Controversial deportation Direction 99 not a mistake, Labor frontbencher Murray Watt

It was no mistake that Immigration Minister Andrew Giles issued a controversial ministerial order that led to the reversal of the deportation of some criminal aliens, said Labor leader Murray Watt.

The controversial order – known as Order 99 – was made by Mr Giles in early 2023 and required the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to take into account a person’s community ties when considering deportation appeals.

The policy follows several cases in which criminal aliens’ visas were revoked, allowing them to remain in Australia.

Speaking on Sunday, Queensland Senator Watt said it was not the Government’s intention to downgrade public safety to community commitments in the application of Policy 99, regardless of the AAT’s interpretation of the matter.

“Even the advice that Andrew Giles received from his department when he made that direction suggested that there would be no impact on people because these were serious crimes that had been committed,” Senator Watt told the ABC.

“That is of course not the way the AAT interpreted it. They interpreted it in a way that was never intended by the government and that is precisely why we are now taking action to change that.”

When asked whether the ministry’s order was a mistake, Senator Watt rejected that claim.

“The interpretation differs significantly from the Government’s intent… Minister Giles was not even informed by his department that the AAT was making decisions that were contrary to the spirit and intent of this policy.”

“It would have been a mistake if the government had said that we want to put length of stay above community safety – we did not do that.

“I think the mistake, unfortunately, was that the AAT interpreted that direction in a way that the government never intended.”

Amid sustained pressure, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced on Thursday that the government would replace Directive 99 and instead require that the protection of the community takes precedence over all other considerations when deciding whether to lift a visa suspension.

“Australian society expects the safety of society to be its top priority and that is exactly what this change of direction makes clear,” Senator Watt said.

Those whose visa cancellations were overturned by the AAT include a New Zealander convicted of raping his stepdaughter, a Briton who assaulted women 26 times and a Sudanese man accused of murder.

Senator Watt also backed Mr Giles’s claim that authorities were using drones to monitor foreign-born criminals, despite the Australian Federal Police saying in a Senate report on Friday that it was not aware of any such program.

“As far as I know, drones are being used as part of this operation, but more to monitor people’s housing to make sure that they are not, for example, too close to schools or other areas that they should not be living near,” he said.

“So drones are part of the operation to monitor these criminals, but more is being done operationally.”

In light of Coalition demands that Mr Albanese sack his Home Affairs and Immigration Ministers over their handling of the portfolio, Senator Watt was asked if he would be interested in a change of portfolio.

Senator Watt dampened expectations of a Cabinet reshuffle and said he was focused on his current duties.

“I really enjoy my current role. It is of course a great privilege for me to serve in the Cabinet,” he said.

“But beyond that, I’m really supportive of my colleagues and their work… I think Andrew Giles and Clare O’Neil have both delivered incredibly strong performances in a really difficult portfolio area.”

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