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Thursday, 22 August 2002
Page: 5494

Ms GILLARD (2:54 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Can you confirm, Minister, that three out of every five asylum seekers who arrive lawfully but have their claims refused then live illegally in the community while your government turns a blind eye? On current numbers, doesn't this mean that more than 5,000 people who have been refused asylum each year are being allowed to remain illegally in Australia because your government will not act to remove them? Minister, why has your government played politics with boat people, including claiming that they have terrorist links, a claim exposed today as untrue, while doing nothing to address this immigration challenge?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank the honourable member for her question, because it is a very useful question. The information that I provided to the parliament the other day—which the honourable member had noted—was that 60 per cent of people who had been refused protection in Australia and are in the community had not left. I made the observation that that was a considerably better outcome than was being achieved in most other countries in the world.

Ms Gillard —It's not a very good figure.

Mr RUDDOCK —No, and the reasons are very clear. A substantial proportion of those people are on visas. The larger proportion of those visas that they have—I think about 17 per cent of the total number—are bridging visas. Why are they on bridging visas? Because we had the manipulation of the legal system over a period of time by people who were able to join class actions, which we were only able to have discontinued, with your reluctant support, at the end of the last parliament.

Ms Gillard —What about the ones who stay against the law?

Mr RUDDOCK —Let me just make the point. There are reasons why a proportion of them remain lawfully in Australia on bridging visas because of the extent to which they are able to manipulate the legal system. There are some others—and let me make this very clear—where, in response to requests that I even have from members of parliament on your side of the House, I intervene to enable them to remain in Australia. They may have married an Australian or they may be in a relationship with an Australian, and there may be other reasons of hardship which suggest that it would be inappropriate to ask them to go abroad and apply to come back. We have done considerably better than most other countries in dealing with these issues, but the fact is that if people are at large then it is much more difficult in a significant proportion of cases to be able to identify, locate and remove them. It is one of the reasons that we seek to ensure that those people who turn up without lawful authority are detained and are available for processing and removal.

The honourable member asked a question about some information that was given in relation to protection visas. It is very important to understand that in section 501 of the Migration Act, which deals with character issues, security is one of those issues which we seek to examine, but there are other issues which we seek to take into account. Those issues can go to such matters as serious crimes such as hijacking or taking hostages, matters of crimes against humanity—

Ms Gillard —They might get an ASIO file on them.

The SPEAKER —The member for Lalor has asked her question. The standing orders make it perfectly clear that any interjections are out of order.

Mr RUDDOCK —I am simply making the point that the ASIO function deals specifically with security related issues in the broader provisions of section 501.

Mr RUDDOCK —The number is 10. Under the section of the Migration Act which applies the provisions of the refugee convention article 1F, people are able to be excluded if they are broadly of character concern. A number of people have been subject to character exclusion. I identified the number as 10. I do not intend to go further.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition has no licence to interject. The minister has the call.

Mr RUDDOCK —I will just say this to the Leader of the Opposition: I would not care of it were one, quite frankly. If you have people of substantial character concern that are likely to pose a risk to the Australian community, they should be excluded. The point is that the provisions of the Migration Act and the scrutiny to which people are subjected need to be thorough and efficacious, and that is what this government has been ensuring.