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Wednesday, 28 March 2007
Page: 1

Senator NETTLE (9:30 AM) —The Australian Greens oppose this motion for a number of reasons that I will briefly outline to the Senate. This motion deals with two pieces of migration legislation. One is the Migration Amendment (Border Integrity) Bill 2006. The primary component of this motion is to exempt it from the cut-off. The border integrity bill is a piece of legislation that brings in biometric facial recognition technology for use in Customs. There are questions about the capacity of that technology and the error rates associated with it which the Australian Greens believe should be explored through a Senate inquiry to ensure that we understand what the error rates are. A recent Senate inquiry looked at the issue around the access card, and the same problems with biometric technology were raised there. We would like to be able to explore that issue in a Senate inquiry.

When this legislation was debated just last night in the House of Representatives, concerns were raised about legislative creep. As it currently stands this legislation has some restrictions in it in terms of keeping information—biometric photographs of people. That information cannot be kept now, which is good, but we have not had the opportunity to get from the government the assurances that there will not be legislative creep with this legislation. So those are the concerns that the Greens have.

We are in a position to be able to support the bill but we want to be able to ask questions about that process, and this exemption from the cut-off does not allow us to do that. Clearly, if this motion proceeds and the government does force the Senate to restrict its opportunity for debate on this legislation and not hear from experts, not hear from the public, not hear from the people who know about the error rates in biometric facial technology—I do not reckon everyone here is an expert on it—then the only option left open to us will be to discuss that in the committee stage of this bill, which we will do.

We are quite happy to support this kind of legislation bringing in these proposals, but we want to hear more about how it would be implemented, what kinds of assurances there would be and what kinds of error rates we have got with the technology. That is why we would like to have the opportunity to have that discussion and debate. If the government proposes to do it this way then we will have to have that discussion in the committee stage. We are not all experts in biometric facial recognition technology and we believe that hearing from experts would be helpful to the Senate debate.

The other part of this motion is that the border integrity bill be taken together with the Migration Amendment (Review Provisions) Bill 2006 [2007]. This is one bill on which there has been a Senate inquiry and there have been recommendations out of that inquiry—in particular, in relation to the Refugee Review Tribunal taking oral evidence. Those are recommendations which the government-dominated Senate inquiry supported and which the Greens supported and would like to see implemented.

For us the difficulty is created in the government seeking to move these two bills together, because we are supportive of the border integrity bill, but we have amendments which were put forward in recommendations from the Senate committee that we want to see implemented, and to date we have had no indication from the government that they will be supporting those amendments. That makes a difference for us in terms of how we deal with that piece of legislation. If the government does not accept its own government-dominated Senate inquiry recommendations around that issue then we will be in a position of wanting to support one piece of legislation and not the other. Therefore, we do not want the two bills to be taken together.

We are actually prepared to have the debate at the same time but, if we hear from the government a refusal to accept its own committee’s recommendations, we may want to vote differently on these two bills. Perhaps the Clerk or the chair or the minister can inform us on this. We do not mind the debate occurring on the two bills together, but we want to be able to have the vote separately, because if the government does not accept the recommendations then we may need to do that.

Those are the two issues of concern that we have. One is that we want to hear from technical experts about the biometric facial recognition technology, and we have not had the opportunity to do that. The other is that we may well have differing positions if the government does not accept its own Senate inquiry’s recommendations. Therefore, whilst we are prepared to have debate on the bills together, we want to ensure that we can have the vote separately.