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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 7

Mr HARDGRAVE (Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) (NaN:29:00) —The Migration Legislation Amendment (Sponsorship Measures) Bill 2003 makes a number of amendments to the Migration Act 1958 in relation to sponsorship, an important element of the system for managing the entry and stay of persons in Australia. Sponsorship has a fundamental role to play in protecting the Australian community from the costs and risks associated with the stay of noncitizens in Australia. This bill recognises the importance of sponsorship in Australia's migration and entry programs by establishing a comprehensive and transparent framework for the regulations to deal with sponsorship requirements. This framework provides for regulations to be made for sponsorship to be a requirement for a visa; a process and criteria for the approval of sponsors; and undertakings to be made by sponsors. The bill also allows certain actions to be taken against sponsors of prescribed temporary visa holders if they breach their undertakings. These actions include the ability to cancel sponsorship or impose bars on sponsors. These bars can prevent sponsors from gaining further approvals and sponsoring other people under their existing approvals.

While seeking to provide for a standardised approach to sponsorship, the bill gives flexibility for the regulations to cater for different sponsor relationships and situations. This is particularly important and appropriate when you consider that some sponsors enter into sponsorship arrangements for commercial reasons while others do so for family reasons. In addition, this bill seeks to prevent abuse of the merits review process by certain temporary visa applicants who are required to have a sponsor but who, at the time of applying for review, do not have a sponsor or have not attempted to obtain one. In these cases, the decision to refuse to grant the visa can never be overturned by the tribunal, because the requirement that the applicant be sponsored is simply not satisfied. This amendment will effectively close off a loophole that has led to visa applicants pursuing what are clearly unmeritorious claims.

I would like to turn to some of the points raised in the debate and thank the members for Melbourne Ports, Mitchell and, indeed, Lalor for their contributions. The shadow minister could, I guess, easily be accused of believing some of her own headlines in recent days and championing causes that are probably more relevant to her factional backers than to the Australian community. Perhaps in her contribution tonight we have seen yet another application for full partnership at Slater and Gordon, should she choose to seek it. She certainly cannot be serious about becoming an immigration minister in Australia, and I am sure that she currently must be hoping that she gets education or health in some future reshuffle from the Leader of the Opposition.

The government understands that immigration is a nation-building exercise. It is important to know that all of those who come to Australia as visitors, migrants or whatever category they happen to come under, are received well in the community and are also seen to have great credibility: that the visa extended to them, the process that governs that visa application, the processing of that visa, their arrival and, indeed, their departure from Australia are beyond any questioning. As far as the system is concerned, it is important that all Australians—whether they have come here by choice, sought refuge here or, indeed, been born here—understand that our migration system is consistent, fair and focuses on individual needs, not on job lots, which was the way of the previous Labor government. If you look at what Labor did in government versus what they say they might do, people were treated as job lots—they were fitted into a certain category or otherwise.

It is important that, when making contributions to migration legislation discussions, those opposite do not try to defame the good standing of all those who have migrated to this country, particularly those who have come under the humanitarian program this country administers. Given that we are one of only nine countries in the world that have a planned migration program with a humanitarian component, we invest deeply and deliberately in each of those people who arrive in this country. This is not about charity, social welfare or keeping them completely closeted away from the possibilities of standing on their own two feet; this is a deliberate investment in people. It is something we take very seriously.

The whole process of maintaining the integrity of the migration system is very much hinged on making sure that we are not put under pressure by those who seek to pervert our rules—to seek a migration outcome by going around the rules. We want to make sure that we are able to continue to put those resources into people as they arrive in this country no matter what circumstances have led them to come here. It is important that we do not allow, as the member for Melbourne Ports attempted in his contribution, to suggest that those who came as refugees during or immediately following the Second World War are in the same category as those who seek a migration outcome by paying people smugglers to get them across Australia's borders and into the Australian community. It is an important point of principle that the Australian community has ruled on through the 2001 election campaign. The credibility of migrants and visitors coming to this country is very much enhanced by the measures in this bill.

The member for Lalor talked a lot about the handling of 457 visas. The government already comprehensively monitors all sponsors of long-stay business visa holders. Every sponsor is monitored to ensure that they abide by their sponsorship undertakings. A significant number have workplace visits conducted to test the veracity of their claims, where wage records are checked and workplace conditions examined. In total, 25 per cent of all sponsoring employers are site visited. While the government is aware of a low level of abuse, the effectiveness of the government's monitoring activity is highlighted by the numbers. The member for Lalor mentioned 24 sponsors found to have committed a serious breach, while 60,000 people have been issued visas during the last two years. In relation to the member for Lalor's assertion that the government has failed to address the problem of illegal workers, the government has in fact located in the last financial year over 17,000 overstayers and people breaching their visas. These are the actuals; they are not the assertions. This compares to only 7,800 locations in the last year of the Labor government.

There is one side of this place that is serious about the integrity of the migration system and is backing its rhetoric with performance, with compliance teams and by working with the union movement and employer groups—and that is this side of the chamber. Those opposite make a lot of claims, they make a lot of promises and they make a lot of observations but, at the end of it, look at what was done: 7,800 in their last year in government; 17,000 in the last financial year of this government.

The member for Lalor also focused in on the fact that there were still 110 children in detention in Australia. She said that the issue was about the separation of the kids from their fathers. The government continue to work to achieve alternative detention arrangements in Port Augusta and, indeed, at Port Hedland. We do not want to see, as those opposite seem to be implying, a forced removal of children from their parents. Nor do we want to see a signal sent to people-smugglers that, if you send kids on boats, you will get a different outcome. We do not want to see those things occurring.

As the minister for immigration said in question time today, we do work with state welfare authorities—and I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing, who understands these issues very well, is at the table. You should consider that Family and Youth Services in South Australia is monitoring those children who have been in places like Woomera in the past and who are in Baxter now. People should understand that Minister Ruddock is happy to deal with any observations of the state welfare authorities and ensure that, in fact, the welfare of children properly administered by state welfare authorities is maintained. Not one state welfare authority has recommended that children be taken out of those centres away from their parents. Again, we see recycling of old arguments by Labor that have been dealt with by the Australian people on a number of occasions. People made decisions with regard to this matter at the 2001 election, and of course the Labor Party has raised this in this debate—which it is entitled to do.

I think it is important to get back to what the measures in this bill are about. We should look at what we on this side of the chamber do, at what this government have constantly done and what we have been able to do under this immigration minister, the member for Berowra. He is the longest serving immigration minister in Australia's history, a man of high integrity, of consistency and of completeness in his scruples and in his approach—and those opposite should be ashamed of the way in which they have attempted to defame his good character in recent weeks. This minister for immigration has held the migration by, and the good standing of, all those who have come through the migration system constantly in mind. Its conduct and the possibilities for each individual have always received his greatest interest and most constant efforts. It is not easy, it is not simple; it is a hard brief, but he does it well. This bill is about ensuring that the integrity of Australia's migration and entry programs is not compromised. I commend this bill to the chamber.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. B.C. Scott)—The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Lalor has moved as an amendment that all words after `That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.