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Monday, 26 March 2007
Page: 84

Mr JENKINS (5:43 PM) —The Migration Legislation Amendment (Information and Other Measures) Bill 2007 is fairly straightforward and makes various minor amendments to various pieces of legislation, but it raises some concern about the government’s administration of this portfolio and, as has been put by members from this side, given the fact that the government believe there to be serious deficiencies in some of the amendments that they made in early 2004, why has this legislation taken three years to come to this place? The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship’s second reading speech indicated that, with respect to those measures which were put in place by the Migration Legislation Amendment (Identification and Authentication) Act 2004:

The provisions impose criminal penalties in relation to the access and disclosure of personal information, unless that access or disclosure is expressly permitted.

The minister went on to say:

It has become apparent that the list of permitted disclosures and access grounds is too limited. My department’s ability to continue normal working practices is being seriously hampered.

This was because they could not get access to the information on personal identifiers such as signatures, photographs, height and weight measurements, fingerprints, iris scans and audio and video recordings for some of the processes that they would require to investigate and prosecute under other pieces of migration legislation. So we have the situation in which, three years down the track, we are having some appropriate changes put in the legislation to enable this data to be used. We have the situation in which there is an amendment to ensure that somebody who asks for the disclosure of their own identifiers can do this without having to resort to an FOI application.

The bill also makes amendments to other pieces of legislation—such as the Fisheries Amendment Act, the Torres Strait Fisheries Act and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—of a similar nature to enable those things that have been done in the pursuit of illegal fishers to be carried out. I think that we have seen the need for strong legislation in this area that stacks up against appropriate privacy provisions and that is as transparent as is possible. Other agencies and even the Defence Force have to be able to use the pieces of legislation with some certainty to ensure that the tasks that they have been given are able to be carried out.

The pursuit of illegal fishers, especially in northern waters, has become a very important activity. It is an important activity not only because of economic reasons, environmental reasons and damage to the fishing areas but also because of the fact that there is a large crossover between illegal fishers and the potential for these boats to be illegally used for the movement of human cargo, as desperate asylum seekers pay these illegal fishers to reach our shores.

As I said, the Navy need to be certain, for instance, that when they are carrying out their tasks, they have legal backing. Over the last 12 months or so we have had discussion on floating brigs in northern waters. Fortunately, I think there has been dampened enthusiasm for that, and we are continuing business as usual. There needs to be sufficient ability and capacity for the boats that are making the interventions to bring illegal fishers onshore to the detention facility in Darwin, for instance. The capacity of the Navy, through the change from the Fremantle class to the Armidale class vessels, is important in this endeavour.

I have been interested in following this debate, and last Thursday I was a little surprised by the intervention by the honourable member for Moreton in this debate which, despite the narrow nature of the piece of legislation, has managed to be a wide-ranging debate about the nature of our migration program. I thought it was a little over the top for the honourable member for Moreton to characterise the attitudes to migration of either side of this place as being something of great difference and moment. For instance, he made the assertion that the Liberal and National parties see migration as a nation-building exercise, whereas—he went on to say—the Australian Labor Party, through their efforts in office, have always seen it as a constituency-building exercise.

I thought that was pretty much low-rent. I did not think that it added anything to the debate, especially coming from the member from Moreton who, as a former minister in this portfolio area, should know a great deal better. It ignored the history of modern Australian migration. It ignored the important decisions that have been made in the past by the Australian Labor Party, where there had to be conscious change of policy to move towards a non-discriminatory attitude to migration. We have always seen migration as an important aspect of the way in which this nation progresses. To characterise our attitude in the way that the honourable member for Moreton did was monstrous.

If we look at many of the areas that are represented in this place by members of the Australian Labor Party, we see that members on this side represent parts of Australia that are as diverse as we can imagine. To dwell on the electorate of Scullin, which I have the honour of representing in this place, the diversity of background of the people of Scullin is one of its great strengths. These are people who have migrated over the last 60-odd years, from before the Second World War, with a large burst of migration, mainly from southern European countries, post the Second World War. We have then seen waves from every part of the globe which continue to this day and will continue in the future.

These people have undoubtedly made a contribution to the way in which Australia has developed economically. But, importantly, they have made a great contribution to the way in which Australia has developed culturally. That is something that people cannot argue about. It is there; it happens. It is of no use to talk about the types of words that we use for it. At the end of the day, my electorate is multicultural. But those people absolutely understand that they are Australian, that they play a part and a role in the development of Australia in the 21st century. And they understand that their migration to Australia and the contribution of their families are part of a nation-building exercise—a nation-building exercise that has had the support, right throughout the decades, of the Australian Labor Party.

The member for Moreton then went on to regrettably indicate that he believed that, in some way, when there are concerns expressed about the support given to new arrivals, if this was done by a state government agency or somebody representing a state government, it was a form of shifting the blame. At the end of the day, the migration program is something that is controlled by the Australian government. Welcoming new arrivals and assisting them to stand on their own within the communities that they live is a shared responsibility, and I acknowledge that. But it is dictated by the level of migration that the Australian government decides on and the regions to which these new arrivals go.

The member for Moreton gave us an example, from when he was the minister, of a discussion he had in Shepparton about Iraqi arrivals getting drivers licences. He has to understand that even in small numbers the addition of those Iraqi women in a relatively small township like Shepparton is something that would stretch the resources of that community. Whilst there is and has been for quite some time an Iraqi community in Shepparton, what was really being put to him as minister was that assisting these people into the community requires additional support and that the Commonwealth government, the Australian government, could act in partnership with local agencies and the local community.

Later in his speech, the member for Moreton, in talking about his local area in Brisbane, gave an example where he lauded intervention by the Commonwealth government in assisting new arrivals with haircuts, of all things. I am not being demeaning, because this is something that must have been a problem for the local community. It is something that we take for granted, something that is not earth shattering, but for cultural reasons the local community needed to address it. It is proper and appropriate that the Commonwealth government is involved in partnership to address those sorts of problems.

The northern MRC cover my electorate and a large part of northern Melbourne. They were quite proud that they were educating new arrivals on what the city of Melbourne had to offer for recreation and the like. They thought they were opening doors in Melbourne for new arrivals. They would put the latest batch of new arrivals on a bus, take them down through the member for Melbourne’s electorate to places like Lygon Street and then to Melbourne Ports, to St Kilda, and different places in the city. When the MRC did a follow-up, they found that none of the families on those introductory tours had ever left their homes in East Preston, Thomastown or Lalor, and the MRC said, ‘Are we wasting our time?’ They realised they had done these people a disservice by hiring the bus, putting them on it and taking them to these places. With a bit of lateral thinking, they found it was of greater value to take them on excursions using public transport, introducing them to public transport.

Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I do not think I need to tell you that, whilst that is an interesting aside, local communities with limited resources have great difficulties in assisting these people. My contention is: if you take the northern suburbs of Melbourne, for all of the post-World War II period, whether it be the inner suburbs of Carlton, Fitzroy or Collingwood, right out to the outer northern suburbs of Epping, Mill Park, Lalor and Thomastown, we have received and welcomed greater than our fair share of new arrivals. That is the nature of the migration program. It is not earth shattering, it is not rocket science, but some communities are called upon to have greater input and responsibility than others.

If the member for Moreton, a former minister for multiculturalism, cannot see that the Australian government needs to be involved with those communities in providing opportunities for new arrivals, I think he misunderstands the nature of modern migration in Australia in the 21st century. If people arriving in Australia with little concept of paper money are told that in order to gain Centrelink benefits they have to have a bank account, it is a completely alien notion to them. They are then told that their bank account will be accessed through a plastic card that they put in a machine. These are very large hurdles that take a great deal of time to explain to and educate people about the way things are done in the Australian context.

These are simple matters in the day-to-day lives of new arrivals, but when we have to house these people, assist in training them to gain economic benefits through fulfilment in employment, these are extensive hardships on local communities that have ended up taking greater numbers of new arrivals.

Having been enraged by the comments of the member for Moreton, I hope that, in further discussions about this important area of public policy—that is, migration—we do not have sideshow debates that inflame people into thinking that there are any improper motives for promoting migration. It is important that, when we have a large debate going on, people are reminded of the tolerance and harmony that have welcomed new arrivals to Australia. I would much prefer that the honourable member for Moreton look at the speech of his colleague the honourable member for McMillan, who talked about the positive nature of migration and the positive efforts that are made by local communities to welcome those new arrivals. To the extent that the provisions within the legislation that we are debating tonight are delayed a little, they are at least appropriate. I hope they are covered sufficiently by the overarching privacy legislation but enable the use of the information in proper and appropriate ways so that this piece of legislation can go forward.

One of the great challenges that the Australian parliament will face is the way in which the forms of identifying information that are spoken about in this legislation, illegal migration matters and the like are expanded upon to the wider community. As a transit passenger through Los Angeles airport three or four weeks ago, I was fingerprinted and a photograph was taken of my retina. After 14 hours on a plane, I did not have the opportunity to argue the toss about what the information was going to be used for. There are going to be large databanks throughout the globe that have this information. What this debate today has to be about—and continue to be about—is the appropriate use of that legislation to ensure that those who have done something wrong pay a penalty and that those who have not done anything wrong do not have their information misused. With those comments, I indicate my support for the legislation.