Legal experts have criticised the government's proposed amendments to visa and citizenship laws

The Law Council of Australia has called for the proposed amendments to meet the "principles fundamental to a democratic legal system".

coat of arms

The Australian coat of arms at the entrance of the High Court of Australia in Canberra. Source: David Gray/Reuters

The Law Council of Australia says proposed amendments to migration and citizenship legislation should not be passed into law.

Speaking before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, the body said there are concerns about new proposed legal provisions, which would allow a visa to be cancelled or a person's citizenship revoked on the basis of confidential information provided by government agencies. 

The new Protected Information Framework would be inserted into the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) and Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth). 

Law Council President Dr Jacoba Brasch said there is a lack of safeguards and accountability measures in place. The information provided by gazetted agencies - such as foreign law enforcement bodies and other Australian agencies - can be used without the person knowing the information is being used or having a chance to respond to the information itself. 

"While the Law Council accepts that there is a public interest in law enforcement and criminal intelligence agencies providing probative information to officials responsible for exercising character-related powers, the proposal to establish a Protected Information Framework must balance those interests against principles fundamental to a democratic legal system," Dr Brasch told the committee.

“These principles include the right to a fair hearing, effective judicial review, the proper administration of justice, and parliamentary and independent scrutiny of executive power.

"If passed, the amendments would apply to information provided by agencies determined by the Minister, without any parliamentary scrutiny; and of a kind which need not meet any statutory test as to its nature, sensitivity, veracity or the risks arising from disclosure."

'Disproportionate response'

The President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, emeritus professor Rosalind Croucher, said "the bill is a disproportionate response to this objective" of protecting information relating to Australia's national security and sensitive criminal investigations.

"This bill would allow agencies to keep secret a broad range of information of lesser significance and without a proper assessment of whether it would be in the public interest for it to be disclosed, when it is relied on as a basis for cancelling someone's visa," Professor Croucher said.

"All agencies, including security agencies make mistakes at times ... For people who have their visas cancelled on character grounds to properly and fairly test the basis for those cancellations, they should be provided with access to the material relied on by government to make those decisions.

"If there are legitimate public interest grounds for non-disclosure, they should be adjudicated on by an independent court, able to take into account the full range of relevant circumstances."

Published 27 August 2021 at 8:58pm
By SBS News
Source: SBS News