Prime Minister Scott Morrison has launched an extraordinary attack on Labor leader Anthony Albanese and another senior politician as his government pushes ahead with a bill that would make it easier to deport foreign-born criminals.
The Coalition government is planning to reintroduce laws to parliament that it says would close a loophole to migration character test laws.
Under the proposal, visas for non-citizens will be refused or cancelled if they’ve been convicted of a serious crime that’s punishable for more than two years in prison, served less than 12 months in prison or are deemed a risk to the community.
It is the third time the Coalition has attempted to pass the laws, which were first proposed in 2019.
Labor says the bill unnecessary and a distraction – pointing to the deportation of world tennis No.1 Novak Djokovic as proof that the government has “God-like” power to deport who it likes.
On Tuesday, Mr Morrison said Labor had sided with abusers and criminals.
“Anthony Albanese likes to talk about whose side is he on. He is clearly on the side of criminals,” he told Sydney radio 2GB.
“They want to protect people who have committed acts of domestic violence.
“[Home affairs spokeswoman] Kristina Keneally wants people who have been convicted of domestic violence to stay in the country because the judge gave them a soft sentence.”
Senator Keneally told the ABC that Mr Morrison’s comments showed that he either did not understand the current law, or was a “liar”.
“Mr Morrison is either lying about the ability of the Immigration Minister to cancel visas for criminals, or he just doesn’t understand the laws right now,” she said.
Mr Morrison said judges in deportation cases had often handed down lesser sentences to get around existing character test laws to avoid people getting deported.
“Judges are handing down sentences which enables people to get around this, and we need an objective test,” he told Sydney radio station 2GB.
“We want to make sure we can punt them.”
The proposal will be reintroduced on Wednesday, after the previous attempt at the bill was defeated in the Senate late last year.
It came after Attorney-General Michaelia Cash confirmed in Senate estimates on Tuesday that the government would not introduce legislation for its federal anti-corruption commission before this year’s election. It was a key promise from the 2019 poll.
Earlier, Labor and Greens senators had expressed concern the deportation laws could mean visa holders were kicked out of the country for minor offences.
Serious crimes listed in the bill include violent and sexual crimes, breaching apprehended violence orders, using or possessing a weapon or assisting in any of the crimes.
Mr Morrison said 4000 visa holders had been expelled from Australia since the last election.
“We are being frustrated by soft decisions in the courts,” he said.
“We have a law in this country which is if you commit a serious offence, then you go, do no pass go, you’re gone you’re out.”
The government’s renewed push for deportation laws came as it faced more pressure in the second week of parliament for 2022.
Already this year, there have been leaks from cabinet, as well as leaked texts between cabinet ministers and Liberal colleagues. In one, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce had described Mr Morrison as a “liar”, a “horrible person” and a “complete psycho”.
There were also reports on Tuesday that another government leak would be exposed on evening news bulletins.
In addition, last week, five Liberals crossed the floor to vote against the government’s religious discrimination bill, arguing it would have put young transgender people at risk of being kicked out of religious schools.
In a speech to the Coalition party room on Tuesday, Mr Morrison urged MPs to remain united, saying “the most disciplined focus” would be needed for it to win the looming federal election.
“The focus and discipline that is necessary to win elections is no different from what we admire in many of our sports stars or others,” he said.
Mr Morrison said the deportation bill “highlights the risk of Labor probably more than any other”.
“It’s a bill that says the judges will no longer be able to use loopholes to prevent the government from expelling people from this country, who are on visas who have committed heinous crimes,” Mr Morrison said.
“That’s what the Labor Party wants to vote against, and that should bring a sharp contrast for us all.”
Labor has accused the Coalition of trying to reintroduce the legislation for a political wedge ahead of the election, due to be held by May 21.