Monday, 22 September 2014
Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014; Second Reading
The Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014 is an important piece of legislation which will help to ensure our government continues to keep our borders secure. Under the very strong leadership of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, and through Operation Sovereign Borders, we are building integrity and efficiency into a process that was long neglected under the previous government. I am rising in support of this bill because I believe in what this government is doing to keep our borders secure. But I am also speaking in support of this bill because the people in my electorate of Robertson on the New South Wales Central Coast have got a particular concern about and awareness of the importance of strong borders and a secure Australia.
The people of Robertson want to have even more confidence in the Australian government's management of the processes that we have put in place in relation to people seeking asylum in Australia. That is what this bill does, by enhancing the integrity of the process so that Australians can be sure that those who are found to be refugees are, in fact, who they say they are. It aims to build on the measures we are already taking in assessing asylum seeker claims so that we can efficiently process illegal maritime arrivals.
People on the Central Coast tell me every day how much they appreciate our strong leadership and what we are doing to stop the boats. They know that when we came to office we inherited a border protection shambles from Labor. One of the reasons they voted for us at the last election was to stop the boats. These are people who are some of the most generous and welcoming in our nation. I attend many of the Gosford City Council's citizenship ceremonies, and they are a fantastic opportunity to welcome proud new members of our Australian community. Along with the many families and friends who attend to support and welcome new citizens, I am always impressed by the support that our new Australians receive from residents in our community. It is particularly encouraging when I look around and see so many leaders of our voluntary clubs, sporting organisations, social groups and churches attending our citizenship ceremonies simply to express their support and welcome for our newest Australians or 'coasties', as they might be affectionately known on the Central Coast.
The people of Robertson support immigration, but they also believe it needs to be done the right way. For example, I was speaking with a young family in Kariong recently and they told me how glad they are that our government are not only stopping the boats but ensuring that we have a border and immigration protection system that assists the most vulnerable while ensuring proper safeguards for all Australians. I heard recently from a senior Australian in Umina who is also appreciative of the fact that we are stopping the boats because, with every boat that has been stopped, we have seen an end to the tragic loss of life at sea.
Just to give you an indication of the size of the challenge that we faced coming into government, in one month alone last year there were almost 50 people-smuggling ventures. There were 33 search-and-rescue operations—on average, more than one a day. Eighteen people lost their lives, including an infant. This was, indeed, a shameful period. The decision by Labor in government to take away the coalition's effective border protection policy—a policy that had worked well under the previous coalition government, led by Prime Minister John Howard—led to more than 50,000 illegal arrivals, including more than 8,000 children, on more than 800 boats. The number of children in held detention peaked at almost 2,000. Tragically, under the former Labor government, there were almost 1,200 deaths at sea.
This government pledged to stop the boats and fix this mess. And that is what we are doing, and this bill is part of the job that we are getting on with. To start with, the bill considers the responsibilities of asylum seekers. If they do not cooperate with the government to help establish their identity then they should not be given the benefit of a protection visa. The amendments outlined in the bill before the House will mean that any person who comes to this country seeking protection will have a responsibility to establish their own claims to be a refugee. They must also do this at the start of the process.
This bill will improve the integrity of the process by helping to prevent any potential exploitation of the merits review system. It will send a clear message that the ultimate responsibility lies with the asylum seeker to establish their claims for protection, and they must provide sufficient evidence to support these claims. This will apply to any asylum seeker making a claim for protection regardless of whether it is for an application for a protection visa or part of another administrative process. Under the legislation, it will not be the responsibility of the department or the Refugee Review Tribunal to make a case for protection on behalf of an asylum seeker. This practice is already seen in the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
There are also elements to the bill that is before the House tonight about establishing an applicant's identity. I am advised that the department encounters many people who hold dual or multiple nationalities and who may even seek an advantage from not disclosing their genuine identity. Changes to section 91W of the Migration Act, and the introduction of a new section 91WA, introduce a power to refuse the granting of a protection visa unless the applicant provides documentary evidence of their identity, nationality or citizenship when requested to do so or has taken reasonable steps to do so. This goes to the heart of why this bill should be supported. It should be supported because it adds integrity to this important process. People who destroy documents and those who do not engage in good faith about their identity will not be able to gain entry to our system.
Unfortunately, the previous Labor government's attempts at a solution led to a cost blow-out of more than $11.5 billion. Under this government, more than $2.5 billion has already been saved by stopping the boats, and we are closing the detention centres the former Labor government opened. This means that people are no longer waiting offshore to access our humanitarian program because their places have already been taken by those who have come illegally by boat.
This bill builds on the work that we are already doing by inserting section 91WB into the Migration Act. This proposed section puts beyond doubt that an applicant for a protection visa who is a member of the same family unit of an existing protection visa holder cannot be granted a protection visa just because they are a member of the same family. The change also discourages family members of protection visa holders from arriving in Australia illegally and expecting to be granted a protection visa simply on the basis of being a family member.
We are also looking to prevent exploitation of the review process. In the past, non-genuine asylum seekers have presented new claims or evidence later in the independent merits review process in an attempt to bolster their original unsuccessful claims. This would happen only after they learnt why they were not found to be refugees by the department. In the past, I am advised that this behaviour led to considerable delays while new claims were explored. To make this process clear, the bill includes an amendment to ensure that any claim that can be presented at the initial application stage is handed over at the very start of the process. Of course, there will always be a small number of vulnerable individuals, such as unaccompanied minors, who may not be able to clearly present their claims without assistance. I am assured that this government will continue to have arrangements in place for these cases and there will continue to be cooperation so that decision makers act in good faith.
This bill is also consistent with Australia's international obligations under the Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has also outlined to the House other important elements of this bill, namely amendments to clarify the threshold for assessing Australia's non-refoulement obligations and amendments to streamline the operation of the current statutory bars placed on illegal maritime arrivals. I also welcome and support the amendments in Schedule 4 that aim to improve processing and administration of both the Refugee Review Tribunal and the Migration Review Tribunal.
This bill is important because the changes to legislation contained therein uphold the integrity our borders. We know that in the more than 12 months since the election there has been a dramatic transformation. Firstly, there have been no deaths at sea; the boats are stopping. There has been just one venture in the past nine months to make it to Australia. All of those passengers are now on Nauru. A total of 45 ventures have been stopped before they even set sail and 12 more have been turned back at sea, as we promised we would do consistent with our policies and our commitments that we made in the lead-up to the last election to the people of Australia and to the people of my electorate of Robertson on the Central Coast. The number of children held in detention is also now down by more than 40 per cent. As the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has said, 'The people smugglers have crawled back under the rocks they came from.'
But the work is far from over and this government will not rest and let the people smugglers wrestle back any momentum. This is why this bill is crucial in adding integrity and efficiency to the system. This is what we committed to in opposition and we are doing what we said we would do. It is an honour to commend the bill to the House.