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Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Page: 72

Senator GREIG (2:53 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Vanstone. I refer the minister to media reports which detail that, yet again, another highly qualified medical practitioner, desperately sought after by local hospitals to come and work here in Australia, has had his application for immigration stymied because of anti-homosexual policies in the minister’s department. Can the minister confirm that the government’s refusal to recognise same-sex partners as family is discouraging qualified overseas doctors from immigrating to Australia to fill critical health positions in areas of high need, some of which have remained vacant for many years? Can the minister explain why the government gives a higher priority to discriminating against gay and lesbian people than to addressing Australia’s skills shortage and health needs in regional areas?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the senator for the question. Senator Greig, I am not aware of the case that I assume you are raising. If it is a recent one, I do not have advice on that. It is true that homosexual couples are not regarded as families, and therefore there is a different arrangement. The immigration department is very understanding of these situations and does try to help. If you want to raise this matter with me privately, I am happy to make sure that all the assistance that can be offered to this person’s partner to come to Australia is in fact offered. You might want to suggest that it has not been offered, but I do not know the details of the case.

The short form answer is, yes, the Australian government does not regard homosexual couples as families in the context of immigration purposes, but that does not mean that they are not welcome to migrate to Australia. It is just a different pathway. If the person you are referring to has had some difficulty with that pathway, I will be very happy to chase it up for you.

Senator GREIG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that the alternative immigration processes that she referred to are more difficult and more cumbersome and do not apply to those people who are married or in heterosexual de facto relationships? How does the minister justify this separate but equal process? Is it the case that, to Australia’s detriment, New Zealand, which does not discriminate on this basis, is now receiving such applicants?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I do not wish that New Zealand gets any opportunity that Australia cannot take up, but that is more a parochial view than anything else. I do not believe that I said it was equal; I said it was different. By the nature of it being different, that means different. So, of course, it is different.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —When those on my left come to order, I will call your colleague.