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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4498


Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (09:40): I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011. I believe that this bill addresses sensitive issues which we on this side of the parliament view with complete seriousness and responsibility.

In the electorate of Robertson, as in most electorates in Australia, the issue of asylum seekers and unauthorised migration is an issue of considerable discussion at this time. I understand that Australians hold very strong views on some elements of the discussion that is underway; but we have never resiled from the fact that we accept and understand fully our human rights and international obligations and that these must be upheld and complied with. I believe that this bill certainly achieves this objective. In fact, it represents a necessary reform in the migration jurisdiction. This reform will streamline the means by which the Department of Immigration and Citizenship can assess asylum seekers who are not refugees under the refugee convention but whose return would breach Australia's non-refoulement obligations.

This legislation has the potential to significantly improve the outcomes of people who are seeking asylum who come from particularly difficult situations. As stated in the title of this bill, these protection obligations are complementary to our obligations under the refugee convention. This bill gives, once and for all, full recognition to these responsibilities in addition to providing an integrated means through which the Department of Immigration and Citizenship can address applications based on non-refoulement. Currently, the non-refoulement obligations can be assessed only by the minister and cannot be taken into account by the department of immigration or independent merit review process. This means that the assessment of refugee claims based on non-refoulement depends solely on ministerial intervention based on executive authority.

I sincerely believe that a thorough statutory process for assessing claims based on non-refoulement is desperately needed. Indeed the statutory process proposed in this bill would enable refugee claims to be assessed more quickly and in a more comprehensive manner. Further, this bill provides for a more efficient, transparent and accountable system when assessing these complementary protection claims. The integrated approach will involve a single protection visa application process. Asylum seekers who have been refused refugee status may nonetheless be granted a protection visa on the basis of Australia's non-refoulement obligations. If a decision is not made in the favour of an asylum seekers, then this legislation will provide that asylum seeker with access to internal merit review.

This legislation is designed to put in place a clear procedure which ensures that asylum claims are assessed in a manner that provides appropriate procedural fairness to the claimant. Such claims currently can only be determined at the discretion of a minister. Whilst those opposite support the continuation of this system, we believe that it results in undue uncertainty for asylum seekers. Also, by having applications for protection visas based on non-refoulement obligations determined through an integrated system with a merit review, there is far less chance of judicial review being required. Such a process makes it easier to ensure that decisions are made according to law and that the requirements for natural justice are properly provided for. This would decrease uncertainty and may decrease the need for the Federal Court to hear so many migration matters. Such reform can only be described as a positive development. It is fundamental that the parliament also consider the humanitarian need for this legislation.

These humanitarian needs include the grave need to consider the welfare of asylum seekers who have been refused refugee status but for whom their return to their homeland represents a great danger. Non-refoulement obligations are contained in the human rights instruments to which Australia is party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as stated by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Unlike our obligations under the refugee convention, our non-refoulement obligations under these instruments are absolute and cannot be derogated from. I challenge those opposite to claim that it is not in the best interests of our nation that we take into account our international obligations when amending the Migration Act—

(Quorum formed)