‘Get it done’: Backlash over contentious laws

Katy Gallagher said she wasn’t surprised the laws had come under scrutiny. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

A Labor frontbencher is scrambling to defend rushed migration laws after her party colleagues raised serious concerns about an extraordinary plan to ban citizens from other countries from applying for visas.

Days after the government failed to ram its last-minute deportation Bill through parliament, Finance Minister Katy Gallagher argued that she was not “surprised” leaders had raised the alarm and said she wanted the contentious laws passed as quickly as possible.

Three Labor senators have warned against giving the Immigration Minister “broad and unfettered” powers to ban visa applications from countries that do not accept their citizens being involuntarily returned.

“Our advice was that we had a gap identified in our migration laws and that gap meant that they weren’t as strong as they should be,” Senator Gallagher said on Wednesday.

“We went to move and to close it off quickly and, you know, the Senate had a different view to that, the opposition played politics and here we are, we’ll try and get it done as soon as possible.”

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said she was not surprised by the backlash. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles introduced last-minute legislation last week that attempts to jail non-citizens who resist deportation orders and ban visa applications from countries that do not accept their citizens being involuntarily returned, such as Iran, Iraq, South Sudan and Russia.

Under the proposal, new laws would compel an asylum seeker who had exhausted all legal avenues to co-operate with efforts to remove them, such as applying for a passport from their home country, or face a jail sentence of up to five years.

The Bill was handed down just weeks before the High Court is due to hear a case involving an Iranian man, known as ASF17, who is refusing to return to Iran where he fears persecution because of his sexuality.

POCOCK PRESSER - Construction
Independent senator David Pocock raised questions about the Bill’s urgency. Picture: Martin Ollman/NCA NewsWire

Senator Gallagher denied that the government had used the case as a rationale to rush it through parliament.

“The advice from our advisers through to the government was that this was a gap, it was a hole that had been identified, and that we should work quickly to close it. We tried to do that,” she said.

Independent senator David Pocock said the government had been “cagey” as to the urgency of its efforts to pass the Bill and said he had serious concerns about the unintended consequences of the laws.

“I don’t think anyone believes that this is good governance,” he told ABC’s Radio National.

“I’ve already circulated several amendments including things like removing mandatory minimum sentencing provisions and sunsetting this legislation so we can have a better look at it.”

“It was very unclear why this was so urgent and given how it was drafted, whether or not it’s going to be effective.”

Labor’s deportation bill has been referred to a senate committee that will hand in a report by May 7.