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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 14

Senator HILL (Leader of the Government in the Senate) (1:14 PM) —I thank honourable senators for their contributions to the debate. It seems that the Australian Passports Bill 2004, the Australian Passports (Application Fees) Bill 2004 and the Australian Passports (Transitionals and Consequentials) Bill 2004 are supported. In fact, generally the way I interpreted the contributions of the Labor Party and the spokesperson for the Australian Democrats was that they recognise the significant improvements within this legislation, which sets out the new passport scheme for our country.

I guess the only negative from Senator Bartlett was that he despaired the ‘loss of the independence of the Senate’ after 1 July this year. I do not quite understand what he means by that. He may be in some way reflecting on the choice of the Australian people to elect a majority of coalition members to the next Senate—and that might be his attitude towards the wishes of the majority of Australians—but the Senate will not change after 1 July. The numbers might change within the Senate, but it will be just as independent as it has ever been. I hope he does not mean that after 1 July there will be no role of scrutiny for his party. He will have just the same opportunities to scrutinise legislation and hold the government to account through his argument that he has now. Basically, whether he likes it or not, it will be the Australian people who will then pass judgment on whether the coalition in the Senate is doing a job they support or Senator Bartlett has persuaded them to some other position.

Senator Murray’s contribution was a different one. He raised the very real concern of those who, through no fault of their own, have difficulty in establishing their identity for passport reasons. He gave us the detail of one obviously very unfortunate case—it was a rather sad set of circumstances—and the great deal of anguish that a particular individual clearly went through. That is something we wish had not occurred. I have discussed the matter briefly with the officials and they tell me that, in the drafting of the regulations for this legislation, there will be sufficient discretion for them to make wise decisions in circumstances where people have difficulty in establishing their identity through traditional means. No doubt Senator Murray will have an opportunity, when he sees these regulations, to inform the Senate whether he believes they have adequately achieved the goal as expressed by the officials.

Whilst I do not in any way dispute his argument, I do ask him to also take into account the other side of the coin, which is the duty and responsibility of officials to protect the Australian people from abuses of the passport system. Sadly, that occurs. Through these legislative changes we hope there will be less opportunity for abuse. Nevertheless, the officials have a responsibility to enforce the legislation to protect the interests of the Australian people. That is not always an easy job. So I think there are two sides to this argument. On the one hand, we must be sensitive to those who, as I said, through no fault of their own have difficulty in establishing their identity. On the other hand, we must also understand and support officials who are doing their best to meet their responsibilities to the Australian people in seeking to avoid passport fraud. With those few words I commend the bills to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.