‘Change at your peril’: Scott Morrison weighs into immigration debate

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Katina Curtis
The Nightly
3 Min Read
The career of Immigration Minister Andrew Giles is on a knife's edge with fresh pressure piling on the PM to give him the sack.

Scott Morrison has warned that governments fiddle with immigration laws “at your peril” as Immigration Minister Andrew Giles races to alter a ministerial direction that has led to a tribunal overturning visa cancellations for dozens of convicted criminals.

New Zealand has now bought into the immigration brawl, demanding answers from the Albanese Government about its backdown which will reverse a move to fix a long-festering issue that saw criminal Kiwis deported even if they had spent most of their lives in Australia.

Details have emerged of dozens of instances where the AAT had overturned visa cancellations for people convicted of horrendous crimes — but Home Affairs officials failed to tell Mr Giles the department had been losing these cases.

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They were linked to the “Direction 99” Mr Giles signed in January last year, which instructed decision-makers to “generally afford a higher level of tolerance” to criminal conduct by foreigners who had spent most of their lives in Australia.

It was issued after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised his then New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern that Australia would take a “common sense approach” to the deportation of Kiwis.

The Opposition on Thursday peppered Mr Albanese with questions about the link between his promise and the failed ministerial direction.

“Direction 99 was created as a result of the Prime Minister’s meeting with former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern in July of 2022. Why did this weak and incompetent Prime Minister put his close and sycophantic relationship Jacinda Ardern ahead of the safety of Australians?” Opposition Leader Peter Dutton asked.

Ms Ardern had also repeatedly raised the issue with Mr Morrison but he refused to budge.

As immigration minister, he put in place the original rule – section 501 of the migration laws – that required mandatory visa cancellations for non-citizens jailed for 12 months or more or convicted of child sex offences.

“The 501 rules were put in place when I was Minister for Immigration and Border Protection for very good reasons,” Mr Morrison told The West.

“You change them at your peril. We always ensured that Australia’s national interests came first when considering any request to make changes to these arrangements.”

Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, May 30, 2024.
Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, May 30, 2024. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

Mr Giles and his department are now working to issue a replacement direction.

The minister has also re-cancelled the visas of eight people and is examining at least another 22 cases that were overruled in the AAT.

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said his country was engaging with Australia “at a political level” on the changes.

“We accept that Australia has the right to determine what level of offending by non-citizens is unacceptable. But we do not want to see deportation of people with little or no connection to New Zealand, whose formative experiences were nearly all in Australia,” he said.

Shadow immigration minister Dan Tehan asked whether Mr Albanese had promised Ms Ardern at the July meeting Australia would change the ministerial direction.

The Prime Minister said Australia determined its own policy.

“Indeed, the request publicly from New Zealand was to remove section 501 — we did not do that,” he said.

“If the minister or the former minister or anyone who had been involved in any process at international levels thinks that you sit down (with another leader) and you go through directions and ministerial guidelines you are just wrong.

“That is absurd… The premise of this dry gully that the Opposition is going down is completely wrong.”

Mr Giles said he had given “really clear directions to the (Home Affairs) secretary and the senior legal counsel about exactly what I want to see” in the new direction and insisted he had been “relentlessly focusing day and night” on dealing with the problem.

A January 2023 department briefing to the minister about direction 99 said it could not come into effect until six weeks after Mr Giles signed it “to ensure procedural fairness” for cases before the AAT.

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