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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 2345

Mr MORRISON (CookMinister for Immigration and Border Protection) (12:02): I thank members of the House for their contribution on this important debate on the Migration Amendment (Regaining Control Over Australia's Protection Obligations) Bill 2013. (Quorum formed) This bill corrects the actions taken by the former government in opening up complementary protection to abuse, adding another product to the people smugglers' trade and allowing advantage to be taken of our nation's generosity. The bill amends the Migration Act to remove the hard-wired criterion for the granting of a protection visa on the grounds of complementary protection and returns to the former process of this protection being considered, where appropriate, under ministerial intervention. The purpose of this bill is to allow the government to restore the most appropriate mechanism for considering these claims and thereby to significantly reduce the risk of the process being abused.

When the Howard government left office, the Rudd-Gillard government inherited from the coalition a robust immigration program that Australians trusted. Labor broke that trust and outsourced the management of Australia's refugee and humanitarian program to criminals and crooks. This government is restoring the sovereignty of Australia's borders and regaining control of Australia's protection obligations. This government will restore the faith of the Australian people in our migration program.

This bill in no way resiles from our international obligations, as has been suggested in this debate. We are not backing away from our commitment to provide protection to those in genuine need, but we are protecting those places for legitimate applicants and delivering on our promise that this government will not reward those who game the system. This government believes in restoring integrity to our processes so we can be sure that visas are going to genuine applicants. Importantly, this bill will bring the interpretation of complementary protection back in line with international expectation and experience. The term 'complementary protection' is used to describe a category of protection for people who are not refugees, as defined by the 1951 refugee convention, but are nonetheless in need of protection on the basis that they cannot be returned to their home country due to a real risk they would suffer a certain type of harm.

The very real principle of nonrefoulement not only exists in all of the conventions to which we are signatories but has become a well-established and accepted principal and cornerstone of international law. The principal of nonrefoulement should be and is upheld in this bill. It should be defended, against those who would seek to abuse it or subvert it, but the framework put in place by the former government is not the most effective or robust way to achieve that end. The ministerial intervention model has the advantage of allowing the minister to deal flexibly and constructively with specific cases of individuals and families whose circumstances are invariably one-off and complex and who may be disadvantaged by rigidly codified criteria administered by department officials and subject to other, broader processes. This may include people fleeing significant harm, such as women fleeing honour killings or genital mutilation, who will continue to have and should have the protection of this country in those circumstances under our complementary protection obligations, which exist under the various conventions to which we are a signatory.

The former system enabled legitimate claims to complementary protection to be identified and addressed, while not opening up the system to vexatious onshore claims to try to game the system in the courts or allow a broader interpretation of claims and other intended measures by the courts. Indeed, former Minister Bowen acknowledged in the House in 2011 that, if presented with a case of those circumstances:

All immigration ministers that I know would intervene in such cases and would grant that visa.

That has been the practice under ministers for immigration of all political persuasions and certainly will be in my case. The bill will not result in protection being denied to anyone in genuine need, as some in this debate have sought to suggest.

The interpretation of the courts as to who should be provided complementary protection has made provisions that were intended to be exceptional the norm. The courts have extended complementary protection well beyond what was intended by the treaties to which Australia has been and remains a signatory. I note that, since complementary protection was introduced in March 2012 by the former government, the tribunal has remitted 83 matters to the department with the direction that the person met the complementary protection criteria and that 41 of these cases related to people who had arrived illegally by boat. That is 50 per cent. We said when we introduced this bill that the previous government had put another product on the shelf for people smugglers, and that is what we are seeking to do away with through the introduction of this measure. I commend this bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): The question is that this bill be read a second time.