House debates

Wednesday, 12 February 2020


Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2019, Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment (Rates of Charge) Bill 2019; Second Reading

4:51 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2019 and the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment (Rates of Charge) Bill 2019. Labor will not oppose the passage of these bills in this House, although I will be putting before the House a second reading amendment highlighting some matters that we wish to consider and wish to see considered through the Senate committee process before finalising our position on these bills, which do serve an important public policy purpose. It will highlight that this is an area where the government could and should have acted much more expeditiously.

The Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2019—perhaps I might refer to the first bill as the substantive bill—would have the effect of amending the Migration Act 1958 to deregulate an important aspect of the migration advice industry—in particular, the current treatment of lawyers—by removing those lawyers who hold unrestricted practising certificates from regulation by the migration agents registration body. Lawyers would, accordingly, no longer be required or able to register as migration agents and would be registered in accordance with the requirements of their particular professional body. The second bill is a consequential piece of legislation, amending the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Act to ensure that migration agents who paid the non-commercial registration application charge in circumstances corresponding to their current period of registration but who give immigration assistance otherwise than on a non-commercial basis are liable to pay an adjusted charge. Almost all of my remarks will go to the first bill, the substantive bill.

These bills were introduced into the House on 21 June 2017, but they have a history which goes some way beyond that. Indeed, they go back to recommendations made by the Productivity Commission in 2010, but substantively to 2014. These bills, in fact, contain recommendations from the 2014 independent review of the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority, the Kendall review. The review was designed, as you would probably be very well aware, to improve the effectiveness of the regulatory scheme governing migration agents, a scheme which has had quite a history. I don't propose to go through all of that now.

What I will touch upon is that of course this bill is about a deregulation proposal. It is a broadly sensible deregulation proposal, but it is one that's taken the government quite some time to get around to giving effect to. In fact, I've been in this place long enough to remember when the now Treasurer trumpeted the bonfire of deregulation—the time also, of course, of the horror budget of 2014.

But on this area, an area that is fundamentally important to an immigration nation like Australia, the government has failed to act. And one of the main reasons I'm putting forward a second reading amendment, and why the opposition wants to consider in detail its position on the bill through the Senate committee process, is that there are some aspects of the government's own process of consideration of this bill that remain outstanding—in particular, a response to the work of a Senate committee commissioned by the former minister responsible for this, the former Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the member for Mitchell.

The review that is the genesis of this—although I will again briefly touch on the Productivity Commission's work as well—recommended the removal of lawyers from the Migration Agents Registration Authority scheme. This is part 1 of the review, and this bill would partially give effect to that recommendation. Again, it is a recommendation that has been before this government for more than five years now. Indeed, it has sat before this House for some time and then was not put to a vote in the Senate prior to the dissolution of the last parliament. As I've said, the bill would amend the act to remove the requirement for lawyers who hold full practising certificates to register as migration agents when providing immigration assistance to their clients. By being removed from that regulation scheme, lawyers can't register as migration agents and would be entirely regulated by their state or territory professional bodies when providing this advice as well.

It also ensures the time period in which a person can be considered an applicant for repeat registration as a migration agent and removes the 12-month limit within which a person must apply for registration following completion of a prescribed course. The bill requires the agency to refuse an application to become a registered migration agent where that applicant has been required to but has failed to provide information or answer questions in respect of their application. In respect of the transitional arrangements for legal practitioners with unrestricted certificates, the bill would require them to be removed from the scheme with automatic effect from the commencement of schedule 1 to the bill.

The bill also includes amendments to allow the agency the power to refuse an application, as I've touched on previously. I also touched on the relationship between the substantive bill and the bill dealing with charges, which also makes certain other amendments. When this change was first recommended, many years ago now, Labor supported it, and we still support the principle. But, for the reasons I've outlined previously, I seek now to move the second reading amendment I foreshadowed, and that is:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that:

(1) the recommendations that informed this bill were made in the 2014 Independent Review of the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority;

(2) the Government first introduced these measures in 2017, but let them lapse at the end of the 45th Parliament; and

(3) for over half a decade, the Government has failed to properly manage the laws relating to migration agents in Australia, to the detriment of the industry and those that rely on it".

And we do, in Labor, think it's prudent and proper to have a thorough examination of this legislation, which carries very significant consequences for hundreds of thousands of Australians and their family members.

Things have changed in this area. This is a very dynamic area of public policy, and regulation needs to be equally dynamic. I note that a number of submitters to the previous bill inquiry in 2017 haven't yet put forward views on the bill that's presently before the parliament. One that I'd like to highlight in particular—one of the reasons I think this change in regulation is important—is to better enable pro bono migration assistance to be provided by registered legal practitioners. That was a matter that was highlighted by the Refugee Council of Australia back in 2017. I note that they haven't put forward a submission on the present bill, but this issue of access to justice is one of the important reasons that, in principle, this sort of approach should be pursued, in Labor's view. It's a matter that I would like to see confirmed in the course of this.

One of the key issues before us in seeking to get the right regulatory environment in place is to ensure that consumers are protected. All of us in this place know that too many Australian consumers who are so vulnerable when it comes to these immigration questions have not been protected when it comes to the work of migration agents—work that, often, they personally are unable to warrant. They are very vulnerable as consumers. So it's vitally important not only that we get the regulatory framework right in terms of consumer protection but that we can provide confidence to those consumers too, and it's for that reason as well that this bill should be subject to a proper review.

One of the reasons we know that the environment within which this bill operates has changed is that we've now had the report of the inquiry into the efficacy of the current regulation of Australian migration and education agents. In that very report, the assistant minister who introduced this bill, the member for Latrobe, said that there is exploitation and that a loophole is being exercised by organised crime to come into the country, an observation by the minister who introduced this bill into the House, no less. So Labor does believe that these laws deserve a proper inquiry. As I understand it, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee will report its findings by 18 March 2020. On this side of the House, we await the findings of that process.

We will not be opposing these bills in the House today. We will wait and see the result of the Senate inquiry. We will give all the stakeholders and the wider Australian community an opportunity to be heard, particularly those who are personally directly connected to the migration industry and are personally affected by the regulatory arrangement that goes to migration agents and lawyers who operate in the field as well. We want to make sure their views are properly heard and properly considered and that the principles that underpin this bill—principles that have been supported by the Productivity Commission in 2010, the Kendall review in 2014 and Labor for quite some time—are properly put into law so that all of us in Australia who depend on the efficacy of such a system can have confidence in it, going forward, and in these fundamental questions of access to justice, consumer confidence and consumer protection being upheld. So I urge members opposite in particular to consider carefully the second reading amendment and the obligation all of us have to have regard to those views before finally determining this piece of legislation.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The amendment is seconded, and I reserve my right to speak.

5:03 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to rise today to speak to both the Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2019 and the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment (Rates of Charge) Bill 2019. It is good to see that this government is making good on its promise to cut red tape and unnecessary costly duplication, as well as streamlining the process for restricted and unrestricted legal practitioners. By doing so, this government reaffirms its commitment to deregulation across industry sectors. I have experienced firsthand, as a lawyer and a registered migration agent for a number of years, the convoluted registration practices and mandatory continuing legal education and migration agent compulsory education and, on top of this, the unnecessary additional cost imposed on sole practitioners and small practices.

Currently, lawyers across the nation are governed by the strict regulatory rules of each state's law society. Legal practitioners are either considered restricted or unrestricted. All legal practitioners are considered restricted within the first two years of admission, and must be under the direct supervision and employ of an unrestricted legal practitioner. The restricted practitioner is required to be registered within the Law Society, under the professional indemnity insurance of the practitioner, to ensure not only the highest standards of service but the proper protection for both client and lawyer.

Following the restricted period, a practitioner may apply for an unrestricted certificate. However, they must complete the relevant state's Law Society's unrestricted practising certificate course and obtain the relevant registrations and insurances prior to being declared unrestricted. All unrestricted and restricted legal practitioners must complete 10 units of continuing legal education each year at, sometimes, a cost in excess of $5,000 per year. Any firm that employs a solicitor must bear that cost on behalf of the employee. This puts additional pressure on small businesses of two to five solicitors.

Currently, should a legal practitioner train and provide migration advice and services, they are required to do so under a completely separate registration stream. These bills seek to remove that. This stream requires registration and regulation of restricted and unrestricted legal practitioners by the Migration Agents Registration Authority. In effect, it requires additional costs, training and further specialised compulsory continuing legal education, which could only be described as burdensome and duplicitous. The bill will ensure the removal of these unnecessary and costly requirements by recognising that the dual regulation of restricted and unrestricted legal practitioners is an unnecessary administrative burden in circumstances where a strict, professional regulatory regime already exists and which is subject to annual and random audit processes.

Under schedule 1, this bill will immediately remove lawyers who hold unrestricted practising certificates from regulation under the Migration Agents Registration Authority and continue to be regulated by the relevant state's Law Society. Those legal practitioners who hold restricted practising certificates will have an eligible period of two years in which they may both be registered migration agents and restricted legal practitioners. This period is provided for these practitioners to make any necessary changes to their business affairs and certification. Once the eligible period has expired, these practitioners will also be removed from the MARA regulations, providing they complete the required programs to be eligible for an unrestricted practising certificate.

It is important to note that these changes under this bill will not water down any consumer protections. The government particularly recognises the need for strong regulatory protections for the consumer, particularly for those not engaging legal practitioners, but, rather, registered migration agents. I qualify this statement by acknowledging that the vast majority of registered migration agents work to the highest standards and requirements for the provision of competent migration advice.

In 2018, the Graduate Diploma in Australian Migration Law and Practice was introduced, giving real and meaningful credibility to the qualification. Previously, those wishing to become an agent were only required to complete a five-day course. This recent qualification seeks to ensure that only high standards of applicants can obtain the registration, to mitigate the risk of neglect or poor advice.

Accordingly, under schedule 2 of this bill, the period that an individual has to apply for repeat registration following the completion of the required qualification will be set in the legislation, which complements the introduction of the graduate diploma, which qualifications will never lapse—unlike the previous system. It is also pleasing to see that this bill seeks to protect the rights of eligible applicants for registration as migration agents in that it no longer simply refuses applications in the event of a failure to provide further information. As we can appreciate, there are often circumstances out of our control which affect the ability to answer in a timely fashion. This bill recognises that, and rather than simply slamming the door shut it now allows incomplete applications to remain unfinished for an indefinite period, saving hundreds of dollars in application costs.

Furthermore, this bill seeks to repeal certain provisions to reflect the consolidation of the OMARA into the Department of Home Affairs—once again, removing and slashing unnecessary red tape.

Finally, the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment (Rates of Charge) Bill 2019, read alongside the regulation of migration agents bill, seeks to provide for an adjusted registration charge for registered migration agents who have paid the fee to provide migration advice on a non-commercial basis or a pro bono basis for the current period of registration but gives immigration assistance on a commercial basis at any time during this period. This reflects the policy's intention that, in order to be eligible to pay the lower non-commercial application charge, migration advice must be provided solely on a non-commercial basis or a not-for-profit basis for the benefit of the Australian community. This will reflect the pro bono basis for those who are in need or for those who are unable to pay for migration services. These two bills are welcomed by legal practitioners and migration agents alike. I commend both bills to the House.

5:11 pm

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise also to speak on these two bills that are before us: the Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill and the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment (Rates of Charge) Bill 2019. Before I get to the bills, I would like to acknowledge the work that migration agents do. It is no understatement for me to say that the majority of cases that come before me in my electorate office are in relation to visas. Often it is people who have spent tens of thousands of dollars using the services of migration agents to get a visa, sometimes for their parents, sometimes for their partners, sometimes for their children, sometimes for members of their families and sometimes for themselves. Often they come to me at a point of frustration—frustration with the delays in the visa approval system. As I mentioned, at that point they have often exhausted all the avenues before them. That again points to the important work that migration agents around Australia do in circumstances where we have a visa system that has some pretty incredible delays.

Just the other day I took a phone call from one of my constituents whose parents have been here for 12 years. They are applying for a visa. They are paying $110,000 for their parents' visas. They have been told it is a 51-month wait, and that in that 51-month period they could be deported. So, obviously, this individual who called me was in a very desperate state.

Considering the valuable contribution which immigrants make to Australia, as well as those on temporary visas of all kinds, I think it is vitally important that the right immigration advice is given to visa applicants. This bill certainly won't solve the kinds of issues that we see, particularly with delays around visa applications, but it will go some way to adding some regulation to the industry of migration agents.

The member for Scullin outlined Labor's position on the bill. As the shadow minister, he moved an amendment to the bill, which I will talk about in a minute. In conjunction, both bills seek to do a number of things. Most importantly, they seek to amend the Migration Act to remove the requirement for lawyers who hold a practising certificate from also having to register as a migration agent when providing immigration assistance to their clients. In that regard, it really does away with the dual registration requirements for lawyers who are providing immigration advice. That's going to be achieved by removing them from the regulatory scheme that governs migration agents, meaning that lawyers cannot register as migration agents and are entirely regulated by their own state and territory legal professional bodies when providing advice. I think it's a good thing not just to regulate the industry but also to ensure that lawyers are able to give that kind of timely and essential advice to people in need. Because it also ensures that the time period in which a person can be considered an applicant for repeat registration as a migration agent, it removes the 12-month time limit in which a person must apply for registration following completion of a prescribed course. Another thing that the bill will do, which I would like to mention, is ensure that the definitions of 'immigration assistance' and 'immigration representations' include assisting a person in relation to a request to the minister to exercise his or her power under the section of the Migration Act to revoke character related visa refusal or cancellation decisions.

As the shadow minister and the member for Scullin pointed out, Labor will not oppose this bill in the House, but it is important to note—and the member for Scullin made this point—that this bill is long overdue. In fact, the bills before the chamber today contain measures from recommendations of the 2014 Independent review of the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority to improve effectiveness of the regulatory scheme governing migration agents. That was five years ago.

The bill was originally introduced in 2017 and the government allowed it to lapse. Considering the importance of this industry and considering the importance of this field of expertise to Australia, to Australia's immigration intake, to tourism in Australia and to education, for example, for people looking for student visas to come to Australia to study—considering the importance of this industry for a whole range of areas—I find it quite perplexing that the government should take five years to pass this essential bill, which will streamline the process and remove the dual regulation requirements that currently exist. The amendments that were moved by the member for Scullin and shadow minister recognise this. They recognise the incredibly long time lapse between when the recommendations were first made followed by when the bill was first introduced and followed by what we have before us now. In doing so, they also recognise that the situation may have changed. In doing the due diligence for these bills, I think it's important that we scrutinise the bills in more detail, as the situation has changed and the context in which these bills are now introduced may have changed over the last five years or even the last three years.

In conclusion, I reiterate the position of Labor in that we will not oppose this bill in the House, but I support the amendments moved by the member for Scullin, to ensure that this bill is thoroughly scrutinised through a Senate process.

5:18 pm

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise also to speak on this Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2019 and Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment (Rates of Charge) Bill 2019. What's the purpose of this bill? What is it? What's it about? Well, it's a bill you could say the purpose of which is to partially implement recommendation 1 of the 2014 review of the OMARA, which recommended the removal of lawyers from the Migration Agents Registration Authority's regulatory scheme. This was specifically to allow legal practitioners to be registered as migration agents. We've heard from the previous speakers that we supported this bill several years ago when this legislation was first moved.

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

We've supported it many, many times.

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, I'm getting to that, the member for Blair. You're quite right. We've supported it many, many times, and we will support it now. However, we think these laws—and this was eloquently put by the previous speaker, the member for Cowan—deserve a proper inquiry, and we will wait and see the result of the Senate inquiry. Why? Because we did support it. We supported it six years ago. That's a long time. We supported this back in 2014. The bill contained recommendations from the 2014 Independent review of the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority, and six years later the government is trying to pass a bill implementing the changes from a report six years ago—it's remarkable!

Tony Abbott was the Prime Minister six years ago. And the government made a set of recommendations about migration agents when he was Prime Minister. Since then, we've had two Liberal prime ministers. They did introduce the bill again in 2017, not to pass it, but they let it sit on the Notice Paper in the Senate for years. It was not moved upon or acted upon by this government; it was just sitting there. I think it's probably an apt illustration of the kind of effort this government makes around important bills. It also demonstrates a pattern of this government. Not only does this demonstrate that they sit on things for years and years and fail to pass them; it also demonstrates real failures, particularly in the migration and immigration portfolio.

What has this government been doing since 2014? They're constantly spending their time infighting and tearing each other apart. I mentioned that they've gone through—what, two, three prime ministers? We've seen this week that it was all about themselves again. The National Party were tearing themselves apart. It overshadowed the visit of President Widodo. Last week on Monday, their leadership spill overshadowed what was a very important day, a day when this parliament was entirely focused on, or should have been entirely focused on: the bushfires, the victims, their families, and the firefighters that are still fighting those fires. And yet this government spent that time on themselves, fighting themselves. But that's a pattern. We've seen this happen over the last six years. This bill is just an example of what happens when they continually follow this pattern. It's all about themselves.

It's all about them and their leadership and their changes and who gets what. While all this is happening, bills sit untended for three or four years. That describes it probably better than anything I can say. That kind of inaction is the best descriptor of this government and the way they do business—or don't do business. They're too busy watching over their own shoulders and fighting themselves to be bothered with the passage of laws. Unless of course, they're trying to further delay processing times for visas. This Morrison government has consistently failed when it comes to migration. It's not a surprise that it has taken this long to progress these bills.

On that point—and we've heard a bit about this from previous speakers as well with respect to processing for the permanent resident program. No wonder there are delays in this, given that inaction, given that self-centredness and given the fact they are solely focused on themselves rather than doing their job. The delays are severe when it comes to the permanent resident program and people waiting to receive citizenship or partner visas. It was not only that; the government actually went about making it harder and making it take longer for permanent residents to become citizens. I often ask myself: why? These are permanent residents who have been here for years and years in this country, who pay their taxes, who contribute to the community, who make a wonderful contribution to the society that they live in, the home that they have come to, to settle into, sometimes from very far away parts of the world. They've sacrificed their lives back in those countries of origin to settle in Australia. They've made a commitment. What does this government do for those people? It makes it harder for them. It makes it more difficult for them to actually move to the citizenship that they require and that they want so they can fully become part of Australia and feel like real Australians. They've probably been here five or 10 years.

I know families that have been here for over 10 years, and they're still waiting—and waiting—for their citizenship because of these delays. It isn't good enough. It's not just inaction, it's not just incompetence, it's not just a focus on their own leadership battles and their positions and all the rest of it; it's more than that: it's a deliberate effort to delay, obstruct and obfuscate. And the people they're delaying are the ones we want to become new Australians. They are the ones who have made a commitment and a contribution to this country, and this government is making it harder for them. It's a disgrace. There is also the parent visa—the program that makes people choose between sets of parents. I mean, it's difficult enough with your in-laws; can you imagine having to make a decision between mum and dad? This government forces people to make that decision.

There was a departmental review that was never released—a multimillion-dollar strategic review into the Department of Home Affairs. It was finalised last year. Maybe it had some answers to some of the questions we're posing. Maybe it could have shed some light on the inaction, the delay, the inefficiency and the incompetence—maybe—but we'll never know, because it wasn't released; it was never made public. What are they hiding? What is the department hiding? What is the government hiding? I would say to them: don't worry; we already know that you're incompetent, we already know that you're inefficient, we already know that you're focused on yourselves rather than the people of Australia or doing your job, so you might as well release the report. It will confirm what we already know.

The other thing that really disturbs me, particularly in this portfolio, is the pattern we've seen of not only inaction but also deliberate attempts to delay and make things difficult. We saw it with the 457 visas. The Morrison government is putting out the line, 'Oh, Australia is full,' blaming the congestion of our cities on the migration program—which has, I think, a net migration of some 160,000 or 170,000—and fixating on asylum seekers and boat people, yet all the while we have over two million people on temporary work visas in this country. So when the Minister for Home Affairs—or the Prime Minister—laments about the strain on our capital cities' infrastructure and how the cities are becoming 'overcrowded', his own department is contributing to that strain whilst making it harder for local workers to find jobs.

It's like a shell game. It's like a scam. It's pulling the wool over people's eyes. And don't get me started on the lack of infrastructure spending that this federal government has been guilty of, particularly in my state of Victoria, which has some of the lowest per capita. So, again, this pattern is consistent. It's a pattern of inaction, inefficiency and delay. Part of it is possibly largely because of the incompetence of this government, because they are focused so much on their own leadership squabbles and internal politics, but the other part of it is a very deliberate positioning on some of these issues. There's a very deliberate effort to delay. I can't find any other explanation for it. Maybe the report, if we ever get to see it, will shed light on that.

Then—this is a good one, another failure—there is the chaos of this government's bid to privatise Australia's visa system. It would be a disaster. Many organisations have warned of the effects of doing this. The CPSU has warned that the Morrison government's plan to privatise the visa system could effectively lead to another robodebt. That was another debacle! We saw how the robodebt went: pinging the most vulnerable people in our society, innocent people, with debts that they didn't owe. It's throwing out the fish-net and catching all the dolphins with the sharks. That's what this government is about. They don't care. It's like collective punishment. If they go down this path of privatisation of the visa system, we may get a similar debacle. Then we have the close mate of the Prime Minister, Scott Briggs, who donated to the Liberal Party a total of $300,000, putting in a bid to win this visa-processing contract.

I don't think anyone but the department should be making decisions about our borders, our border security and our migration program. You don't outsource that. It's a basic principle in a democratic country like ours, where we understand that the Commonwealth has responsibilities that it needs to fulfil. That's why taxpayers pay taxes. Defence, education, health care, border security, migration, immigration processing—you don't outsource that. I think it's not too much to say that these steps would lead to a real compromise of Australia's national security. Even Tony Abbott's former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, has been critical of this proposal.

I've outlined the pattern of this government: inaction, inefficiency, incompetence. They are focused on themselves, fighting each other all the time, squabbling and dropping the ball, effectively—dropping the ball when it comes to their primary responsibilities. But coupled with that is a very real effort to delay and obstruct that is purposeful and deliberative.

With something like the immigration program, which has been of such importance to this country, we shouldn't be privatising parts of it. The government should be doing their job to make sure that permanent residents can move smoothly into citizenship because they've made that commitment to this country. They should be rewarded, not punished. We're a successful multicultural nation because the people who have come here, like my parents, made a commitment to this country and contributed to this country. My parents said to me as I was growing up, 'Australia's not the lucky country. We are the lucky ones to be Australian. Make sure you give something back to this country, because it's given us such a great opportunity for a life of security, peace and prosperity through our hard work.' That should be rewarded, yet we have a government which is doing the opposite—partly because they're too busy fighting themselves and they're incompetent and dropping the ball, and partly because they're deliberately slowing things down for the very people that we want to make sure we make citizens of this country.

In conclusion, we will support this bill, like we did six years ago and like we did back in 2017. We want the government to embrace and recognise the strength of multicultural Australia, and the strength of that immigration program and the important part that it's played in building this country and making it such a wonderful country to live in. We will listen to that. We listen to people in the community. We hope the government does as well.

5:33 pm

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all members for contributing to the debate. This package of amendments contains two bills, the Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2019 and the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment (Rates of Charges) Bill 2019. The 2014 independent review of the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority, otherwise known as AMARA, recommended, amongst other things, that legal practitioners be removed from the regulatory scheme governing migration agents. The regulation of migration agents bill draws from this recommendation. The bill removes from the AMARA scheme legal practitioners with unrestricted practising certificates. Eligible legal practitioners with a restricted practising certificate will be able to register with AMARA during a two-year period, which can be extended for a total period of up to four years.

The bill reflects the government's deregulation agenda and commitment to establishing a world-class migration advice industry and removes the unnecessary administration burden of dual regulation of these legal practitioners, who are already subject to a strict professional regulatory regime. The regulation of migration agents bill also allows the OMARA to refuse an application for registration as a migration agent if the migration agent does not provide further information. This will remedy the current situation—where the application will remain open and unfinalised indefinitely while there is a failure by an agent to provide the information sought.

The bill will also complement amendments to fees and charges in the rates of charge bill and make other minor amendments. The rates of charge bill ensures that a person who paid the non-commercial application charge, in relation to their current period of registration, but gives immigration assistance other than on a non-commercial basis is liable to pay an adjusted charge.

In summary, we are committed to a strong but practical migration advice industry that works in the best interests of Australia. I believe that the bill package deserves the support of all members and I commend the bills to the chamber.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the assistant minister.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Scullin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question before the House is that the amendment moved by the member for Scullin be agreed to.