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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 12359

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Privacy and Freedom of Information, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice) (19:06): Firstly, I thank the members for Fowler, Stirling, Cook, Melbourne and Lyne for their contributions in this debate. I thank the opposition for their support for this important bill. In relation to the contributions from the member for Melbourne and the member for Lyne, I would not agree with all of the comments they made—indeed, I have to disagree with some of the comments made by the member for Melbourne and I need to go to some of those.

Firstly, in relation to consultation: yes, this bill is being dealt with urgently, but there has been significant consultation with the Greens, the opposition and, more recently, with Independent members in relation to the importance of this bill and the importance of clarifying people-smuggling laws as they have been in place since 1999. I can confirm that we have been in consultation with the Greens spokesperson on this matter since early last week. We provided early copies of all documents that pertain to this matter for their consideration. Indeed, as the member for Stirling, the shadow minister for justice, said in his contribution last Monday—we also consulted with the shadow Attorney-General and have therefore had some extensive consultations on this matter. It is an urgent matter and it needs to be dealt with. I will not be making reference to court matters. I do not think that is proper in the circumstances. I will say, however, that the government is resolute about ensuring we have effective people-smuggling offences and, indeed, that we clarify these matters so there is no question whatsoever about the intent of the parliament in 1999 when the original bill was enacted.

In relation to retrospectivity I have to, with respect, disagree with the member for Melbourne. This is not a trashing of the principles of retrospectivity. Not one material change to any element of any offence in the Migration Act will occur as a result of this bill. This is not about changing the nature of offences retrospectively; this is about clarifying the offences as they have been prescribed in the legislation since 1999. For that reason and also because of whatever consequences may flow without having that retrospective provision, the government believes it is necessary to have that provision. I think it is entirely reasonable and proper that we do so.

In relation to people-smuggling offences, again I have to disagree, with respect, with the member for Melbourne. He indicated that this deals only with crews of vessels. The people-smuggling offences in the Migration Act go to not only crews but organisers of these ventures. This is about a range of offences that are committed under the heading 'people smuggling'. I also want to make it very clear that this is not domestic law that has sprung from nowhere; these are domestic laws that were enacted 12 years ago that relied upon the international convention that we are a signatory to in relation to transnational crime—that is, the human-trafficking and people-smuggling convention. These matters are entirely justifiable. They have been in place for some period. As I said, we do no more by passing this bill than clarify the offences that have existed for that time.

I finally want to say, because this is very important, that this will in no way have any adverse consequences for people who are seeking protection or asylum in this country pursuant to our obligations under the refugee convention. We have very solid and sound advice in relation to that matter. For that reason, for the reasons I outlined earlier and for the reasons that have been outlined in some of the contributions made in this place in this debate, I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.