Australia

Fears fewer migrants will report family violence over deportation fears

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton wants to increase powers to deport foreign criminals. Source: AAP

The Law Council of Australia has warned a Senate committee that laws making it easier to deport foreign criminals will have adverse effects for migrant women.

Lawyers have warned migrants may be more reluctant to report family violence under a government proposal to make it easier to deport foreign criminals. 

The Senate's legal affairs committee is scrutinising proposed laws to lower the bar for criminals' visas to be cancelled.

Designated crimes would include violent offences, as well as common assault, sharing of indecent images and breaches of protection orders. 

The Law Council of Australia's Carina Ford said there would be unintended consequences for victims of domestic violence. 

"Fewer migrants being willing to seek the protection of the law due to fears of visa cancellation such as victims of family violence," Ms Ford told the committee in Canberra.  

Concerns were raised that women who are victims of domestic violence could also risk deportation if they are charged with aiding and abetting the breaking of one of the designated laws. 

Busy street
Lawyers predict a 50 per cent increase in the number of migrants who will face deportation under the government's proposed changes.
AAP

The inquiry heard the example of a woman technically in breach of a court order by contacting her abusive partner to ask for help with picking up children from school.

The Refugee Council also raised concerns that victims of family violence, whose visas are linked to their partner, may be penalised if their partner's visa is cancelled.

"In our experience, this creates a perverse situation where victims of family violence are in fact punished for the violence committed against them," the council's submission warns. 

"It also creates an impossible conflict of interest, as the prospect of losing their visa and that of their children may deter victims of family violence from seeking the essential protection from violence that they need."

Dramatic increase in visa cancellations

Ms Ford said the change would capture people who commit offences at the lower end of the scale, predicting a 50 per cent increase in migrants who would fail the character test under the new regime. 

"Legal Aid and legal assistance centres are under enormous strain and pressure and this would significantly increase the amount of cases," National Criminal Law Committee co-chair Gabrielle Bashir told the committee. 

Under the proposed laws, re-introduced last month after the original legislation lapsed, anyone convicted of a crime with a maximum sentence of at least two years will automatically fail the character test, regardless of whether jail time is imposed by the courts. 

Existing laws, strengthened in 2014, require a person to be sentenced to at least 12 months. 

Lawyers argue the government already has the power to send back criminals who are considered a threat to Australian society. 

The number of deportations has already surged since the 2014 changes. The bulk of those sent back being New Zealand citizens - something NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has described as a "corrosive" policy. 

Police back proposed law

Immigration Minister David Coleman last week boasted about a massive increase in deportations in the last six years. 

Mr Coleman said 4700 foreign criminals had their visa cancelled, seven times the amount Labor kicked out in the previous six years. 

Minister for Immigration David Coleman during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, February 20, 2019. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING
Immigration Minister David Coleman says 4700 foreign criminals have been kicked out in the last six years.
AAP Image/Dean Lewins
 

Other migration experts have predicted a four-fold increase in the number at risk of deportation as the laws are retrospective, meaning anyone who has committed a crime captured by the new laws in the past will fail the character test. 

The Police Federation of Australia has backed the proposed laws but wants them to go further. 

The submission from CEO Scott Weber calls for an immediate review of a non-citizen's visa if they are convicted of a violent crime, regardless of the punishment. 

The group, which represents about 63,000 police officers, also urged the Administrative Appeals Tribunal process to more effective. 

Additional reporting by AAP

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