EDITORIAL: One word, three letters and an almighty mess for a floundering Immigration Minister

The Nightly
3 Min Read
Andrew Giles was defiant in a press conference on Friday announcing the reversal of Direction 99 - but he refused to admit it was a mistake.
Andrew Giles was defiant in a press conference on Friday announcing the reversal of Direction 99 - but he refused to admit it was a mistake. Credit: James Ross/AAP

What an almighty kerfuffle over a three letter word.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles likely had no idea the firestorm he would set off in January 2023 when he substituted the word “may” with “will” in his instructions to visa decision-makers.

That little change, contained in his ill-fated Direction 99, that Australia “will generally afford a higher level of tolerance” when considering deporting foreign criminals with strong ties to the country, has resulted in dozens of non-citizens convicted of serious crimes being permitted to remain in the community rather than sent packing to their countries of origin.

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The change was designed to appease the New Zealand government under then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who was sick of NZ-born but Australian-raised crims winding up back on its shores.

Along the way, however, the direction also offered a deportation get-out clause for those of other nationalities convicted of crimes including child rape and extreme domestic violence.

The damaging fallout forced an embarrassing backdown. “Will” will soon be gone once again, and “may” back in its place.

Mr Giles was defiant in a press conference on Friday announcing the reversal. He refused to admit Direction 99 was a mistake, even as he heralded its demise. The replacement Direction 110 also instructs decision-makers to put greater emphasis on the impacts to victims of family violence. The changes come into effect in a fortnight, meaning about 10 cases will be decided under the existing advice.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Mr Giles and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had made Australians “less safe” and had little hope that the revised wording would do much to change that.

“This new Direction 110 doesn’t give much change in circumstance at all, and it will still give rise to the sort of outcomes that we’ve seen in allowing these people to stay in our community,” he said.

It’s worth noting that directions instructing decision-makers to take into account a person’s length of residence in Australia when considering their deportation have long been in place. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal made rulings many times allowing foreign criminals to remain in the country during Coalition governments, including when Mr Dutton was home affairs minister.

But it will do little good for Mr Giles to point that out. He’s the one in the hot seat now, and appeals about the fairness of him being the one to cop all the blame won’t deter attacks on his competence.

There is blood in the water and the Coalition is circling, waiting for any opportunity to finish off Mr Giles’ ministerial career for good.

Mr Giles is hoping that Direction 110 will mean he gets to keep his job. If there are no further stuff-ups from this minister who has spent the past eight months making an art form out of them, it may.

Responsibility for the editorial comment is taken by Editor In Chief Christopher Dore

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