National Security

Five countries could be banned from Aus

March 27, 2024

Wednesday 27 March 2024
Courtney Gould
The Australian

Australia could ban visa applications from five countries under proposed new laws to thwart a potential repeat of the high court detainee scandal.

The laws would grant the minister the power to block visa applications from countries that do not accept their citizens being involuntarily returned.

Up to five countries are reportedly being targeted by the Albanese government – Iraq, Iran, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Russia.

The government had hoped the laws, which would see asylum seekers who have exhausted all legal avenues face a jail sentence of up to five years if they did not co-operate with an attempt to deport them, would pass by the time parliament rose for the six week Easter break.

The Bill was introduced just weeks before the High Court is due to hear a case involving an Iranian man, known as ASF17, who is refusing to return to Iran where he fears persecution because of his sexuality.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil refused to comment on the link between the case and the powers.

But she conceded the ASF17 case showed” that it is important that we have these powers”.

“It’s not the only reason why we’re doing this,” the minister added.

In a heated press conference after the proposal had been delayed to facilitate a full parliamentary inquiry, the minister repeatedly refused to answer questions about why the laws were so urgently needed.

She instead slammed the opposition for playing politics after it teamed up with the Greens to thwart the contentious changes.

“We have a government here trying to do something in the national interest and an opposition that chooses politics every day of the week … it is destructive and it needs to stop,” she said at Parliament on Wednesday alongside Immigration Minister Andrew Giles.

In a press conference earlier in the day, Coalition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said the government and officials had failed to demonstrate why the legislation was so urgent during a snap inquiry on Tuesday evening.

“They couldn’t explain how many people this would affect. They couldn’t explain what the consequences of this would be for any upcoming High Court cases. They couldn’t explain how or when they would use this legislation or who would apply it to,” Senator Paterson said.

While the Greens wanted an inquiry to report back in June, the Coalition amended the motion for a reporting date of May 7, a week before the budget.

Greens senator David Shoebridge Greens senator David Shoebridge described the laws as a “pure political play”.

“It would be negligent of this Senate to pass this bill on the half-baked assurances, incomplete information,” he told the chamber.

The legislation will now be delayed until May at the earliest, with parliament not due to sit until the government hands down its budget.

Senator Paterson said he was more than happy for Labor to have to recall the parliament to deal with the laws at a later date.

“If there is some urgent unforeseen need, the evidence which the government has not provided us in either hearing last night or in the briefings, then we are prepared to bring the parliament back to consider this legislation,” he said.

“We will bring our senators and members back to pass this legislation if a genuinely urgent need does arise for it to be passed. But so far the government has provided no explanation of what that is.”

Labor has argued the proposal would simply be closing a loophole.

Ms O’Neil said it was “one of the most common sense things” she’d seen come before the parliament.

“How can we have a situation where we have no legal power to compel people to work with us to remove them from the country when they have no right to be here?

“If you sat down with any Coalition MP, they’d probably nod their heads and say that sounds very sensible.

“We have a government here trying to do something in the national interest and an opposition that chooses politics every day of the week … it is destructive, and it needs to stop.”

Labor has been under pressure over their handling of the fallout of the ruling in the NZYQ case in which the High Court outlawed indefinite detention, prompting the release of 150 non-citizens into the community.

Many of those released had been convicted of serious crimes including murder and rape.

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