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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7106

Mr RUDDOCK (Immigration and Multicultural Affairs; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) (9:06 PM) —Let me deal with the two matters that have been raised in these estimates, briefly if I can, and the first is in relation to parents. I have heard the points that were made. The Labor Party has a very simple issue that it has to deal with. Do you believe the program is the right size? Do you believe the composition is right? You tell me it is, but if you tell me it is then you cannot go out and argue that parent numbers ought to go up.

I want to deal with the matter of parents in two ways, fairly briefly if I may, because they were raised by the member for Lowe and the member for Melbourne Ports. The Labor Party itself recognised when in office that something needed to be done about parents who were going to be highly welfare dependent. It brought in a balance of family test. The numbers blew out again very significantly and the issue needed to be addressed. The situation that the member for Melbourne Ports wanted to address would have been met by the 113 class that we brought in. The young man would have been able to sponsor his parents because they were prepared to accept the obligation of being supported, and that would have been possible. But your colleagues disallowed it. I understand that. Members of the Labor Party have to recognise that if you are of the view that the policy that had been applied over many years of precluding people from the age pension, and that meant that we as taxpayers generally were not going to pick up that responsibility, then you needed also to have a preclusion in relation to special benefits and a range of other benefits, otherwise you were simply bringing people in to make them welfare dependent upon the Australian community as a whole.

We can address that side of the equation or we can address the numbers. I am willing to talk about how these issues can be addressed; but it is very undesirable to focus on bringing in large numbers of people that other taxpayers have to support, when the people who are going to benefit are those who want to use family members to enable them to have two people in the work force—which is very often the case—with the parents providing child minding. They are the sorts of arguments that I get as to why people want their families to come. I think the measures that we have proposed were not unreasonable but the view was that they should have been disallowed.

I will deal now with the visitor visa system. I just checked because I wanted to be sure I was not slandering the member for Calwell. He was not a party to this report, but many of his colleagues were. The report actually deals with the issue of risk factors, the sort of analysis that has to be undertaken to ascertain whether or not you are going to have people coming to Australia who are going to breach visa conditions, such as overstay, working unlawfully—all the things that you rail about.

The member for Bowman tells me that he is tougher than I am—he wants to deal with unlawfuls. The only way you deal with minimising the number of people who are unlawful in Australia is to be able to identify risk factors where they occur and to deal with those. These measures are not discriminatory in terms of race. It is very clear. If you come from Malaysia or Singapore you can get an ETA and we have just extended that to Hong Kong and Taiwan. These are countries that are essentially compliant markets.

The issue that the honourable member for Calwell has raised about the sorts of factors that you take into account, the committee looked at. We were concerned that people who were applying for protection visas were not being included as part of a risk factor. We were concerned when we looked at the issue of visas that risk factors ought to be examined again to bring into effect the wider range of issues.

It has always been a matter of policy—whether it was your government or ours—that in relation to visitor visas we wanted people who would come here for a genuine visit but not apply onshore for further visa classes. People can come in as a visitor and then apply to be a student—and this is dealt with in the letter that members might care to look at that I have circulated in response to the member for Calwell—or come in and then apply to be a spouse, or come in as a visitor and then want to be a parent applicant. The difficulty is that people are assessed for visitor visas against health criteria which do not involve any checking whether they have got tuberculosis and do not involve checking whether they meet character requirements. So we then have to try to process them here in Australia, away from the skilled staff with the special capacities to process them—that is, in the overseas posts.

It is highly undesirable to have people coming to Australia and thinking that, because we have got a number of exceptions for compassionate reasons, people ought to be applying onshore in Australia for a permanent outcome. So the risk factors do take up those sorts of issues. They are properly taken into account and the sorts of risk factors that we are applying today are the same sorts of risk factors—(Time expired)

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts

Proposed expenditure, $1,753,131,000.