The Australian government’s proposed bill comprising amendments to migration laws has passed the House of Representatives with the assistance of the Labor party.
However, the opposition signalled that it would look for ways to modify the bill when the legislation reached the Senate.
Under the changes pushed by the federal government, the immigration minister will have more powers to cancel visas and deport non-citizen criminals.
The legislation attempts to “strengthen the character test” by lowering the requirements so that the government can strip visas of non-citizens who have committed a crime punishable by no less than two years in prison.
Non-citizens can also get their visas terminated if authorities consider them a risk to the broader community.
Opposition immigration spokesperson Andrew Giles said that despite receiving support from the Labor party, the coalition government still had to explain the additional authority it would grant to the immigration minister that they currently did not possess.
“The potential unintended consequences of the bill must be addressed,” he said.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke thanked the opposition for backing the bill.
“This is something we have been consistent on pursuing for the last 1,200 days for important reasons,” he said.
“It is not a racist bill … our entire immigration policy is non-discriminatory, and crime doesn’t have any nationality.”
Nevertheless, the crossbench raised objections over the passage of the bill.
The Greens party leader Adam Bandt remarked that the Labor party was supporting a bad bill drafted by a bad government wanting to be above the law.
“This bill will not make this country safer. The government already has extensive powers under the legislation—godlike powers—to deport people on the basis of character,” he said.
“In those situations, where someone has really done something so horrendously wrong that they are a threat to the Australian community, the government has already got the power to do something about it.”
The bill has also been subject to opposition from human rights and asylum seeker advocates who believed the legislation would cause more people to end up in detention, including those who came to Australia as children and have lived most of their lives in the country.
“The bill would lower an already excessively low threshold for the minister to be able to rip a person away from their families, lock them up in a detention centre and deport them to a country that is not their home, even when that person has lived in Australia for decades,” Human Rights Law Centre senior lawyer Scott Cosgriff said.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) anticipated that the bill would raise the number of visas cancelled five-fold in addition to a surge of more than 1,000 percent since 2014. Additionally, the organisation said refugees would suffer the most under the changes.
Jana Favero, the spokeswoman of ASRC, said the proposal was a racist law.
“It explicitly subjects non-citizens and refugees to a separate legal system, where some serve light sentences of community service and others are indefinitely detained for exactly the same offence,” she said.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said the opposition was unethical for backing the government’s amendments to migration laws.
“Labor is going to roll over for one purpose: to pander to its political self-interest to try and get more votes at the next election,” he said.
Bandt said he had enough of political parties using refugees, migrants and asylum seekers as political footballs in every election.
The bill is a third attempt to modify the Migration Act. The coalition previously proposed the legislation in 2018 and 2019, but it was defeated at the time.
New Zealand has held concerns over its close neighbour’s deportation policy for a long time and will object to Australia strengthening the law.