Senate debates

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009

In Committee

1:07 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I want to make some comments in relation to Senator Fielding’s amendments. The coalition will not be supporting these amendments. I appreciate the sentiment of the amendments that are proposed, but at the moment the legislation—as the minister outlined—does have a framework for the waiving and writing off of detention debt. If there are issues in relation to the need to tighten up some aspects, they are separate issues. To dismantle this framework and to effectively throw out the baby with the bathwater is not a course of action that the coalition supports. Prior to becoming a senator I had 20 years experience as a lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitor. Over my time, I did a lot of immigration cases. Many of the debts that are incurred are incurred as a consequence of protracted litigation. People who spend a lengthy time in detention end up with very high debts.

But, as the minister also said, this not really about the refugees and their debt; this is principally about overstayers. Let us not forget that there are approximately 48,500 overstayers in this country at any given time. Senator Fielding talked about principle. There is also this principle: if somebody knowingly overstays and abuses their visa conditions and does incur a detention debt, why shouldn’t that person be responsible for that detention debt and why shouldn’t that detention debt stay against them—particularly should they wish to come back into the country at some later stage? I appreciate the comments that the minister made in terms of the cost of administering this program, $350,000. When we are talking about the country having a debt of $315 billion, the cost of the framework is minimal, and it does act as a deterrent. Perhaps one of the problems here is that it is not made as clear as it ought to be to people that, if they do overstay their visa and they get put into detention, they will have to meet those detention costs.

As far as the category of people that the minister talked about—those who do not get refugee status but who then ultimately do stay legally—goes, the framework is in place for their debts to be waived and written off. From the coalition’s perspective, it is important to keep the framework in place and to undertake the process of looking at cases on their merits and waiving or writing off the debt subsequently. From our perspective, the principle is important. The framework needs to remain so that it does act as a deterrent, particularly—and I would like to stress this—in relation to overstayers and where the overstaying is compounded by protracted litigation. That is certainly the experience that I had over my many years of involvement as a government lawyer. I conclude by saying that we will not be supporting Senator Fielding’s amendments.


No comments