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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 30


Senator PAYNE (11:37 AM) —Before I make some brief remarks on the Migration Amendment (Maritime Crew) Bill 2007 I acknowledge and thank both Senator Ludwig and Senator Bartlett for their generous remarks in relation to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs and my previous chairmanship of that. I also indicate to the chamber that Senator Barnett, the new chair of the committee, is unable to be here today due to a commitment in Tasmania. I am pleased to participate in this debate as a member of the committee and as a former chair.

The bill before the chamber today will amend the Migration Act to create a new maritime crew visa. As part of the measures which will improve Australia’s border security, all crew of non-military ships will have to apply for a visa prior to entering Australia to enable security checks to be conducted. This maritime crew visa, or MCV, is to replace access to the special purpose visa, or SPV, regime which now applies to the crew of non-military ships, their spouses and dependent children. This is a visa which will apply from 1 July 2007. The explanatory memorandum says:

Currently foreign crew and their families are not required to make a formal application for a visa before coming to Australia. The grant of a maritime crew visa will require a formal application to be made, which will allow each foreign crew member and the spouses and dependent children of such crew, to be subjected to an appropriate level of security checking before visa grant.

The coalition government has a very strong record—reinforced by last night’s budget—on border security. In fact, to protect our borders and our security, this government has in recent years funded major expansions in new technology used by both Customs and the Australian Federal Police to increase border protection measures, implement more efficient processing of passengers and assist in the detection and prevention of terrorism and serious crime.

We have taken action to protect the people of Australia from what are seen as developing criminal trends, such as identity fraud, the manufacture of synthetic illicit drugs—we saw the recent enhancement of funding for fighting the ice epidemic prevalent in many of our cities at the moment—and money laundering. The government has undertaken significant initiatives in that regard, both in pursuit of the FATF recommendations and independently of that with counterterrorism financing. We have also developed one of the world’s toughest aviation security systems to protect both Australian and overseas travellers. That stands in accord with the remarks made by the Treasurer last night in his budget speech. After making some observations in relation to our obligations in the defence area, he noted that we continue to be absolutely committed to addressing emerging threats to national security. I note for the record that the Treasurer indicated that the budget provides a further $702 million over four years for national security initiatives to further safeguard against terrorism, including high-priority intelligence needs, an integrated e-security national agenda and further strengthening of aviation security. He indicated that this brings to $10.4 billion the additional funding the government have committed to national security over the 10 years to 2010-11. I think the record stands for itself.

Briefly, the main provisions of this bill include the creation of a new class of temporary visas to be called the maritime crew visa; the provision that the new visa will be permission to travel to and enter Australia only by sea unless a health, safety or other prescribed reason make it necessary for the person to enter Australia in another way or unless the entry in another way has received prior authorisation; and the replication of the power of the minister under the special purpose visa regime to make a written declaration that it is undesirable that a person, or any person in a class of persons, travel to and enter Australia by sea to remain in Australia. The exercise of the power would cease the visa in that case. The bill also provides that if such a declaration is revoked, the effect of it is as if it had never been made. It provides protection for the Commonwealth against any claims by persons who may have been detained while the declaration had been in force.

The further provisions of the bill enable the new maritime crew visa to be held with certain other types of substantive visas—for example, a transit visa or an electronic authority to enable a crew member wishing to join a ship in Australia to travel by air; provide that it will be an offence for an airline to carry a passenger whose only visa is a maritime crew visa; and make certain technical amendments so that an appropriate regulatory framework can be created to identify who may be granted a maritime crew visa and then to describe the events that will result in the cessation of a maritime crew visa.

I want to briefly outline the implementation arrangements for the new visa. I think it is also important to note for the record that details of this nature were also canvassed in the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs inquiry, chaired by Senator Barnett, which was held into this piece of legislation to make sure that stakeholders who came before the committee and who made submissions to the committee were aware of and comfortable with the implementation arrangements.

The amendments in the bill provide a basic framework for the existence of maritime crew visas which, for crew on non-military ships, replace the SPV arrangements currently in place. The maritime crew visa arrangements are designed to cause the shipping industry as little disruption as possible. Consultations with industry indicate that they are indeed comfortable with the proposals. The major change for industry will be the requirement for foreign members of crew, including supernumerary crew and the spouses and dependent children of such crew, to make an application for a visa outside Australia to travel to and enter Australia. Currently, under the SPV arrangements, foreign crew and their spouses and dependent children are granted an SPV by operation of law when they enter Australia. The special purpose visas cease when those people depart Australia with their ships or in certain other situations to be set out in the regulations—for example, where a member of a crew works in Australia outside the scope of the duties they would usually perform on their vessels or when a ship leaves Australia without a crew member; obviously where the person is absent without leave or has deserted. Under the proposed regulatory framework, maritime crew visas will similarly cease in certain situations, as I have indicated in the above examples—for example, failing to sign on to a ship within five days of arriving in Australia by air or failing to depart Australia after signing off a ship.

I think it is also important to record in this debate the areas in which the proposed new visa arrangements for foreign seafarers will assist with Australia’s overall border integrity. Some of those areas were set out in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs inquiry, which noted:

  • the ability to security check applicants because crew will be required, through a formal application process, to provide relevant personal biographical data and other information including character information and employer details;
  • the inclusion of information, in DIAC’s visa database, about seafarers seeking to travel Australia can be cross-checked against crew information provided to Customs at the time of their impending arrival in Australia with their ships;
  • increased funding for relevant staff to be involved in the various checks to be carried out at the time of visa application and at the time of crew arrival in Australia;
  • an MCV holder would only be able to travel to Australia by air if they obtain an additional visa suitable for travel by air;
  • the ability to check the bona fides of sea crew arrivals when their ships arrive in Australia with the added ability to check crew of concern on non-military ships before they enter Australia’s migration zone;
  • the ability to infringe the masters, owners, charters and operators of ships for carrying improperly documented passengers and crew to Australia; and—

importantly—

  • the ability to more closely monitor, analyse, and respond to breaches of immigration compliance by foreign sea crew.

As the department’s submission to the inquiry observed, when you put all of those features together, we end up with a much more comprehensive process for deterring those who could be described as non-genuine crew from seeking to enter Australia for purposes which are not connected with the maritime industry and, hopefully, to generally address the future risk involved in dealing with foreign seafarers as a cohort of temporary visitors to Australia.

I also want to refer to the observation in chapter 3 of the committee’s report in relation to the consultation on this bill undertaken by the department with the various stakeholders. The committee has pursued the issue of consultation with agencies over the course of many years—not just with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship but with all that have come before the committee—and that continued during this inquiry. The representative of the department who was present at the hearing on the occasion of discussing this bill indicated in relation to consultation that the department had established an industry working group with Shipping Australia Ltd in early 2006 and that that industry working group had met on four occasions in that year to discuss the proposed arrangements for the maritime crew visa. It was also indicated that there was a meeting held in Canberra with representatives of the Maritime Union of Australia and the Australian Shipowners Association to broadly discuss the proposed arrangements. The departmental representative said that those meetings indicated to the department that the approach to this new visa was largely meeting the requirements of industry. The department also indicated that they undertook industry consultations which started in late November 2006. There were 11 industry seminars in capital cities and at major ports around Australia. The committee’s report noted in paragraph 3.4:

Shipping Australia Limited noted in its submission that it had been working with DIAC for some time to ensure that the Maritime Crew Visa (MCV) would result in minimal impost and cost to the shipping industry.

The consultation process is a very important matter for the committee, and it is good to be able to report that consultation has occurred and that there is general satisfaction with the approach being taken by government in that regard. The bill proposes important initiatives to enhance Australia’s border security. They are important initiatives for the Senate to consider today.