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Government to introduce Bill to strengthen Character Test

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Australia will introduce new legislation to quickly deport non-citizens who commit violent or sexual offences.

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2021 introduces amendments to allow for discretionary visa refusal or cancellation where a non-citizen has a conviction for a designated offence punishable by at least two years’ imprisonment.

Designated offences include violent and sexual crimes, breaching personal protection orders like AVOs, using or possessing a weapon, or assisting with any of these crimes.

Mr Alex Hawke, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, said today 15 Feb 2022, “The Morrison Government takes very seriously its responsibility to protect Australians from non-citizens who engage in criminal conduct. We will act decisively to protect our community, as Australians expect.”

Two earlier versions of the Bill did not get through Parliament.

The latest version, to be presented on Wednesday 16 Feb, will include “some minor changes, to protect Australians from dangerous non-citizens,” the Minister said.

He added, “The Bill will broaden the circumstances in which visas may be cancelled and refused, and reduce the likelihood of such decisions being overturned on appeal.”

The Bill addresses gaps in the character test to apply to non-citizens who:

  • have been convicted of a serious criminal offence, punishable by at least two years’ imprisonment;
  • have received less than 12 months’ imprisonment for their crimes; and
  • pose a risk to the Australian community.

By moving the character test onto more objective grounds, the Bill will broaden the circumstances in which visas may be cancelled and refused, and reduce the likelihood of such decisions being overturned on appeal.

The amendments also facilitate the use of data matching and biometric information to help the Government identify people who are of character concern.

The Government’s power, it is proposed, will be discretionary, so that it will have flexibility to focus on serious crimes perpetrated by criminals who pose a risk to the Australian community.

The move comes in the wake of a visa being granted and then refused to an international sports star, although for different reasons.

Mr Hawke’s words today are also reminiscent of his statement in October last year when an Indian national with an expired visa was rushed out of Australia as soon as his jail sentence came to an end. “We take very seriously our responsibility to protect Australians from non-citizens who engage in criminal conduct.”

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