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Subprogram 1.5-Refugees, humanitarian and special assistance programs

SENATOR KEMP -The information on page 61 says that the application rate for grant of resident status is reported at averaging around 1,000 per month. Has that rate increased in the last months and, if so, by how much?

MR SIMINGTON -Those numbers have tapered off.

SENATOR KEMP -I had better check my informant in that case. Sixty-five per cent of the applications are reported as being from the PRC. What is the breakdown of the balance?

MR SIMINGTON -I would have to take that on notice; I do not have that detail with me. It covers a fairly large group of nationalities.

SENATOR CALVERT -I have put two questions on notice but I have one which needs comment. I am sure that the Department is aware that there has been a great amount of public comment and publicity regarding the difficulty of Australians adopting children from eastern Europe. I know that the Department, and indeed the Government, would be mindful of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, particularly in relation to the child's welfare and interest and also the possible placement in a foster or adoptive family in the child's country of origin. But surely where these options do not exist Australia has a humanitarian obligation.

I know that you had a review in 1985-86 on this matter. But it certainly appears to me that it is unacceptable that there have been no real developments in that situation since. Do you have any plans to review that situation during the year or is that something I should be asking the Minister ?

MR WHEEN -The issue of adoption is very much before Commonwealth and State welfare Ministers. It falls within the responsibility of States and Territories in terms of making decisions about what is in the best interests of children and whether certain persons, as parents, are acceptable as adoptive parents. The Commonwealth and State welfare Ministers have a review under way through their administrators. There has been a good deal of work done recently in looking at the possibility of getting an adoption agreement with Romania-one of the eastern European countries that has been very much in the news. That is very much on the go at present. A visit has been made by one of the senior State officials to Romania quite recently.

SENATOR CALVERT -I am pleased to hear that because it did receive a fair amount of publicity. I have also had quite a few inquiries in my office about some Indian children. I guess that is a matter for my office to sort out with the Immigration Department.

CHAIRMAN -With the State Government too.

SENATOR CALVERT -You are quite right, Madam Chair. My main problems have been with the State Government. I am pleased to hear your comments about the Romanian children because that is something a lot of people have had a lot to say about.

SENATOR KEMP -I refer to information on page 62. My understanding is that the changes in the arrangements for refugee status now mean that successful applicants are granted four-year temporary entry permits, instead of the automatic grant of permanent residence. After the expiry of that permit, people with an ongoing need for protection will have the opportunity to seek permanent residence, subject, I understand, to places being available in the migration program. Will some new mechanism be introduced to determine whether or not people have an ongoing need, or will it be determined through the existing review processes?

MR CONYBEARE -I think it is fair to say that the existing processes for decision making would be applied at the time when the assessment needed to be done towards the expiry of the four-year period. The Department has not yet finalised administrative processes for determining that issue at this stage.

SENATOR KEMP -I think it is correct to say that a large number of these four- year temporary residence permits would expire in 1993. Has there been some allocation in the program for an anticipated number that will be allowed to remain?

MR CONYBEARE -Not at this stage. The need for such assessments to be made has been registered and will be taken into account.

SENATOR KEMP -If a large number are entitled to permanent residence, does that mean that places will have to be found in the current program for that year?

MR CONYBEARE -That is very much the intention of the Government in introducing this approach. There is, of course, no intention of returning people to countries where they might face persecution. So long as there is a continuing need for protection in this country, ways will be found of ensuring that the individual stays here, either through transition to the permanent residence stream or through a continuation of some form of temporary entry permit.

SENATOR KEMP -Are there any forecasts available on the proportion you assume may require permanent residence?

MR CONYBEARE -No. It is impossible to make that forecast, given that we are talking about unpredictable situations in countries of origin. We would need to be closer to the time when the assessments need to be made to make such forecasts with any degree of effectiveness.

SENATOR KEMP -If people cannot substantiate a claim for further protection, what measures will be employed to ensure that they leave the country?

MR CONYBEARE -The normal measures that the Department would employ once individuals overstay their entry permits. Compliance action would be taken.

SENATOR KEMP -They would in fact be told that their visas had expired and they would now have to make their own arrangements to return to their homeland?

MR CONYBEARE -That is correct. Their entry permits have expired and they would need to leave the country.

SENATOR KEMP -How do you deal with arguments in which they claim they have not got the fares? Is that an argument which is often put up?

MR CONYBEARE -I would like to invite Mr Laurie Bugden to answer the question; we are getting into the general compliance area. Generally speaking there is always the option of deportation of individuals that overstay and actually do not have the wherewithal to make their own arrangements to depart. This is very much an issue that arises constantly in the administration of the program , so I would ask Mr Laurie Bugden to comment further.

MR BUGDEN -In cases where we ask people to leave Australia, we try to encourage them to leave at their own expense and, if that is not appropriate or not possible, we have a provision that we call the deportation vote, and their fares are paid for by that deportation vote on the basis that they have a debt to the Commonwealth, and we continue to try to recover that debt in the future.

SENATOR KEMP -I have a figure here that some 6,000 cases have already been pre -screened. Does that ring a bell anywhere? And how many of these have been able to establish a claim of substance?

MR CONYBEARE -We are speaking of the asylum claimants?

SENATOR KEMP -Yes, I think so.

MR CONYBEARE -Of which we have now some 20,000 plus. I am not aware of that figure.

MR SIMINGTON -Perhaps the reference in the document-and it appears in the middle of page 62-is misleading, Senator. Those 6,000 cases being described as pre-screened are a very preliminary assessment taken on the application and are meant to establish principally a test for agreement to provide permission to work. We are in the process of reviewing that procedure.

SENATOR KEMP -On the same page, on page 62, what welfare benefits are available to the 17,000 people applying for refugee status, and at what stage of the process are these welfare benefits available?

MR CONYBEARE -I think I would prefer to take the question on notice, Senator.

SENATOR KEMP -I wonder whether perhaps I could seek some information in relation to the spouses and dependent children of the 16,000 PRC nationals who have taken up the special four-year temporary entry permits who have been sponsored into Australia?

MR SIMINGTON -Could I have the beginning of the question?

SENATOR KEMP -I was just wondering how many spouses and dependent children of the 16,000 PRC nationals who have taken up the special four-year temporary permits have been sponsored into Australia?

MR SIMINGTON -I believe we do not have those figures. I would feel more comfortable if we could check them accurately and give you the precise figures .

SENATOR KEMP -Perhaps you could add to that how many applications have been lodged to sponsor spouses and dependent children? Could you take that on notice? And what welfare benefits are available to this group of people and what is the estimated annual cost?