October 4, 2023

Australia news LIVE: Home Affairs Minister lashes Dutton amid $50m integrity boost to department; RBA holds interest rates

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This afternoon’s headlines

By Caroline Schelle

Thanks for reading our live coverage this morning.

If you’re just joining us, here’s what you need to know:

The federal government will spend $50 million on tougher compliance and permanent investigation teams to stamp out criminal exploitation of migration.Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil also foreshadowed further action on temporary entrants to Australia who are rorting the temporary protection visa system.Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek says she’s “on the case” of supermarkets over soft plastics recycling, saying it’s taking longer than she’d like to establish their programs. Advocates for the Indigenous Voice will issue a new appeal to multicultural Australians to back the proposal. In state news, Tasmania’s former attorney-general will quit politics, ending a stalemate that could have forced the state’s minority Liberal government to an early election.Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and NSW Chris Minns will visit bushfire-affected areas of the state shortly, with homes destroyed on the South Coast. Lawyers hired to cancel the 2026 Commonwealth Games at least three weeks before the Victorian government told the public.And overseas, at least 21 people are dead and 18 have been injured in a horrific bus crash near Venice.

My colleague Josefine Ganko will be anchoring the blog this afternoon.


Judge imposes gag order on Donald Trump

By Farrah Tomazin

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s fraud trial has placed a partial gag order on the former president after he posted a message to social media targeting court staff.

The move came on the second day of the civil trial against the incendiary Republican, whom a judge ruled spent years fraudulently inflating the value of his properties for financial gain.

Former president Donald Trump stops to speak to the media during a break in his civil business fraud trial at New York Supreme Court.Credit: AP

As he appeared in court to once again face off against Judge Arthur Engoron and New York Attorney-General Letitia James, Trump put up a post on his Truth Social website showing Allison Greenfield, the judge’s clerk, standing next to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

In the picture, Trump mocked Greenfield as “Schumer’s girlfriend” and demanded that the case against him be dismissed.

“How disgraceful!” he lamented.

Read the latest on this issue here.


At least 21 dead after bus crash near Venice

In overseas news, at least 21 people have died and 18 were injured after a bus carrying tourists to a campground crashed off an overpass near Venice in northern Italy and caught fire, city officials said.

The bus veered off the road and fell close to railway lines in the district of Mestre, which is connected to Venice by a bridge.

Emergency crew members work at the scene after a bus accident near Venice on October 03.Credit: Getty

The cause of the accident was unclear. Venice city councillor Renato Boraso said one line of enquiry was that the driver, a 40-year-old Italian who was among those killed, had been taken ill before the crash.

“It’s an appalling tragedy, the city is in mourning,” Boraso told Sky Italia television.

He said the coach had been carrying 40 passengers, of whom 21 had died and 18 were injured.

Here’s more on the deadly bus crash.


ASIC was ‘shameful’ in its conduct towards farmers: inquiry

The country’s corporate regulator acted “shamefully” in its failure to investigate dozens of complaints of banking misconduct against farmers, an inquiry has been told.

A Senate committee examining the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) was told the body had declined to look into systemic complaints against banks in the case of farms being repossessed.

Niall Coburn, a lawyer who represented 63 farmers in similar circumstances, said allegations of predatory lending by banks towards farmers had been ignored.

“This alleged misconduct involves all of the major banks in Australia,” he said.

It is a shameful situation that nothing has been done.

Combined complaints reveal a primary pattern of systemic predatory lending or asset-based lending where loans are being provided on the value of the asset rather than the ability to pay the debt.

This conduct has been, is, and was illegal in Australia.”

Coburn said the repossession of properties by the banks, which had often been in farming families for generations, had caused “financial and emotional devastation” and had driven some farmers to suicide.

He said lessons taken from the royal commission into the banking sector had failed to be addressed.



Yes campaign deleted social media post featuring cross on ballot paper

By Paul Sakkal

The Yes campaign has deleted a social media post that showed a No vote as being marked by cross instead of the word “no”.

The Australian Electoral Commission has been reminding Australians that marking ballot papers with a cross will not count as a No vote.

Yes23 yesterday posted a mock ballot paper with a cross marked on it, arguing this was a vote for the “same old failures”.

A ballot paper with a tick on it was a vote for “better results”, the post claimed.

It has since been removed from the campaign’s social media pages.

A tick will count as a Yes vote because court rulings have deemed a tick is a less ambiguous sign of approval than a cross is a sign of disapproval, given crosses are often used to mark boxes on forms.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton criticised the long-standing practice of refusing to count crosses at the same time as acknowledging ticks as formal votes.


O’Neil flags more action on those rorting temporary protection visas

By Angus Thompson

The press conference has ended, however Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil foreshadowed further action on temporary entrants to Australia rorting the temporary protection visa system.

She said one of the issues highlighted by former Victorian police chief Christine Nixon was the ability for people who weren’t refugees to sit within the appeals’ system for up to 10 years as they went through various tribunals trying to claim protection visas.

Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil and Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles.Credit: AAP

While they are doing this, they are allowed to work.

“We have a reform plan which is on foot … and we are going to announce that tomorrow,” she said.


Fewer people leaving Australia is a driver of net migration rate: O’Neil

By Angus Thompson

Off the back of surging post-COVID migration, O’Neil said one of the real drivers of net migration was falling numbers of people leaving the country.

“It’s very pivotal to the net migration rate,” she said.

“We can’t run a migration system where people come to Australia … and stay as long as they want.”

O’Neil said those circumstances allowing people to stay for too long would change with the announcements the government is making today.

The Nixon review, which has prompted the announcements, was handed to the government in March.

Asked why the government sat on the report for more than six months, O’Neil responded the government had reacted in a normal timeframe.

“Governments make all sorts of decisions about when to release reports and what to do with the response,” she said.

The government is creating a broader migration strategy, to be released later this year.

O’Neil said the migration system was far too complex.


O’Neil slams Peter Dutton’s handling of migration system as minister

By Angus Thompson

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil accused Opposition Leader Peter Dutton of perpetrating “one of the great frauds” in Australian politics during his oversight of Australia’s immigration system as a former home affairs minister.

O’Neil said Dutton presented himself as a “tough guy” on border security but presided over cuts to staff and compliance activities in Home Affairs over several years, according to figures released by the government.

Clare O’Neil has slammed Peter Dutton’s performance as home affairs minister. Credit: Kate Geraghty

“We have serious and systemic problems with abuse in our migration system,” she said.

The minister added the cracks in the system had been used to undertake “some of the worst crimes known to humanity”, including sex trafficking.

She described the government’s overhaul of the system “as the most substantial reform to immigration compliance for decades”.


Government rejects more than a third of international student applications

By Angus Thompson

The government is refusing more than a third of international student applications, Department of Home Affairs figures reveal.

It comes as authorities grow concerned about prospective migrants moving money between each other to cheat the criteria for a visa.

According to the data, about 36 per cent of applications are being knocked back, a dramatic increase from 6 per cent in January, due to applicants passing the funds between bank accounts to appear as though each has the requisite money to study in Australia.

The nation is also faced with rising onshore applications for protection visas amid fears that many applicants are gaming the system that allows them several years of work rights in Australia as they go through the appeals process in various tribunals.

The government is expected to announce measures to combat visa holders rorting that loophole soon.

Government figures show exploitation of the visa system comes against a backdrop of the staffing of the immigration system being slashed between 2015 and 2022, as well as compliance activities over a similar period.


Government announces $50 million integrity boost to Home Affairs

By Angus Thompson

The federal government will devote $50 million to an integrity overhaul of the country’s broken immigration system to boost the ability of Home Affairs to share intelligence and investigate exploitation of the visa system.

In a multipronged response to the Nixon review of the migration settings that allowed systemic visa fraud, sex and drug trafficking, and the funnelling of international students into low-paid jobs, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles also announced a crackdown on migration agents and better detection of threats through biometrics.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil.Credit: Oscar Colman

“The issues raised in the Nixon review are not new. The warning signs were there. Now, we are getting on with the job of cleaning up [former home affairs minister, and now Opposition Leader] Peter Dutton’s mess,” O’Neil said.

“By once again prioritising integrity in immigration, we’re able to help protect vulnerable communities from exploitation, and make our visa system fairer for everyone.”

Among the reforms are the establishment of a new immigration compliance division within the Department of Home Affairs. A new multi-agency taskforce investigating suspected sex and drug traffickers, Operation Inglenook, known to specialise in obtaining visas via fraud, will also run for at least two more years.

The reforms have been prompted by the Trafficked series of reports by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, 60 Minutes and Stan, which also forced the Albanese government to commission the Nixon inquiry.

They are aimed at stopping what the inquiry led by ex-police chief Christine Nixon has described as the grotesque exploitation of foreign workers.

In her inquiry, Nixon concluded that it was clear that “gaps and weaknesses” in Australia’s visa system were enabling criminal organisations to exploit people and make money.

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