Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 February 2007


Migration Act 1958

7:07 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This report on protection visa processing by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, under section 91Y of the Migration Act, and a related report on the conduct of Refugee Review Tribunal reviews are reports that first started to be generated as a result of the fairly modest improvements that were announced by the Howard government in the middle of the year before last, I think. There was a build-up of public pressure and pressure from some backbenchers in the Liberal Party pushing for improvements in the way that asylum seekers were dealt with, processed and assisted when they engaged with the Migration Act and particularly the immigration department.

We may recall grand talk of the great cultural change that was sweeping through the then Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, now the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, and the very significant amounts of money that were pumped into that department as part of the culture change. As I said at the time, it was going to be pretty hard to get a significant culture change if you did not actually change the laws and the government policies that underpinned and informed that culture. That is clearly being shown to be the case. There are serious problems in really getting a major culture shift when the politicisation still gets driven through the immigration area and particularly the area of asylum seekers and refugee claimants, and it continues unabated.

It is a sad sign that in the last week or two we have seen pretty conclusive proof that all of that money and all the talk about culture change in the immigration department is just that—talk—and once again culture change is being thrown out the window not by workers in the department but by the government ministers themselves. We have gone straight back to the bad old days of 2001. That time was a key part of the genesis of the perverted and degraded culture that eventually got so bad that even the then minister, Senator Vanstone, had to accept and admit how bad it had become and she sought to try to repair it, at least on the surface.

This particular report goes to the processing time within the immigration department for protection visa claims. It is useful to have this data. It shows that there is a benchmark now that those claims are meant to be processed with a determination made, positive or negative, within 90 days. But one of the flaws, of course, is that, if it is not done within 90 days, nothing happens. It is a bit like the benchmark that is meant to be there for the period that people are in detention. There is a report triggered if people are there beyond a certain amount of time but there is no actual force of law behind that that requires anything to happen. It is all still discretionary. It is all still in the hands of the minister of the day and therefore it is all potentially able to fall victim to the politics of the day.

The other big problem—and we are seeing it very starkly with the current situation of the asylum seekers from Sri Lanka who have been put on Christmas Island for the time being—is that these reports and these legislative changes do not apply to people who are being processed offshore. That particularly applies to people who are sent to Nauru and to the people who are on Christmas Island at the moment. Even though they were picked up a week ago, we still do not know where they are going to end up, where the processing is going to be done or even if it is going to be done by Australian officials even though the asylum seekers are now on Australian soil on Christmas Island. This is the absurdity of the situation that still applies under our Migration Act. That is why the Democrats will continue to push for reform to the Migration Act. It is no good just saying that we are going to take a humane approach when there is no requirement under the law to ensure that that approach is taken and that those rights can be enforced at law. To leave yourself at the mercy of the political currents and administrative foibles of the day is, frankly, not good enough. And we are seeing that again at the moment. It is nice to have the data reported, but having the data reported certainly does not tell the full story. In fact it only tells a very partial, incomplete and to some extent misleading story.

Debate (on motion by Senator Moore) adjourned.