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Previous Fragment    
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 3124


Mr Van Manen asked the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, in writing, on 24 February 2011:

In respect of the Government’s decision to drop thousands of cardholders from the APEC Business Travel Card Scheme without consultation:

(a)   on what date was this decision made,

(b)   why was this decision made, and

(c)   what will the Government do to help small to medium sized business owners adversely affected by this decision, for example, those incurring costs from time spent organising visas and facing potential layoffs due to an inability to sustain certain business activities.


Mr Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is:

(a)   In June 2010, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) implemented eligibility changes for the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC). The imperative behind the changes, and the urgency with which they were implemented, was to maintain the goodwill of other APEC members who had noted Australia’s comparatively generous criteria and the fact that Australian cardholders, at the time, represented 30 per cent of all cardholders in the ABTC scheme.

(b)   The purpose of the amendments was to urgently counter any perception that Australia was either using the scheme for its own self-interest or did not respect the approach taken more broadly by other APEC members, mindful that each ABTC application creates significant work for all participating economies. Importantly, Australia’s underlying objective was to maintain the goodwill of other APEC members as this is relied upon to preserve the benefits and long-term viability of the ABTC scheme. Australia also relies heavily on this goodwill to pursue more significant and far-reaching trade and investment-related initiatives within APEC.

(c)   To ensure that Australia’s ABTC appropriately supports small to medium sized business owners in their international trade and investment activities, DIAC will be undertaking a review of the current eligibility criteria. This review is underway and will involve consultation with key business organisations, including the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia and bilateral business councils. DIAC’s Industry Outreach Officers, who work with these organisations on a regular basis, have also provided a list of key stakeholders including small to medium sized businesses to be involved in the consultations. This will provide opportunity for the needs of small to medium sized businesses to be emphasised in the process of determining whether consideration should be given to changing the current criteria to offer eligibility to a wider range of Australian business applicants. DIAC does not accept that small to medium businesses will face layoffs due to inability to undertake and sustain certain business activities by not holding an APEC Business Travel Card. While the APEC Business Travel Card scheme allows accredited business people to undertake multiple short-term visits to other APEC economies over a three year period through a single application, it is not the only means for business people to travel within the APEC region. Business people can apply for individual visas to conduct short business visits in each of the APEC economies necessary for their individual business needs.