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Monday, 11 May 1987
Page: 2922

Mr CADMAN(5.00) —The Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (No. 1) 1987 makes changes to two areas that are of interest to me; that is, the Australian Citizenship Act 1984 and the Migration Act 1958. The amendments in the legislation are complementary and are basically part of an updating process, as are many of the changes in the Bill. The basic purposes of the updating are, firstly, to replace references to the Social Services Act with the correct title of Social Security Act; secondly, to replace references to `maintenance guarantees' with the term `assurances of support'; and, thirdly, to replace references to `return endorsements' with `resident return visas'.

The upgrading process which is necessary in the Australian Citizenship Act and Migration Act is reflected, I believe, in many areas of the operation of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I noticed with some interest a Press release issued by the previous Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the present Minister for Community Services (Mr Hurford), on 29 July 1986. The Press release reads:

Genuine residents who did not take out citizenship but who wished to travel after the expiry of their three year multiple-entry visa would be able to obtain further resident return visas valid for up to five years.

According to the Minister this is a simplified updating of the process that allows people to travel backwards and forwards to and from Australia, even though they are not citizens. That notification of 29 July 1986 indicated that changes would be made to the administration of immigration on 1 January 1987. In fact, that has happened. There has been an updating of procedures of language and practice. On 3 July 1985, in another statement, the former Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs said that his changes were bringing about simpler and faster processing of applications. He talked about other areas that this Bill does not deal with directly, but which are related. He stated:

The change-of-status provision is too often abused by visitors at the expense of legitimate applicants waiting in overseas queues.

I intend to ensure that only the most genuine change-of-status cases are considered in Australia. Others will have to go home and apply in the proper way.

That statement of 3 June 1985 would lead most thinking Australians to believe that there was in train a simpler and faster processing and a simpler, faster administration of the Migration Act. The amendments that we are considering today move part of the way towards achieving that, purely by acknowledging a change in terms. Definitional changes basically are the reasons for the amendments, but there are some administrative implications which are highly significant.

I believe that the immigration processes to Australia have collapsed. They are in a state of chaos. An updating process should be applied to the administration of immigration to Australia. I believe that under the current Government this administration is in a complete shambles. Figures prove that that is the case. Not only has there not been a simpler and faster processing of applications but there is an absolutely interminable delay in deciding whether those people who come here and wish to stay indefinitely-a process which has not been encouraged by Australian governments-should be able to do so. So on the one hand there is a delay in assessing whether people can be allowed entry to Australia, and on the other hand there is an interminable delay once they have arrived here in deciding whether they can change their status.

The measures we are debating amend various sections of the Migration Act-sections 5, 11, 11A, 11B, 11C, 16 (1), 55 and 67 (1) (a). These amendments seek to remove the concept of return endorsements and apply `assurances of support' instead of `maintenance guarantees'. There is protection, I believe, for those seeking return endorsements. The protection is clearly stated in the amendments that we are debating. The amendment to section 56 of the Act replaces the term `maintenance guarantee' with `assurance of support'. There must be, I believe, some assurance of support in regard to particular categories of migrants. I refer to family category A, family category B and, in some instances to other categories. Children who are under 18 and aged parents fall into the special needs and relatives categories for which assurances of support are sought. The assurance of support is really a process of statutory declaration whereby a relative undertakes to make sure that somebody's needs are properly cared for and attended to when he arrives in Australia.

There has been a delay in the acceptance of these amendments. Because the amendments are so simple, I guess one must look to other departments. I would doubt whether the delays were caused by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I think that the compendious nature of this legislation means that many departments must be geared up and ready to go at the same time. The delay in this instance may be due partly to other departments. The delay in this case flies in the face of the reference by the former Minister to a simpler and faster processing system. One has only to compare yearly figures for immigration cases awaiting determination. If one compares the figures for June 1985 with those of June 1986, in the family reunion program, there has been an increase in cases not determined of 47 per cent in family category A and 53 per cent in family category B; the figure for the extended family category is 53 per cent; and for skilled migration 254 per cent. A simpler and faster processing cannot be seen to be effective and to be working if one looks at the outcome of these processes. In the employer nomination scheme category there has been an increase in delay of 56 per cent; in the business migration program, 148 per cent. The figure for the independent category is not bad-it is 13 per cent. The figure for the special category is 151 per cent, and refugee-special humanitarian program, 13 per cent.

The processing figure for humanitarian cases is quick. But in the categories which can really help Australia, the figures for delays in the 12 months are double, or treble, those of other categories. There is a 240 per cent figure for delays. The average across the spectrum is 66 per cent. But in the areas in which the former Minister said Australia should be simpler and faster in processing applications, we have extended, extraordinary delays. There are quite crazy situations. In Berne, the financial capital of the world, a person must wait longer to have his application processed than does a person in Madrid. Today, in financial areas, Australia is really moving ahead. We are developing a strategy and a status for world finance. The categories of skilled and independent concessional migrants are not being processed more simply and faster; we are holding them back. This seems to me to be completely the wrong priority.

The House will be aware that there have been some areas of concern regarding this legislation. In most areas, however, adequate assurances seem to have been given by departmental officers regarding the way in which the decisions will be administered. I am informed that the validity of the assurance of support is usually for 10 years and that the Government decided on 3 June 1985 that, once the subject was granted Australian citizenship, the assurance would cease to be valid-I do not disagree with that-and that the purpose was to require sponsors to undertake additional obligations. Those additional obligations are sought and undertaken. However, regarding an assessment of a person's commitment to Australia, under the new provisions which apply to the Australian Citizenship Act in terms of resident return visas, there is an indication that he must spend two of three years in Australia. I think that that is a slight relaxation, to my remembrance, but it is not difficult for us to accept it.

The updating process to which I referred earlier should go right across the board to the administration of immigration and ethnic affairs. I draw the House's attention to an example of the delays that can occur. I do not do so flippantly because I believe that it is characteristic of many instances that have come to my attention. An Italian businessman who, with his family had invested $600,000-odd in Australia was visiting Australia and he decided that he wanted to become more involved with the family business, so he invested more of the family fortune. He currently employs 34 Australians. He had to go through the most dreadful examination of his personal and financial affairs by the New South Wales Department of Industrial Development and Decentralisation. If we are to have a simpler and faster processing system, it seems crazy that State departments and every Tom, Dick and Harry can become involved in simple decisions. This guy was waiting 12 months while a State department fiddled around and looked at the balance sheet of the parent company before deciding whether it was profitable. It looked at how much money had been invested and whether it had been invested in the right place. It seems wrong to me that a government department can intervene between a person making an investment and the type of investment he has chosen. If somebody loses his money by making a bad investment, or happens to choose a winner, I think that is irrelevant to a State department. However, the process was that a State Government department in New South Wales sought copious answers to questions that took months of research and preparation of information that was not readily available in the normal form of business organisations. If we are to speed up the process and, as the former Minister said, make it more appropriate that the Migration Act be administered in the terms which we are considering today, the Government must fulfil what it claimed it had done when the former Minister said just 12 months ago:

The changes introduced in 1985 have been successful. The Government's policy is to maximise benefits to Australia, while maintaining a commitment to humanitarian aims.

That has not occurred. As I have demonstrated, those people who are of absolute and prime benefit to Australia in terms of their skills, knowledge and the investments which they can make here, are waiting two and a half times longer to have their applications approved than they were waiting 12 months ago. When one links that to the delays that have occurred for people in South Africa who are opposed to the system of apartheid applying in that country and who have been asked to wait 29 months before their application for a visitor's visa is considered, one must realise and accept that the Government's improved and simpler system, one that is now enshrined in law, is not applying on the ground. There is a big gap between the statements made in this House and the Parliament, the newsletters and the Press releases and the actual fact as it occurs to people who seek to use our system. It is one thing for us to make laws, no matter how minor, and it is a different thing for this Government and its Ministers to apply those laws and to administer the wishes of the Parliament in a way that is beneficial to all Australians.