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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4503

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (10:00): This bill is about stripping away complexities for people who seek the protection of Australia who, if returned home, would be at risk of torture, inhumane treatment or likely death but do not qualify as refugees. At first glance it seems counterintuitive that a person who, if returned home would be at risk of torture and inhumane treatment or likely death, would not qualify as refugee, but it is in fact the case. The refugee convention is quite specific about the conditions you have to meet under the refugee convention—that is, persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

For example, it is not certain that a girl who would face a real risk of female genital mutilation would always be covered by the refugee convention. It is also not clear that a woman at risk of so-called honour killings would be covered by the convention and in some countries where victims of rape are executed along with their attackers that woman also may not be covered under the refugee convention. So there are many people facing appalling circumstances who seek the protection of other countries but cannot do it under the refugee convention.

In the 2009-10 budget the government announced that it would implement a system of complementary protection for people to whom Australia has a non-return obligation under international human rights treaties other than the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. There is no internationally accepted definition of 'complementary protection'. The term is not a term defined in any international treaty. However, the term broadly describes protection obligations arising under international law. Such obligations are in addition or complementary to the protection obligations that arise under the 1951 refugee convention, which provides protection to refugees under those specific definitions.

Australia does have non-return obligations when people in those appalling circumstances seek the protection of Australia. Australia, of course, does not send people back to death or possible torture. What currently happens is that a person who may find themselves under one of those circumstances at risk of likely torture or death or inhumane treatment on return applies for a protection visa under the refugee convention. Applicants who are found not to be refugees then go through the appeals process and, of course, are rejected. Then the minister considers their situation under ministerial intervention. So it is a very, very long process for a person who simply could not be returned to their country of origin for fear of persecution, torture or likely death.

It is an extremely inefficient process. Even the Migration Review Tribunal, who might understand that a person is likely to eventually be accepted under ministerial intervention, must reject the application on appeal as the person does not fall under the refugee convention. Relying upon ministerial intervention powers to consider complementary protection claims is incredibly inefficient. The ministerial powers do not come into effect until after the person has been refused a visa both by a delegate of the minister and on review by the tribunal. This means that under current arrangements people who are not refugees under the refugee convention but who may engage Australia's other non-return obligations must go through the entire visa process before their claims can be considered by the minister—again, an incredibly inefficient process.

Under this bill protection visa applicants will continue to have their claims first considered against the refugee convention's related criteria set out in Australia's migration legislation. Applicants who are found not to be refugees under the convention will have their claims considered under the new complementary protection criteria. This approach recognises the primacy of the refugee convention as an international protection instrument supported by the UNHCR, but it establishes new criteria for the grant of a protection visa in circumstances that engage our other non-return obligations under human rights treaties.

Australia will not return a person to a place where they are at real risk of significant harm contained in the relevant human rights treaties, including the arbitrary deprivation of life, having the death penalty carried out, being subjected to torture, being subjected to cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment, or being subjected to degrading treatment or punishment. So it is quite a simplification of the process for people in quite desperate circumstances. Putting people through lengthy processes unnecessarily is not humane, and I am very pleased to see us move towards introducing this system of complementary protection.

Australia has a long and proud tradition as a protector of human rights and it is a reflection of this tradition that Australia is a party to the major UN human rights treaties, including the 1951 convention; the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees; the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia became a party in 1980; the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I am incredibly proud to speak on this bill. It will be an important addition to our system that provides protection to people at serious risk of harm in their country of origin. I am pleased to commend the bill to the House.

Ms GAMBARO: Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House.

The bells having been rung—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! A quorum not being present, the sitting will be resumed in eight minutes.

Sitting suspended from 10:11 to 10:19

The House having been counted and a quorum being present—