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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 6401

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (3:07 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (Senator Evans) to questions without notice asked by Senators Fierravanti-Wells and Cash today relating to immigration and asylum seekers.

Since July last year we have seen this government systematically and deliberately unravelling the whole suite of measures that the previous government had introduced which together, in their entirety, gave us a very effective immigration system and very strong border protection. In a speech on 29 July 2008, entitled ‘New directions in detention’, Minister Evans outlined his manifesto for what has now become the systematic dismantling of the immigration and border protection systems. It is interesting to go back and look at components of that speech. At the time, the minister couched it in language which seemed to say that the government was maintaining its commitment. In fact, the minister said in his speech:

The Labor Party went to the last election with a commitment to maintain a system of mandatory detention and the excision of certain places from the Migration zone, and both commitments will be honoured.

It is all very well to say that but, if you systematically whittle away the criteria and the conditions needed to maintain those systems, it really is a hollow promise and a hollow exercise. It is a false promise.

We are now seeing what was a very effective immigration and border protection system being whittled away bit by bit until it is left as a hollow shell. What do we see? First we saw the minister give us this speech, but then, in October last year in estimates, we started to see how this is actually unravelling. We saw this when the department outlined the details of the 26 program initiatives that the government was changing to give effect to its dismantling of key immigration platforms that had been very effective in giving us a strong immigration and border protection system.

Let us look at what has happened in immigration since that time. One of the most important things is that, while they are now saying, ‘Oh, yes, we have maintained detention,’ the reality is that 90 per cent of people are given permanent visas within 90 days. In my experience as a government lawyer, one of the difficulties that we most encountered in immigration cases was knowing who people actually were. When people come with false documents or when they do not have documents, it is so important from the perspectives of security and risk to the community to know who people are. One of the reasons why a lot of people spend time in detention is that you do not actually know who they are and you have to go back. My concern is whether there are corners being cut and whether there are circumstances where these proper procedures are not being followed.

Other strong signals have been given, such as the abolition of the detention debt. As I said in my speech, let us not forget that there are about 48,000 overstayers at any given time. Now, when those people, many of whom have been engaged in vexatious litigation, have racked up a huge debt, we are effectively saying to them: ‘It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. We forgive your debt.’ Yes, they will have their costs of removal on their movement alert list, but forgiving the substantial debts that they incurred by deliberately and knowingly overstaying their visas—and let us not forget that there are 48,000 overstayers at any given time—does send a message that you are dismantling this strong fabric.

There was also the abolition of the 45-day rule. What does that mean? Overstayers—people who came in on valid visas—can now suddenly decide: ‘I want to stay in Australia. I am going to whack in an asylum claim and prolong the time that I can stay in Australia.’ These are just two examples, but they contribute to the dismantling of this fabric. (Time expired)