committee insists the government’s so-called deportation bill is far too serious to be voted on without proper scrutiny. Labor got its way in the House of Representatives last week before parliament rose for Easter by shutting down debate and attempts at amendments and demanding an urgent vote.

The Coalition joined Labor in rushing the bill through the Lower House.

The same day, however, it wasn’t so easy in the Senate as the Opposition joined with the Greens and some independents to send the bill to committee for consideration for at least six weeks.

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The Migration Amendment (Removals and Other Measures) Bill 2024 seeks to make it easier to deport non-citizens and harder for detainees to challenge the immigration system in the High Court.

It would also give an immigration minister exceptional powers to pause visas for citizens of countries that will not take refugees back.

Labor wanted the legislation passed through both houses of parliament within 48 hours, but the stalling in the Senate came as an embarrassing shock to the government.

Now, in an initial report, the Senate committee is expressing concerns that the legislation “may trespass on personal rights and liberties” and therefore the bill should be “subject to a high level of parliamentary scrutiny”.

It is critical of the urgency the government placed on the bill.

The committee further suggested mandatory minimum sentences of between one and five years for asylum seekers who refused to comply with deportation processes should not be included in thebill.

“While the committee acknowledges that the penalty and minimum sentence are intended to reflect the seriousness of the offence and act as deterrents, the committee reiterates its longstanding view that the use of mandatory minimum sentences impedes judicial discretion,” the senators said.

“The committee reiterates that the courts should not be limited in their ability to impose sentences with regard to the circumstances of the offending.”

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Senators also took aim at what they describe as “broad discretionary powers” the intended new laws would give the minister, suggesting the legislation should detail limits to those powers.

“The committee is concerned that such a significant matter is being left to the broad and unfettered discretion of the minister and is to be set out in delegated legislation,” the report states.

“The committee considers that the designation of a country as a ‘removal concern country’, the effect of which is to effectively ban those citizens from applying for an Australian visa, is a significant matter which is more appropriate for primary legislation and the full parliamentary consideration afforded to acts of parliament.”

ACT independent Senator Pocock has already stated he intends to move amendments to the bill to include a sunset clause to the minister’s new powers and also provide protections for women subject to domestic violence.

The Coalition also plans to move amendments when the bill returns to the chamber for debate and voting, but it expects it will ultimately vote with the government to pass the legislation in some form.

Meanwhile, Labor must endure continuing scrutiny of a bill it thought would cruise through parliament without debate. While that continues, it is also at the mercy of further High Court rulings over challenges to aspects of its immigration detention and deportation processes.

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Stephen Saunders2:58 am 04 Apr 24

Let’s not lose sight of the main issue. Albanese and O’Neil are going to deliver One Million Net Migration in two years flat, and they keep on lying about it.

Having gaily advertised our UN Open Borders across the world, to all and sundry, it is hardly surprising, if there is a downside.

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