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Wednesday, 2 December 1998
Page: 1128

Mrs GALLUS (12:46 PM) —It is obvious that the shadow minister at the table, the member for Bowman, has missed the last three years because there is an element in what he says of a feeling that the opposition is still in government and giving its approval to certain things here and certain things there. I was especially taken by the way that the shadow minister congratulated himself and the opposition on approving this Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1998 . One of the marks of this opposition is the way that it has tried to frustrate the government's program at every turn. However, we are today pleased that the opposition is supporting this bill, albeit with notice that future bills will not be so supported.

I remind the shadow minister in relation to his comments made about the review or judicial system that it is not the role of the review or judicial system to promote their own personal views and to interpret legislation in ways the government did not intend. Their job is to decide on the law, not on their assessment of what the law should be.

We should thank the shadow minister for his views on the actions of the lawyers and judges that he does not agree with and exactly what he does agree with. I am sure it is edifying for all of us to know the personal views of the shadow minister on this aspect. He referred to throwing the baby out with the bathwater and acknowledged that he had used that phrase a couple of times today—I believe about three times since I have been listening to him over two bills today. He also said we must not use a sledgehammer to kill an ant.

It is hard to relate this to the subjects that he is talking about when we remember that the government is getting rid of the inefficiencies that came into this system under 13 years of Labor and is establishing a more efficient system while, in the shadow minister's words, we give people a fair go. To give people a fair go is to allow them access to a legal system, to a fair hearing, but not to give them the right to continue that ad infinitum to the cost of the Australian public and against the interest and wishes of the Australian public.

The government's immigration policy released prior to the 1996 federal election contained a promise to review the efficiency and effectiveness of our immigration decision making—which I think the shadow minister at the table must admit had got somewhat out of hand—including the role and performance of the Immigration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal. In May 1996 the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs called for submissions regarding the review of immigration decision making and the role of the two bodies. The minister released the results of this review in March 1997 and made announcements of the changes he intended to make.

This government, as I have said, believes that people deserve and are entitled to a fair hearing, but we also believe that it is important to have a system that is fair to the people of Australia, the people who fund that very system. We want one that operates in the public interest, that is fair to those people who are seeking entry to this country or who are seeking to extend their stay in this country but that is also efficient. In the words of the minister in a speech he made to the Victorian Immigration Advice and Rights Centre, as I could not word this better:

The notion of "public interest" includes the concern to ensure that high quality primary administrative decisions are made and continue to be made, as a matter of routine in a cost-effective and timely manner, and ensuring aggrieved persons have access to prompt and economical external review mechanisms.

Mr Sciacca —Money isn't everything.

Mrs GALLUS —The shadow minister at the table says money isn't everything, but we do need to use it with circumspection. Perhaps if the opposition had thought of that more in government they may have remained in government longer.

The changes to the Migration Act are based on our pre-election commitment and affect two major areas. The major change set out in this bill is to merge the current three portfolio review bodies into two review tribunals. Currently in refugee cases, protection visa applications are processed in a two-tiered decision making structure. Primary decisions are made by the department, and if unsuccessful an applicant can seek review before the RRT, the Refugee Review Tribunal. In non-refugee cases, currently migration applications have a three-tiered merit assessment process. That is three tiers—an extraordinarily complicated review assessment. A primary decision is made by the department; a departmental review by the Migration Internal Review Office, or MIRO, follows; and, if that again is unsuccessful, there is an independent review by the IRT, the Immigration Review Tribunal.

The proposed changes will bring all migration processing into line—very sensibly, I might add—so that there is a two-tier merits assessment of applications in all review cases. This will be done by merging MIRO with the independent IRT, while the RRT will remain a separate body dealing exclusively with the review of protection visa applications.

The changes in the legislation will give the principal member of the IRT and the new MRT the power to make directions with regard to efficient processing procedures. Such directions will be given for the purpose of speeding up the review process and ensuring that applicants are given a quick decision on their application. The members of the tribunals will be bound to comply with such directions. The principal member will not have the power to direct a particular outcome in any case, and the principal member will not have any power to give policy directions.

The principal member of the tribunal will have the power to reconstitute the tribunal in order to increase the efficiency of processing. The bill requires the principal member to consult with the member or members constituting the tribunal and a senior member of the tribunal before a reconstitution direction can be made to ensure that such powers cannot be used to influence the outcome of cases.

The advantages of this are fairly obvious. It is intended to reduce, and will result in reducing, the review process by 12 months, which has to be in the interests of all concerned, including the applicant, the department and the Australian public. It will result in resource efficiency, as the MRT would have the benefits of all the resources previously split between MIRO and the IRT. It will enhance the credibility of merits review by eliminating the perception of departmental bias in MIRO's review process. It did not actually make much sense for the department to review the department's own decisions. Merging MIRO with the IRT is one of the more sensible and obvious reforms that were needed in this area.

With regard to the RRT, the greatest increase in review applications came not from the migration stream but from the humanitarian stream. For example, in 1996-97, approximately 8,213 people applied for protection visas in Sydney and Melbourne alone compared with the total number of 5,145 in 1995-96. Similarly, applications for review to the RRT doubled in 1996-97 from the previous year. However, no structural change is proposed to the review of humanitarian decisions. Efficiency will be gained from procedural changes to the operation of the RRT.

In conclusion, I want to say that this is part of a whole lot of changes that have been, and will continue to be, brought forward by this minister to give Australians faith in their migration system and ensure at the same time that people from overseas accessing our country and structures are given, as the shadow minister earlier referred to, a fair hearing. I commend the bill to the House.