Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009
As I indicated in the earlier debate, I have tried to address Senator Fielding’s concerns. The government will not be supporting his amendments. I appreciate the motivation, which I think is driven by a concern about treating refugees fairly and about having integrity in the immigration system. No-one is more focused on the integrity of the immigration system than I am. We have to ensure that people who are found not to be eligible to stay here are removed.
That is something that the previous government were not very good at. They were good at the rhetoric but they actually were not very good at removal. One of my big challenges is to try to make us better at it. One of the reasons we have had people in long-term detention in this country is that the previous government were not any good at getting rid of them. They would bang them up, but then they would stay there for a long time. Some of the people I have removed in recent times had been in detention for six, seven or eight years. It was ridiculous, but we were unable to successfully remove them. These were paedophiles and criminals who were not there for immigration offences but whom we wanted to deport. We are also working very hard to protect the integrity of the system when dealing with overstayers and others. I want to make a point about overstayers: we have one of the best records in the world. We have one of the lowest numbers of overstayer rates, and that is a good thing. That is despite the enormous growth in the number of tourist visitors we have to this country.
In response to Senator Fielding, the key point is that those people who are removed from this country because we have found they have not done the right thing retain a removal debt and retain a bar on their return. So Senator Fielding’s concerns about how we treat them are protected by the removal debt. I deliberately left it in there. It is not abolished. Those people have a removal debt and it acts as a bar to their return. These people have not done the right thing.
For people who have been granted refugee status, successive governments have not pursued the debts and nor should we. The group that is left and that is vulnerable is made up of the people who live here, whom we have given permanent visas, many of whom are now citizens and have kids who are Australian citizens. They have often had traumatic experiences. We have given them a visa and they are legally here but we continue to punish them by saying: ‘You owe us vast amounts of money for the pleasure of spending two or three years at Baxter or Woomera. We’re going to keep trying to get that money out of you at the expense of your getting on with your life, being able to buy a house and being able to care for your kids in the way that you’d like to, because you have this debt.’
That is not rational. These are people who will be here forever. They are Australian citizens or they are Australian permanent residents. Unfortunately, the effect of Senator Fielding’s amendments would be to continue punishing them. Fundamentally, this bill is about ending that punishment. I think we agree on all the other areas but, on that point, the effect of the amendments would be to continue that punishment, and that is why successive parliamentary committees have recommended that the government end that punishment. That is what we are seeking to end. I cannot support the amendments.