Hundreds of visas reinstated on ‘Australian connection’

Andrew Brown |

Christopher Luxon says it’s unfair to return criminals to NZ who have no connection to the country.
Christopher Luxon says it’s unfair to return criminals to NZ who have no connection to the country.

A tribunal has overturned the cancellation of visas in half its rulings of the past year, upholding a controversial ministerial directive to prioritise the holder’s connections with Australia.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal registrar Michael Hawkins told a Senate estimates hearing that of 367 decisions relating to the direction in the past year, 184 of them overturned a government ruling to cancel a foreign national’s visa.

Direction 99, which prioritises a person’s connections to Australia among other factors when deciding whether a visa should be cancelled, was made following concerns in New Zealand’s government about mass deportations of Kiwi citizens who had closer ties to Australia.

AAT registrar Michael Hawkins
Administrative Appeals Tribunal registrar Michael Hawkins was asked about the ministerial direction. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

The direction has been under fire after it was revealed the tribunal took it into consideration when deciding not to cancel the visas of foreign nationals found guilty of serious crimes.

Mr Hawkins said the tribunal set aside 184 visa cancellations and a further 100 cases relating to the direction were awaiting a decision.

Tribunal members had been “hurting” over decisions to cancel or reinstate visas following controversy over the direction, he said.

“We do worry about it, and the members who have been referred to in the press about decisions they’ve made, which have been made in accordance with their oath, they would be wearing it and they would be hurting,” he said.

“You own the decision, because you had uppermost in your mind, whether you were denying someone the opportunity to come to Australia who should genuinely be here, but their case wasn’t sufficient.”

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has promised to overhaul the direction to place a greater emphasis on community safety in tribunal decisions.

Anthony Albanese
Anthony Albanese leapt to the defence of his embattled immigration minister. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese insists Australia’s relationship with New Zealand remains strong, despite the nation’s leader expressing “grave concerns” over changes to direction 99.

New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon told reporters he spoke with Mr Albanese about the issue on Thursday and registered his concerns.

“I have said to him that we regret that decision that they have taken to modify ministerial direction 99,” Mr Luxon told reporters in Auckland.

“All I can do at this point is raise in very clear terms our grave concerns about the change to that policy.

“It’s not fair that we get deportees coming back to New Zealand that have got very little connection, or no connection to this country – that’s not right.”

NZ Prime Minister Christopher Luxon
Christopher Luxon has conveyed his dismay about the policy change to Anthony Albanese. (Mark Coote/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Albanese said trans-Tasman ties remained strong despite the difference of opinion.

“I’ve got a good relationship with Prime Minister Luxon, I’ll be hosting him (in Australia) in a short period of time,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“We have a good relationship. We had a good chat yesterday. Australia makes our decisions in our national interest.”

Mr Luxon said Australia’s prime minister assured him a common-sense approach would remain regarding deportations.

Mr Albanese defended his besieged immigration minister, saying he would not be stood down.

If immigration ministers were sacked when their or their department’s decisions were overturned by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, “then there wouldn’t have been an immigration minister in office for any time more than a fortnight”, he said.