National Security

Labor’s deportation bill fails to pass Senate in ‘almighty backfire’ as Coalition and Greens team up

March 27, 2024

Wednesday 27 March 2024
Paul Karp
The Guardian

Labor’s controversial deportation bill will not pass the Senate on Wednesday, after the Coalition and the Greens teamed up to delay it for at least six weeks for a further inquiry.

In what the independent senator David Pocock labelled an “almighty backfire” for Labor, the Albanese government failed to win bipartisan support for a bill threatening non-citizens with prison if they don’t cooperate with their deportation.

Despite voting with the government to pass the bill in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the opposition announced on Wednesday morning that Labor had failed to make the case for the bill’s urgency.

The shadow home affairs minister, James Paterson, told reporters in Canberra that the bill needed “a proper inquiry” to guard against possible “unintended consequences”, revealing the Coalition plan to delay the bill until budget week.

The Greens’ new immigration spokesperson, David Shoebridge, then moved a motion for an inquiry in the Senate, warning it would be “negligent” to pass the bill on current information.

The motion passed late morning with an amended 7 May reporting date, as the Coalition, Greens and crossbench combined to frustrate Labor’s migration amendment (removal and other measures) bill.

Shoebridge told the Senate the bill “isn’t about keeping Australians safe” or responding to a “crisis in migration” but a “pure political play” for Labor to “outflank the Coalition” on migration.

The deportation bill gives the immigration minister the power to direct a non-citizen who is due to be deported “to do specified things necessary to facilitate their removal”, or risk a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison or up to five years.

It also creates a power to designate another country as a “removal concern country”, which will impose a bar on new visa applications from non-citizens outside Australia who are nationals of a country that does not accept removals from Australia.

Earlier, Paterson said: “We are very concerned about the failure to do work on third country resettlement options. We are very concerned this might inadvertently encourage people to get back on boats again.”

Paterson said that home affairs officials at a two-hour inquiry on Tuesday evening had been “unable to answer basic questions” about the bill and “couldn’t explain” the consequences for the upcoming ASF17 high court case.

The case deals with whether the government must release detainees who don’t cooperate with deportation, and could result in more than 170 people being released from detention.

ASF17, a man who says he fears for his life if he is deported to Iran because he is bisexual, has sued the commonwealth in a case to be heard on 17 April. ASF17 has refused to meet Iranian authorities to get travel documents, which the federal court has ruled means the commonwealth is not obliged to release him.

Asked how the Coalition would respond if the commonwealth loses the case, Paterson said that parliament could be recalled if “a genuinely urgent need does arise for [the bill] to be passed”.

Shoebridge told the Senate that the government and home affairs officials had shown “collective incompetence” by failing to make “a credible argument about why [the bill is] urgent”.

Officials had an “extraordinary in lack of information they had about what on earth is urgent in this bill, who the bill will apply to and the scope of the minister’s powers”, he said.

The deputy Greens leader, Mehreen Faruqi, told the Senate that new powers to blacklist countries for visas were “extraordinarily racist”, suggesting that Labor was not just emulating the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, but also former US president, Donald Trump.

David Manne, the executive director of Refugee Legal, has said this aspect of the bill is “discriminatory and extreme overreach”.

At a press conference after the Senate defeat, the home affairs minister Clare O’Neil said she and immigration minister Andrew Giles were “very disappointed” the Liberals had “stymied our government’s efforts to make sure we have a better run migration system and to improve community safety”.

O’Neil said those who would receive directions have “exhausted every legal option to continue to stay in our country, they have lost every appeal, they have lost every court case”. Australians would be “surprised” the government did not already have power to compel their cooperation, she said.

Giles said “Peter Dutton always says no, Peter Dutton always plays politics”, accusing the Coalition of failing to act in the national interest.

The Coalition position surprised the independents on the crossbench, who protested the bill on human rights grounds but believed it would pass on Wednesday evening with bipartisan major party support.

Pocock intends to move amendments sunsetting new powers after six or twelve months, and will also attempt amendments first moved by MP Zali Steggall including protections for women experiencing domestic violence.

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