Dutton is finally gone and Home Affairs has a new minister, Karen Andrews. The question now is whether she will follow in the needlessly hardline footsteps of her predecessor or seek to make her mark by adopting a more balanced approach to the portfolio.
If the minister chooses the latter, one area that requires urgent reform is the 501 cancellations that have recently led to the department effectively coercing a 15 year old boy into accepting removal to New Zealand.
For those playing at home who don’t dig around into the vagaries of immigration law for fun, 501 is the section of the Migration Act that deals with the cancellations of visas of ‘non-citizens’ who fail the character test.
Recently, they’ve hit the mainstream because, well, there’s a lot more of them happening.
That and the majority of them are happening to New Zealand citizens with tenuous, at best, connections to that country. Unsurprisingly, our Kiwi mates are none too enthused about this situation leading to a persistent point of friction between us and our closest ally that, realistically, will only worsen if nothing changes.
So how did we get here? The problem has been caused by changes to the Migration Act in 2014 that lowered the threshold for deportation of criminals from 24 months incarceration to just 12. At the same time it made cancellation of these people’s visas mandatory.
The amendment won bipartisan support after the department, in front of a senate committee, argued that it would not significantly increase the numbers of people being deported:
The proposed amendments are not designed to necessarily result in large increases in the number of people whose visa applications are refused and/or whose visas are cancelled. While it is expected the cohort of non-citizens who will be affected by this amendment are relatively small the criminality and risk posed by this cohort to the Australian community is significant.
7 years on, the department now boasts on its website a 1240 % increase in deportations on character grounds. True, the amendments did not lead to a large increase, it was gargantuan!
In addition to the deportation of the 15 year old mentioned above, the amendments have also led to the department attempting to deport an indigenous man.
Clearly something has gone very wrong. A law that was supposedly targeted at a small number of dangerous criminals has somehow snowballed into a behemoth that is causing some quite serious and egregious distortions. It is also undermining our relationship with our closest ally. This cannot continue.
The law needs to be changed, urgently. A balance must be struck between community safety and community expectations and this law fails to achieve that. In the meantime, Minister Andrews should immediately invoke a moratorium on deportations of non-citizens who have spent more than a decade of their life in Australia.
If the minister is feeling particularly adventurous she could even immediately stop trying to deport minors.
Just a thought …