Community safety to be elevated in visa cancellations

Dominic Giannini |

Criminals who have their visa cancelled may find it harder to reverse the call under a new direction
Criminals who have their visa cancelled may find it harder to reverse the call under a new direction

Community safety is being elevated to become the primary concern when considering whether a criminal’s visa should remain revoked under a new order.

The immigration minister has come under fire for a direction he issued that allowed the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) – which reviews visa cases – to overturn cancellations if the person had a strong connection with Australia. 

The direction is one of a handful the AAT must take into account as “primary considerations” when deciding whether to uphold a person’s visa cancellation.

Other factors include family violence offences and community interests.

The new direction will make it “absolutely crystal clear for the AAT and departmental officials interpreting it that community safety is to be the number one priority, more than anything else”, cabinet minister Murray Watt said.

“The Australian community expects that community safety will be the number one priority and that’s exactly what’s being made clear through this change to the direction,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.

“The intention was never that it would be relegated below any other factor,  but what we’re now doing in light of the fact that these decisions have been made is to make that clear.”

The need to rewrite the direction comes off the back of sustained political attacks against Immigration Minister Andrew Giles, whose direction resulted in a number of serious criminals keeping their visas instead of being deported.

The direction arose out of discussions between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and then New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern as a solution to stop Australia deporting Kiwis who had no ties across the ditch.

When pressed on the example of 74-year-old Charles William Davidson from Scotland, who arrived in Australia when he was five and has been convicted of sexually assaulting more than two dozen women, Senator Watt held no sympathy. 

“I don’t think he should be Australia’s problem,” he said.

“The government has indicated that people like that do not belong in  Australia,” he said in reference to the cancellation of the visa in the first instance.

Davidson’s visa was reinstated by the AAT in February despite the tribunal acknowledging the serial rapist failed the character test after his ties to Australia were given a heavier weighting compared with community protection.

Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said the government had to toughen up when it came to community safety.

“He actually has to put Australians and our safety first before trying to appease any bilateral partner, even a close bond like New Zealand,” Senator Paterson told Sky News.

He still called for Mr Giles’ head to roll despite department officials admitting they didn’t brief the minister on a number of important cases where visas could be reinstated.

Mr Giles has repeatedly said community safety remains the government’s first priority.