Monday, 22 September 2014
Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I rise to speak in support of the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014. Not having spoken on such matters in the past 12 months, I saw this as an opportunity. As the member for Canning pointed out, in 2007—for those who can remember back that far—there were only four people in detention in Australia. After six years of Labor and the Greens and 50,000 boat arrivals in this country, we are dealing with a situation and a legacy that was left to us during that infamous period in our history—the dismantling of proven policies that worked, and the situation that we now have. Indeed, it was a commitment that this government went to the Australian people with. We believed that we could stop the boats. We believed that we could, with the right policies in place, put the people smugglers' business out of operation. I guess that is what I have always struggled with: what gives somebody who has the capacity to pay a people smuggler $10,000, or whatever the going rate might be in Indonesia or somewhere else, more opportunity or more right, if you will, to start a new life in Australia compared with somebody who has spent 10 years in a refugee camp in the middle of Africa—in Darfur, for example, or in recent times in places like Syria or parts of the Middle East? I struggle with that, and it is in that context that I grapple with the notion that we could have dismantled policies that had a structure around our immigration intake into Australia.
I absolutely acknowledge that beyond this period when we have processed those people who are currently in detention that there is a serious discussion that needs to take place in this country about the numbers of and the proportion of immigration that we have in this country. I look at the demographic challenges that face us in this nation. In 1965 there were 10 Australians of working age for every person aged over 65; today there are five and in 2050 there will be 2.8. These are real challenges that we have, and our immigration policy is going to be one of those parts of the legislation of our nation that aims to deal with that.
But Australia is indeed a nation of immigrants. Many seek to become, but never succeed in becoming, citizens of this great country. The changes proposed to the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014 were indeed necessary when immigration minister Morrison introduced them back in June this year. Establishing the identity of someone seeking to become an Australian citizen would seem to most Australians of reasonable disposition to be not only a prerequisite but a fundamental and basic requirement. Perhaps the events of recent weeks are a reminder not only of the privilege it is to be a citizen of this great country but also of the obligation that comes with being an Australian citizen. It is truly dreadful to learn that more than 60 Australians are currently fighting with terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, with more than 100 helping to finance these deadly acts. Today the Prime Minister has reiterated that Australians who join terrorist groups abroad are committing a serious crime, and if they return home they will be arrested, prosecuted and jailed.
In this climate, I think the immigration minister's moves to change the ways that asylum seekers are assessed have particular resonance. They will give the Australian public confidence in its government's capacity to assess all asylum seekers to our country with enhanced integrity through a range of enhanced measures. We need to feel confident that those who are found to be refugees are in fact who they say they are. These amendments will make it clearly the responsibility of a person who comes to this country seeking protection to establish their own claims to be a refugee and to do so at the beginning of the process. Under the amendment bill, which applies to all asylum seekers regardless of their mode of arrival, greater clarity will be given to the Migration Act 1958 that requires asylum seekers to provide and substantiate claims in relation to protection visas. It enables the Refugee Review Tribunal to draw an unfavourable inference about the credibility of claims or evidence raised by a protection visa applicant for the first time at the review stage. It enables the refusal of a protection visa when an applicant refuses or fails to establish their identity, nationality or citizenship and amends the framework in relation to unauthorised maritime arrivals and transitory people who can make a valid application for a visa.
The bill makes it clear that it is not the responsibility of the immigration department or the Refugee Review Tribunal to make a case on behalf of an asylum seeker. It will put Australia on par with other countries including the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The government acknowledges that there will always be a small number of vulnerable individuals, including unaccompanied minors, who might not be able to clearly present their claims without help. There will continue to be arrangements in place to help these particular individuals.
As part of these proposed reforms, provision will also be introduced to enable the Refugee Review Tribunal to question the credibility of a protection claim where an asylum seeker raises a claim for the first time without having a reasonable explanation about why the claims or evidence were not raised before the primary protection visa decision was made. Establishing an applicant's identity is a keystone of making a decision to grant or refuse any visa. This is especially the case for protection visa applicants because their identity, nationality or citizenship can have a direct bearing on whether they utilise Australia's protection obligations. Identity in the global age is increasingly complex to determine and many people hold dual or multiple nationalities or may seek an advantage from not disclosing their genuine identity. It is reasonable as a government to take a precautionary approach if an applicant is suspected of misleading authorities. Under these proposed reforms, presenting bogus documents for the purposes of establishing identity will result in refusal of a protection visa application unless the applicant has a reasonable explanation for presenting them and either provides documentary evidence or takes reasonable steps to do so.
The same applies to an applicant who has destroyed or discarded identity documents—which has been a common practice among those who have entered Australia illegally in recent years. Under the current government, an applicant who destroys documentation could reasonably expect a significant delay in the processing of their application—something which I think Australians would understand and see as quite reasonable. It is appropriate to refuse a protection visa when an applicant fails, or refuses to comply with a request, to establish their identity where it is possible for them to do so. But, again, these new measures also respect the fact that in some circumstances it may not be possible for a protection visa applicant to provide documentary evidence of their identity, nationality or citizenship. These changes will acknowledge, understand and respect such circumstances.
This bill will repeal the 90-day rule which has been in effect since 12 December 2005. It will remove both the 90-day time limit for deciding a protection visa application before the department and the Refugee Review Tribunal as well as associated requirements for reports to be tabled in parliament giving explanations for those decisions which were not made within the prescribed time-frame. Without wanting to put too fine a point on this, the burden in recent times on our departmental processes has, as most Australians understand, been compromised as a result of 50,000 people choosing to take dangerous boat trips to Australia over the past six years.
The new bill also makes it very clear that an application for a protection visa by a member of the same family unit that already has an existing protection visa cannot be granted a protection visa just because he or she is a member of the same family. It clarifies at last that a person who marries a protection visa holder years after the time they were granted their visa will not be granted the same visa. Family migration will be the appropriate path in cases like that.
The government remains committed to prioritising individuals who are, on initial assessment, at the greatest risk. This bill will broaden the criteria for unauthorised maritime arrivals. As Immigration Minister Morrison has stated in this place before, this bill deserves the support of all parties. We need the tools to ensure public confidence in Australia's capacity to assess claims for asylum in the interests of this country and against the interests of those who act in bad faith. We are, as I have said, a nation of immigrants. Australians are fair-minded people. We have always welcomed those who wish to come to this country to help build this nation. We have always held out a generous and caring hand to those people in genuine need. Long may that be the case. But also fair-minded Australians feel like they have been taken advantage of at times when due process has been circumvented, documents in many cases being deliberately destroyed, and the whole notion of what it means to become Australian and have a fair go has been undermined. The measures in this bill go to the integrity of the system, and I encourage support for the bill from those opposite. It is important to recognise also that all of our obligations in respect of human rights under international law are also met with the amendments made by this bill. I commend the bill to the House.