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Wednesday, 31 March 1999
Page: 3669


Senator HARRADINE (7:00 PM) —It is my strong view, as I have expressed time and time again, that anyone lawfully resident in this country has the right to have their family with them. In my view, these regulations are inconsistent with my longstanding position on the importance of a fair and equitable family reunion program. Family migration, family reunion and the refugee and humanitarian programs should be the cornerstone of our policy. Australia's migration program should be based on the principles of non-discrimination on the grounds of race, nationality, ethnic origin, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, religion, language, gender, disability, age and socioeconomic background. Giving people preferential treatment because of their socioeconomic background, as the government is proposing, goes against these principles.

These regulations create a subclass of visas for applicants who are able to jump ahead in the very long queue for parent visas because they have the financial means to do so. Those with the money get here quicker, those who do not have the money must continue to wait in line for what seems to be an ever dwindling number of places.

In November 1998 the government introduced a massive increase in application fees, health levies and assurance of support requirements for parents. This has virtually doubled the cost of sponsoring both parents to Australia. The new visa category requires fees of $4,000 for a single and $6,000 for a couple. Applicants also have to provide a medical bond of $5,000 towards their Medicare costs, up from $940 for normal parent reunion. The assurance of support compulsory bond increases from $3,500 for main applications plus $1,500 per additional adult to $4,000 for main applicant and $2,000 per additional adult. The huge increases in the second instalment of the visa application charge plus increased bonds mean parent migration is a financial impossibility for many Australian families.

I am concerned about the message this sends about the government's suggestion that it is pro-family in this regard. Should family reunion only be the preserve of the rich? The total cost of sponsoring parents to Australia is now $17,060 plus airfares. For middle and low income Australians the cost is now simply prohibitive.

These regulations must be seen in the context of the overall erosion of the family reunion category. A total of 8,890 parent visas were issued in 1995-96. This has been whittled down now to a mere 2,500 parent visas. Meanwhile, the queue has grown to 19,600 parent applicants who have applied to join their children here. Parents have been particularly hard hit by the capping and queuing practice of the federal government. The capping of parent visas has created indefinite waiting periods for large numbers of parents. Many may well die waiting.

Yet there is no quota on the number of applicants who may be granted visas in the new category. The wealthy will be able to avoid the lengthy delays caused by capping of parent visas. I remind the Senate that there are 19,600 parents waiting in the queue. We should also bear in mind that those here as refugee or humanitarian entrants cannot visit their home of origin. They may never see their parents again.

These new regulations are in response to the perceived direct costs associated with family reunion migration, particularly for parents aged over 45. However, the cost analysis does not take into account indirect economic benefits and social benefits that flow to Australia through family reunion migration. Economic formulations do not take into account benefits such as child care, physical and emotional support and cultural education; these are not of zero value.

I share the view of the South Brisbane Immigration and Community Legal Service: `The need to have a fair immigration system which does not discriminate harshly against the poor, nor destroy family is fundamental to a just society.' These regulations lay our immigration law open to a charge of being a law for the rich which discriminates against the poor and underprivileged.

The minister has said he will cut the quota for parent reunions by 50 per cent to just 500 a year if this disallowance succeeds. This would result in waiting times of up to 40 years for parents already in the queue. I do not believe we should make decisions in this place based on these sorts of threats. I acknowledge that the minister, whom I respect and who has a feel for this, is under considerable constraints. I acknowledge he has taken some steps to lessen some of the harsh effects of these regulations, for example, allowing parents with children to apply onshore. However, this does not go to the heart of the problem with these regulations, that is, that the majority of applicants are discriminated against because of their lack of financial means.

I have tried hard to find a way through all this. I have not been unmoved by calls from those who believe this new visa category may be the only chance they have to bring their parents out. But we need to address the very real needs of those languishing in the queues. Until these needs are addressed, I can do nothing other than support the disallowance motion.