Monday, 22 September 2014
Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I am very pleased to be speaking in favour of the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014 today. It is a bill that is part and parcel of the coalition's plan to secure our borders and to protect the integrity of our special humanitarian program. It was a core commitment of the coalition team to restore certainty, confidence and security to our migration and border protection arrangements. Australians want to know that the government is handling the case load of asylum seekers with integrity and efficiency. They want assurance that it is not possible to manipulate the system or to use it for purposes other than generally presenting a claim for protection. The coalition government is the only government that can provide the Australian people with this assurance. In my conversations with them, the people of my electorate have communicated to me that the foundational principles of our immigration system should be fairness and robustness. The people of Barton want to see strong borders and strong principles of fairness and generosity. Australians do not want to see the immigration system overrun with insincere applications for refuge or unpredictable and regular breaches of our borders. When we work to maintain the integrity of the visa system as a whole, Australians can be more confident in our ability to manage the complex case load and evolving difficulties associated with identity and verifiability, and vulnerable people all across the world can have more confidence in our ability as a nation to reserve resettlement for those most in need.
Australia's humanitarian program is an integral part of our nation's identity as a culture of welcoming and compassionate people. One example of this program well and truly at work is the 1,000 places that our immigration minister has advised were provided last year to those affected by the Syrian conflict. The decision of the government to offer refuge to 4,000 members of the Christian and Yazidi minorities fleeing persecution in Syria and Iraq is a resounding indicator that this government is serious about extending refuge to those desperately in need. It is the deadly turmoil unfolding in places like Iraq and Syria that really brings home my understanding of the special humanitarian program's purpose. These 4,000 places form a resounding and fitting example of what is possible when you contain fraud, inefficiency and irregular entry to Australia so that places may be freed up for those offshore awaiting our help. It renews the government's resolve to provide refuge to those who genuinely need it. And it is through protection and special humanitarian programs against fraud and those operating in bad faith that it can be preserved for those who both warrant our protection and desperately need it.
The measures of this bill aim to address complex challenges that have arisen within the humanitarian program so that we can make integrity, efficiency and the establishment of identity a priority. Maintaining stringency around proof of identity in the context of border security for those coming into and out of Australia is more important than ever given this government's determination to secure Australia against threats to the integrity of our immigration system and our national security as a whole. If individuals are unwilling to take reasonable steps to establish their identity or are clearly acting in bad faith, Australians do not want to see those individuals rewarded with the benefits of a protection visa. The government's humanitarian program exists for the purposes of protecting the genuinely vulnerable from serious persecution, not for the purposes of extending an individual's stay in Australia or protecting individuals with no established identity whose grounds for protection are insubstantial. There is no good reason that a genuinely vulnerable individual fleeing persecution and conflict would engage in fraudulent or seriously dishonest conduct in the process of making a claim to Australia's protection. The open-hearted nature of our community to those who are fleeing persecution must not be taken advantage of by those who seek to rort the system. Strengthening the process to establish an applicant's identity is a central element of this bill. Indeed, openness and honesty in establishing one's identity is a core indicator of good faith. The bill will ensure that dishonest or fraudulent conduct in relation to the presentation of identifying documents is taken into account in decisions to grant protection visas and that those applicants who have provided the department or the tribunal with bogus documents will have their claims dismissed.
The bottom line is that Australians do not want to see individuals who are operating in bad faith or who are unwilling to provide evidence of their identity taking advantage of our humanitarian programs. Australians expect the government to take the necessary steps to weed out practices of document disposal, fraud and vexatious claims to preserve the integrity of this important humanitarian program. This government knows that applicants for an Australian visa are responsible for bringing their own claims and for providing the material necessary to substantiate them. The ultimate responsibility for providing evidence of claims to protection status is theirs. The decision making process that the department and the tribunal undertake should not be conflated with a process of assistance or substantiation on the part of government staff. As such, schedule 1 of this bill reasserts the role of the Refugee Review Tribunal as involving the consideration claims which are brought before it. It is clearly not the role of the tribunal to produce or defend those claims. The same applies to staff of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
This government is firm in its resolve to prevent the misuse of our system by those who do not in their own minds believe they are a person in respect of whom Australia has protection obligations—those individuals who believe that lodging a claim for protection and the subsequent likely rejections and reviews through the Refugee Review Tribunal will give them further time in Australia. The serious and costly consideration of a claim to Australia's protection must not be treated as an avenue to further time spent visiting, working or living in Australia by those who know they are not fleeing dangers offshore. The backlog of illegal maritime arrivals is a complex factor which can often have ramifications for the entire caseload of asylum seekers worldwide, including those registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The way in which asylum seekers arrive in Australia, and the manner in which they conduct themselves with respect to their application process, should never impede the department's ability to process the claims of asylum seekers fleeing a site of conflict offshore, waiting for their claims to be considered through regular channels of migration. Marriage and family relationships do not constitute an entitlement to a protection visa; regular channels of family migration must be pursued in the case of a spouse or relative of a person in respect of whom Australia has protection obligations.
Schedule 2 clarifies Australia's obligations in regard to nonrefoulement. The nonrefoulement threshold of 'more likely than not' is made clear. It is a realistic and reasonable measure that recognises the gravity and weight with which the government considers an official refugee status. Put simply, refugees are those fleeing seriously dangerous and traumatic situations. This threshold is well and truly open to Australia as an option and within international requirements. It is the individuals, families, and children fleeing from these kinds of situations that our humanitarian visa programs should protect.
One measure in schedule 4 of this bill which will particularly improve the efficiency of our processing system from a practical perspective is the ability for principal decision makers on the Refugee Review Tribunal to issue guidance decisions. This measure, coupled with the ability for the tribunal to make oral rather than written decisions, will resolve several challenges to the efficient and simple operation of our humanitarian visa process. The bill also streamlines the role of the Refugee Review Tribunal, rendering its operations more efficient and taking the applicant's attendance at the tribunal seriously. These amendments also simplify the standard of evidence associated with the initial application and review tribunal respectively. As an integrity measure, an applicant must justify why a serious claim is raised at the tribunal but not at the initial application stage, and explain why evidence is presented at the review stage but not within the initial application. This is a simple but effective way to ensure that applicants act with integrity and good faith at all times so that our humanitarian programs are dedicated to the protection of those in respect of whom we have international obligations.
Ultimately, this bill tightens up the integrity and efficiency of the humanitarian visa system so that as a nation we can render efficient assistance to those individuals operating in good faith who are most in need of our protection.
In cooperation with the stellar work of our border protection officers, the good judgement of the Minister for Immigration and the processes already in place with the department of immigration and the Refugee Review Tribunal, this government will ensure that our system is the best it can be and is working towards the protection of the most vulnerable individuals all around the world. As the great former Prime Minister John Howard so aptly expressed it, 'We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.' These measures will keep Australia's immigration system accountable and consistent, providing us with true control over the processing of claims and securing our ability to offer resettlement to those truly in need. I commend the bill to the House.