16 May 2024

Urgent deportation bill not so urgent after all

| Chris Johnson
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The Federal Government’s deportation bill is suddenly no longer being rushed through parliament. Photo: James Coleman.

Labor’s mad dash push for new and far-reaching immigration powers has been deemed not so urgent after all, following an embarrassing fallout for the Federal Government.

The government has not brought forward the bill in the Senate this week, despite it initially insisting the legislation had to be passed before Easter.

The Senate decided otherwise and sent the bill to committee inquiry.

The earliest the bill can now be considered again in the Senate is the end of June, with no guarantees it will be brought forward even then.

The government tried to rush its deportation bill through parliament in the last week of March.

The legislation seeks to make it easier to deport non-citizens and harder for detainees to challenge the immigration system in the High Court.

New laws would also give immigration ministers exceptional powers to pause visas for citizens of countries that would not take refugees back.

The Migration Amendment (Removals and Other Measures) Bill 2024 was passed in the House of Representatives directly following its introduction on Tuesday 26 March.

Standing orders were suspended to make way for the vote, allowing little time for debate or amendment and wreaking havoc in the chamber.

It stalled in the Senate, which sent the bill to a two-hour inquiry that night. The inquiry decided the bill needed further scrutiny.

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Independent ACT senator David Pocock described the slap down then as an “almighty backfire” for the government, which he had already accused of trying to bypass proper parliamentary process.

Greens senator David Shoebridge said at the time: “This is a pure political play that is unravelling as we watch. This is about Labor trying to outflank the Coalition and move to the right of the Coalition in a bill that they seem to have just made up in some long late-night drinking session and then brought to the parliament.

“You couldn’t make this stuff up. This was meant to be a government that’s now run by adults but this was like some sort of kiddies’ crayon drawing being brought into parliament and then defended by embarrassed officials and half-briefed ministers.”

The Coalition teamed up with the Greens and Independents to delay the bill for at least another six weeks for a more thorough inquiry to be held.

That time has expired, but the wounded government appears to be in no rush to revisit the debate.

Last week, the Labor-led Senate committee recommended the bill be passed unamended, but Coalition members delivered a dissenting report proposing 17 amendments.

“The scope of this bill at the moment, as it’s presently drafted before amendment, would apply to thousands of people in Australia,” the committee’s deputy chair, Liberal senator Paul Scarr wrote.

“We think it’s really important to narrow down the scope of the bill and make it absolutely clear that these extraordinary powers, which would apply mandatory minimum criminal penalties, only apply in situations where people have genuinely exhausted all avenues to stay in Australia.”

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The Coalition also wants to include sunset clauses to parts of the legislation while refugee advocates have described the bill as draconian.

In March, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles stressed that the legislation be passed within days.

Now the government has realised it doesn’t have the numbers for the bill to pass.

The Opposition, which broadly supports the bill’s intent, will not commit to supporting the government without the amendments it is seeking.

Labor and the Coalition are now blaming each other for the stalemate, but the ball is in the government’s court.

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