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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5311

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (17:25): I note the bluster of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, but he failed to address the issue he raised in the House last night. I flagged this amendment in the House last night and also in the briefing with the minister's department and with his own office, and I asked at that time: why are we only strengthening the character test for those in detention and not for all of those on visas, as currently these applications apply right across the board? There was no answer. They had not thought of it. I understand that last night the minister must have thought of it after that—they certainly had not thought of it before I raised it—but he did not give me the courtesy of a reply on the issue I had raised with his staff so I brought the amendment forward.

The amendment deals very specifically with changes to section 501 of the Migration Act. Last night in this place the minister said that this amendment would not work because it would require a complete collapse of the electronic travel authority system, which would destroy the tourism industry. He was even so bold as to talk about my previous time as the managing director of Tourism Australia. He said I should have known this. The minister should actually understand his own regulations and his own act. He came into this place last night and said that this amendment could not be practically operational. Effectively that is what he said. Today in this place, in putting forward this amendment, I have made it very clear to the minister, and I have set it out, that the requirement to consider someone's criminal convictions under the ETA, which effectively would bar them from making an ETA application, is provided for under condition 8528, which reads:

The holder must not have one or more criminal convictions, for which the sentence or sentences (whether served or not) are for a total period of 12 months duration or more, at the time of travel to, and entry into, Australia.

That is where the power is created to bar someone access to the ETA. It is not an automatic progress from section 501 of the act and the character test into that condition. Even still, the minister knows that if he wanted to support this amendment and he wanted the same rules for everyone on both sides of the fence, he could quite easily introduce regulations and he could quite easily introduce a directive under section 499 of the act to ensure that these matters were operational.

I am happy for the minister to tell me where these things are out of place. After all, he has 9,000 people working for him in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. On the opposition side, there are a few of us here working together with our staff in our offices, and we have some experience in dealing with these matters, but at the end of the day it is for the minister to be able to come to this place and understand specifically what occurs under the act he administers and under the regulations. I put it to the Minister: if it is not condition 8528 that is the key issue here for the operation of the electronic travel authority, then I am happy for him to correct me; I am happy for him to set me straight.

Equally, on top of that, the minister can also advise what changes he could therefore make to the regulations and what directives he could give under section 499 to make sure that they were operational. I am sure he would get support from the opposition to do that, because we are supporting this bill. We are supporting this bill and we will ensure that it passes through this place and the other place. But, in making this point, we offer the opportunity for the minister to ensure that we would be in a position to have this change effected. If the government is not prepared to support the opposition in passing this amendment then, frankly, there is no point in a division—because it will not go through this place, and I am not going to waste this chamber's time with the government's refusal to cooperate in a bipartisan way with the opposition over something of this nature.

The coalition have provided the government with support for their measure. We have put forward a practical proposal which, in our understanding, we believe can work. If the government do not believe that is the case, I am open for the government to actually tell me how this can be made to work at an operational level. But, from what I have seen to date, it would seem that the regulations are quite clear, and changes to section 501 of the act would not impact on the operation of the ETA system. But, even still, if the minister believes it does require changes, I am sure those changes can be made to the regulations or can be made otherwise by the form of a directive under section 499.