From Controversy to Clarity: Australia Introduces Tougher Visa Regulations with Direction 110

"Since the beginning of last week, I have cancelled 40 visas in the national interest."

In a move aimed at bolstering community safety and addressing the complexities of Australia’s migration system, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles announced the signing of Ministerial Direction 110.

This new directive, which replaces the contentious Direction 99, emphasises the protection of the Australian community and common sense as its guiding principles.

Strengthening Visa Cancellation Policies

Minister Giles highlighted that the government has already cancelled numerous visas on character grounds to safeguard the community. However, he pointed out that recent Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) decisions have not always aligned with the government’s intent or public expectations.

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“Since the beginning of last week, I have cancelled 40 visas in the national interest,” Giles stated.

“Today, we take the next step in strengthening our cancellation system to better reflect community expectations.”

Ministerial Direction 110 clarifies that the safety of the Australian community is the government’s highest priority. It places greater weight on protecting the community in visa decisions and elevates the impact on victims of family violence to one of the primary considerations, reflecting the government’s zero-tolerance approach to family and domestic violence.

Addressing Flaws in Direction 99

The introduction of Direction 110 comes after a significant political and public backlash against its predecessor, Direction 99. This earlier directive was intended to bring a “common sense” approach to appeals by non-citizen criminals whose visas had been cancelled. However, it led to controversy when it was used to reinstate the visas of several individuals with serious criminal histories, including a man later accused of murder.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had committed to New Zealand in 2022 that Australia would stop deporting people with criminal histories who had spent most of their lives in Australia but were New Zealand-born and unable to become Australian citizens. Direction 99 sought to honour this promise by considering a person’s connection to Australia as a primary factor in visa decisions.

However, more than 30 people whose visas were cancelled on the grounds of family violence and other serious offences managed to reverse these cancellations by highlighting their Australian connections. This included individuals convicted of child sexual abuse and one charged with murder last month.

Under intense political pressure, Giles re-cancelled 35 visas and replaced Direction 99 with the newly established Direction 110.

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Key Changes in Direction 110

While Direction 110 still gives primary consideration to both criminal histories and connections to Australia, the principles shaping these considerations have shifted. Unlike Direction 99, which generally afforded a higher level of tolerance for serious conduct by non-citizens who have lived in Australia for most of their lives, Direction 110 only states that it “may” afford tolerance, depending on the circumstances.

Moreover, the new directive stresses that “the safety of the Australian community is the highest priority of the Australian government.” It also mandates primary consideration of the impact of the offending on any victims and their families, which was previously listed as an “other consideration.”

Direction 110 also removes explicit language that gives more weight to the fact that a person has children who are Australian citizens or permanent residents. Instead, it retains broader language about “family or social links.”

Minister Giles’ Stance

Minister Giles defended the new directive, stating,

“The revised Direction makes it clear that the safety of the Australian community is the government’s highest priority. This common sense approach ensures that our migration system is working always in our national interest.”

Giles argued that Direction 110 addresses issues not only with Direction 99 but also with the Coalition-era direction that preceded it. The government pointed to several cases during the Coalition’s tenure where deportations were overturned for similar reasons.

Civil Society Groups’ Response

The introduction of Direction 110 has not been without criticism. A coalition of over 40 legal, civil society, and human rights groups issued a statement expressing concern over the ongoing attacks on Direction 99 and independent decision-making by the AAT.

“We are deeply concerned by the ongoing attacks in media and political commentary on ministerial Direction 99 and independent decision-making in character matters by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal,” the statement read. “These attacks are misleading and discriminatory and threaten the rule of law.”

The group, which includes the Human Rights Law Centre and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, emphasised that Direction 99 involved only minor changes to previous directives and stressed the importance of independent decision-making based on comprehensive evidence.

“Everyone in Australia, no matter their background or visa status, deserves to be treated equally before the law and have their circumstances fully and independently considered before lifelong consequences are visited on them,” the statement concluded.

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