Minister slams decision to reinstate criminal’s visa

Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil and her junior minister are under pressure over a visa furore.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil and her junior minister are under pressure over a visa furore. Photo: AAP

An independent tribunal that overruled the cancellation of visas, allowing people convicted of serious crimes to stay in Australia, is not living up to community expectations, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil says.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles issued a directive to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal – which hears appeals from people who’ve had their visas cancelled – to consider a foreign national’s ties to Australia.

Ministerial direction 99 was created in January 2023 following concerns from the New Zealand government that too many people were being deported despite having closer ties to Australia than they did to New Zealand.

A New Zealand man, known as CHCY, was allowed to keep his visa by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal despite being found guilty of raping his stepdaughter.

“We’re really deeply concerned about some of these decisions,” O’Neil told Seven’s Sunrise program on Wednesday.

“It does appear that the decisions made by this independent tribunal are not meeting community expectations and not putting proper stead on the importance that we place on community safety.”

The comments were echoed by Labor frontbencher Murray Watt in a parliamentary hearing.

The government was advised the direction would be unlikely to result in “people committing serious offences being able to have their visa cancellation overturned”.

“That’s what has happened,” he said.

“I don’t think these decisions by the AAT were in line with the government’s intention … and frankly, I don’t think these AAT decisions are in line with community expectations either.”

But his comments drew a rebuke from Liberal senator Paul Scarr, who accused the minister of disparaging judicial officers.

“The minister is a lawyer, he understands the issue arising with respect to making a general slur against independent members, some of who are judicial members, of the AAT,” he said.

“It’s your direction that is the problem, minister, not the members of the AAT.”

Watt accused the Liberals of holding themselves to a different standard, pointing to similar comments Opposition Leader Peter Dutton made about tribunal decisions when he was a minister.

It comes after Home Affairs secretary Stephanie Foster admitted her department failed to give advice to Immigration Minister Andrew Giles about the tribunal decisions.

“The department did fail him (Giles),” she said.

Cases were prioritised to be brought to the minister’s attention to manage a backlog it was not resourced to handle, Foster said.

“Had we had sufficient resources to process that quickly, we would have achieved the intent of that proposed way of working,” she said, referring to the minister being notified of all relevant cases.

Under the direction, factors needed to be taken into consideration for visa cases include the protection of the community, whether conduct constituted family violence, the ties of the person to Australia and the best interests of children.


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