Monday, 22 September 2014
Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I am pleased to rise and speak on the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014.
I would like to start my comments by saying how honoured I am to speak in this debate following the member for Berowra, given that it is actually the anniversary of his 41st year in our federal parliament. We are honoured and lucky to have someone in this parliament of such immense experience—someone who was a long-time immigration minister under the Howard government and someone who served as our nation's Attorney-General for many years—to have someone of that experience, who younger members of parliament such as myself can take counsel from and learn from. I am very pleased to be able to follow him in this debate.
When it comes to the issue of our nation's migration and refugee policy the very first question we need to address is: do we have a policy of open borders? Can we have a policy where anyone who actually turns up can come and stay? I would like to reflect on a story that my wife's grandfather told me.
He migrated to Australia after the First World War. He lived here all his life; he paid his taxes and worked. When he was in his 80s my wife's father decided he would take him back home to England and went to organise to get him a passport. They put the applications in and when they went to the migration department they found that, even though he was in his 80s and he had lived in the country for almost 60 years, the department had no record of him actually come into this country. They asked him, 'Go back to when you first arrived in Australia—what happened? What process did you go through?'
He said that he simply turned up on the boat at circular Quay. He walked down the gangplank and there was no-one there, so he went on his way. He stayed in the country and worked for 60 years and then, of course, had difficulty getting a passport.
But the world has changed and those times have changed. Today we have over 50 million people around the world who would qualify as refugees. We have enormous differences with the living standards here and the social security benefits that are available to Australian citizens that are not available to billions of others in the world. We also live in a time of international terrorism, where there are those who do not like us or our beliefs and wish to do us harm. So in today's world it is completely unrealistic for us to have an open border policy on migration. Therefore, we need to set a limit on the number of people who can come to Australia. It will never be large enough. There will always be more people who want to come here than we can provide places for. We need to set a process of selection. That is what this bill helps to achieve.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the member for Cook, on how successful he has been in closing down the people-smuggling trade. During the election, we had the line 'stop the boats', but what we wanted was to close down the people-smuggling trade. If we went back 12 months ago, I think there would be very few of us who could have imagined the success that the minister for immigration has had. He has had absolute success in closing down a diabolical trade. By closing down that trade, the minister for immigration has saved hundreds of lives. He has restored the integrity to our immigration system. There has also been savings of billions of dollars of costs to the Australian taxpayer. But what is most important is that he has successfully freed up thousands of places under the Special Humanitarian Program. In fact, 4,000 places were freed up in the last financial year, there will be another 4,000 places freed up this year and there will be thousands more places freed up in years to come because of the minister for immigration's success. We know that many of those places will go to those persecuted minorities in the Middle East who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to come and settle in Australia.
I will now get on to the provisions of the bill. The Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014 amends the Migration Act 1958 and implements a range of measures which increase the efficiency and enhance the integrity of the onshore protection status determination process. The measures in the bill support an effective and coherent protection determination process which responds to the challenging domestic asylum seeker landscape.
There are 12 individual provisions, and I would like to take the opportunity to go through each one. Firstly, this bill clarifies that it is the noncitizen and not the minister who has the responsibility to specify all particulars of a protection claim and provide sufficient evidence to substantiate that claim. It is a simple process that everyone must agree to.
Secondly, the bill creates grounds to refuse a protection visa application where an applicant refuses or fails to establish their identity, nationality or citizenship and does not have a reasonable explanation for doing so. Again, I think this is a proposal that everyone would accept.
The third thing this bill does is create grounds to refuse a protection visa where an applicant provides bogus documents to establish their identity or either destroys or discards identity evidence or has caused that evidence to be destroyed or discarded. This is an important provision. We have heard many stories of asylum seekers flying into Indonesia with their travel documentation, getting on a boat in Indonesia and then destroying those documents on the way to Christmas Island. In fact, it has been documented that the people smugglers would encourage people to destroy their documents. This provision in this bill makes sure that, if someone destroys their documents or provides bogus documents, that person will have an adverse finding against them.
The fourth provision clarifies that a family member of a protection visa holder cannot be granted a protection visa on the basis of being a family member if they applied after the initial visa was granted. Again, this is a provision which I am sure everyone would agree with.
The fifth provision provides that the Refugee Review Tribunal must draw an unfavourable inference with regard to the credibility of claims or evidence that are used for the first time before it if the review applicant has no reasonable explanation to justify why those claims and evidence were not raised before the primary decision was made by the department. Again, it puts the onus back on the applicant to make sure they put everything up-front, and they must have a reasonable explanation if they have not done so.
The sixth provision clarifies Australia's interpretation of 'the likelihood of harm' and the types of harm necessary to engage Australia's non-refoulement obligations which will apply to certain protection obligation determinations made under the act, the regulations, administrative processes and so forth, irrespective of whether the assessment is conducted as a result of a visa application.
The seventh provision changes the test for assessing complementary protection claims and raises the requisite threshold for return.
The eighth provision broadens the operation of the statutory bar that precludes unauthorised maritime arrivals from lodging valid visa applications by providing that the unauthorised maritime arrivals who have been granted a bridging visa or a prescribed temporary visa will also be precluded from applying for a visa. Again, this is something that is needed in the bill to make sure that we have much more efficient and stronger protections.
The ninth provision broadens the powers of the principal member of the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal to issue practice directions to applicants and their representatives, including migration agents and legal practitioners, about the procedures they are to follow in relation to proceedings. This is a simple procedural change that gives the principal member of those tribunals more authority and power, enabling them to run those tribunals more efficiently.
The 10th provision broadens the powers of the principal member of the tribunals to issue guidance decisions which members of the tribunal must comply with unless satisfied that the facts or circumstances of the decision under review are clearly distinguishable from the guidance decision. Again, this is a simple method to improve the efficiency of the running of these tribunals. The eleventh provision is to:
…enable a Tribunal Member to provide an oral (as opposed to a written) statement of reasons when they make an oral decision…
The final one, the twelfth provision, is that they enable the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal to:
…dismiss an application where an applicant fails to appear before the Tribunal after being invited to attend.
It is a simple list of 12 changes to our Migration Act, which will simply increase the efficiency and enhance the integrity of that onshore protection status determination process. I commend this bill to the House, because it will provide effective and coherent protections in our determination process and it deals with the current challenging domestic asylum seeker landscape that this government is currently dealing with.