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People smugglers will exploit new visa bans to drum up business: Home Affairs

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Operation Sovereign Borders’ Rear Admiral Brett Sonter said the submission didn’t relate to any specific element of the bill and wasn’t a “new risk”.

“We know that people smugglers look at any changes, whether they are real or perceived, and they sell them,” he said.

The arrival on Australian shores this month of a third boat of asylum seekers in four months added to Labor’s political headache as it grapples with the High Court’s landmark ruling last November that made indefinite immigration detention illegal and led to the subsequent release of at least 151 former detainees.

Giles refused to comment on the case on ABC radio on Monday, but said the government “shouldn’t be frustrated by an individual’s refusal to cooperate in terms of our capacity to deport them.”

“What these [provisions] do is to apply to a very small group of people with appropriate safeguards,” he said.

Home Affairs officials facing the inquiry said there were up to 200 people in immigration detention who were refusing to co-operate with moves to deport them, nearly 4500 people on a pathway-to-removal visa in the community and about 250 more people – including those released following the High Court decision in November – who could be affected.

Former immigration department deputy secretaries Abul Rizvi and Peter Hughes warned that black-banning entire nationalities would not persuade their governments to take back citizens who don’t wish to return.

“Threats of visa bans will not change their behaviour,” said Hughes, who like Rizvi was once tasked with trying to get Iran to change its immigration policies.

Immigration lawyers fronting the inquiry said the bill could also capture several thousand people whose protection claims failed under the former government’s visa fast-track regime, a scheme criticised by Giles during his time in opposition and which the government has pledged to abolish.

Home Affairs officials said people in that cohort could lodge a request for ministerial intervention.

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Australian Human Rights Commission president Rosalind Croucher called the entire bill “problematic”, while the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre also warned domestic violence victims placed on bridging visas could be affected as there were no other appropriate visas for them.

Piumetharshika Kaneshan, a 19-year-old Canberra student, told the inquiry that under the bill she could be sent to Sri Lanka despite knowing nothing about the country.

“We thought the Australian community accepted us until we learnt the government was looking to pass this law,” said Kaneshan, whose family is in a Federal Circuit Court fight to stay in the country after arriving in Australia more than a decade ago.

“If I was to return to Sri Lanka, I would be frightened for [my] life … as a woman, I can’t imagine living there.”

Paterson and Greens senator David Shoebridge both accused Labor of silencing diaspora groups. “This is basically a gag on multicultural communities, stopping them from communicating their absolute rejection of Labor’s anti-refugee and travel ban bill,” Shoebridge said.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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