Politics Analysis

Dutton’s deportation claims contradicted by his own record

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has prided himself on his hardline stance against asylum seekers (Screenshot via YouTube)

While Peter Dutton beats his chest over the Coalition's strong-arm approach to deporting criminal non-citizens, in reality, he has tarnished Australia's international reputation. Dr Abul Rizvi reports.

IN AN ARTICLE in The Australian titled ‘I’ll kick out any foreigner who commits serious crime’, national affairs editor Joe Kelly and national editor Dennis Shanahan report Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s claims on criminal deportations with zero fact-checking of Dutton’s record. They write a bit like the “chooks” former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen used to say he liked to feed.

The heading is classic clickbait targeting readers with no understanding of the criminal deportation process, which requires the potential deportee to be allowed to exhaust all their legal rights and then for Australia to secure the cooperation of receiving nations.

Dutton doubles down on his dog-whistling by claiming:

‘... no non-citizen who commits a dangerous crime in Australia should be allowed to stay in the country as a matter of principle...’

As usual, Dutton makes no mention of the fact these non-citizens have to serve their prison sentence before they can be deported.

He goes further by claiming these people should be deported "immediately". I assume he means immediately after the full prison sentence has been served, but he never mentions that.

Dutton would know that claiming deportation can take place "immediately" after the prison sentence has been served is preposterous.

When a non-citizen commits a serious crime and is serving a prison sentence, he or she is subject to mandatory visa cancellation and detention on release from prison. The non-citizen can request the mandatory visa cancellation be revoked. A request for revocation will first be considered by a departmental decision-maker. If that is refused, the matter can then go to the new Administrative Review Tribunal (A.R.T.). If refused at A.R.T., the non-citizen can then appeal to the courts.

These legal processes, no matter how much Dutton hates them, do not happen "immediately". Proper legal process takes time — the rule of law still operates in Australia.

Non-citizens who committed serious crimes were not subject to immediate deportation when Dutton was Minister (or under his successors). In fact, under Dutton,  almost 1,300 serious criminals had their visa cancellation revoked so they could continue to live in the community. The average revocation rate during the period Dutton was Minister was around 40 per cent. Hardly the zero-tolerance approach he is now advocating.

Under Immigration Minister Andrew Giles, the revocation rate was around 20 per cent. In other words, Giles was allowing around half the number of non-citizen criminals to stay in Australia as Dutton did. That was before Giles’ recent actions to cancel the visas of around 40 non-citizens whose visa cancellations were revoked since he was Minister as well as under previous ministers.

For example, Giles has recently cancelled the visa of a non-citizen who had been convicted of sexual assault but had his mandatory visa cancellation revoked when David Coleman was Minister.

On the ABC Insiders program, Coleman insisted he had no knowledge of the case even though the relevant non-citizen has recently been charged with another sexual assault that has been extensively reported in the media.

To enhance his tough guy image, Dutton has repeatedly claimed that he personally cancelled 6,300 visas but has provided no evidence to back up this claim. It is likely he is referring to the number of s501 visas that were cancelled by operation of law. But that would hardly be a case of him personally cancelling those visas.

Dutton did eventually try to crank up criminal deportations from about 2019. But what he actually achieved was to put a lot more people who had their visas cancelled under s501 into detention. These increased from 353 at end June 2019 to a peak of 938 by end January 2022.

But putting more people into detention is not the same as deporting them.

The number of people in detention who were removed from Australia actually fell dramatically under Dutton (see Chart 1, which includes all detainees removed not just character cancellations). While part of this would have been due to the closure of international borders as well as Dutton’s massive cuts to funding for immigration compliance work, there is little doubt a lack of cooperation from receiving nations would have also been a factor.

(Data source: data.gov.au)

Because cancellations under Dutton increased while deportations fell, the average time in detention (and hence the associated costs to the taxpayer) blew out. The number of people in detention for more than a year increased from 768 in June 2019 to around 1,000 by the time international borders were closed around mid-2020. The number in detention for more than two years increased from 281 in June 2019 to 400 in July 2020.

To cope with this, the Coalition Government was forced, at enormous cost to the taxpayer, to re-open Christmas Island Detention Centre, particularly for s501 cancellations who could not readily be deported.

A zero-tolerance approach to criminal deportations also assumes cooperation from receiving nations. No government that respects the rule of law can simply dump people into other countries, irrespective of claimed citizenship. The receiving country must accept the deportee.

Both the Labor Government and Dutton can be sure diplomats from other nations, not just New Zealand, have been watching the current change in policy in Australia very closely.

Any politician who assumes other nations won’t reduce their level of cooperation with Australia on criminal deportations is taking the Australian public for a ride. It is inevitable that other nations will reduce their level of cooperation with Australia if it adopts an extreme position on criminal deportations.

In addition, we should not forget that around a million Australian citizens live in other countries — particularly, NZ, the UK, Europe, North America and Asia. In retaliation, these countries may seek to replicate Australia’s approach to Australian citizens living in their countries. That sort of retaliation doesn’t actually make the Australian community safer.

But a lower level of cooperation from other nations on criminal deportations does impose major additional costs on the taxpayer and trash Australia’s reputation as a nation that can be trusted to behave with some degree of common sense when it comes to criminal deportations.

It would also require a minister with a lot more nous and competence than that shown by Dutton when he was Home Affairs Minister.  

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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