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Wednesday, 17 February 1999
Page: 3110


Mr LEO McLEAY (12:58 PM) —I would have thought, Mr Deputy Speaker, that if we are going to rewrite the preamble to the constitution, we should have got you to do it, because you are such an eloquent person.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I thank the honourable member.


Mr LEO McLEAY —I can get five minutes now, can't I? The opposition generally does not have any disagreement with the Migration (Visa Application) Charge Amendment Bill 1998 before us today. I think members on both sides have significant concerns about the visa entry to this country, particularly members representing an electorate like mine which has a very large number—bordering on 40-odd per cent—of constituents who were not born in Australia, and who have relations wishing to come here as visitors or as permanent residents, with friends in the same position.

So the question of entry into Australia and the issuing of visas, be they permanent resident visas or temporary entry visas, is a very large part of the work that my electorate office does. And I have to say that we have quite considerable concerns with the way many of these visas are issued, the amount of time it takes to have visas issued and, indeed, the criteria that are often applied by posts to issuing those visas. It is not just electorates with a high number of people born overseas who have that problem, but members from across the board. Even rural electorates like yours, Mr Deputy Speaker Nehl, would have the same problem.

The really significant problem that we find in my office—and knowing a little of your electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker, I think you would find the same—is for people who wish to come on visitors visas to see family, to come to weddings, to come to christenings, to come and see a cousin they have not seen for a long while. The difficulty those people often have in having relations come to Australia is a significant concern. It is a concern that tends to militate against those who are people from non-English speaking backgrounds: if you have a relation from the UK or Ireland, you have a lot less trouble having them come for a visit than if you have a relation who wants to come from India or the Middle East or Africa. Whether there are good reasons—and I know the minister can tell us about the profiles the department has that show that certain groups of people tend to be overstayers while others do not—it does not matter how good those reasons sound, the people themselves believe in their hearts that there is discrimination against them.

Often, as I am sure members find, you get some people who come in and you know that they have got friends or relations who have overstayed or will overstay. But we must apply our minds and the government must apply their mind to finding some way to deal with the decent people. An example I had—I will not give the name but I think this was one I wrote to the minister about; and I am not criticising the minister here because all immigration ministers have this problem—was a family where the couple have lived in Australia for 30-odd years. They have never been on any benefit of any sort. They are good, hard working Australians who came to this country from the Middle East. They have never sponsored anybody to come here. They have never been in any trouble. They wanted a friend to come for a holiday and, despite the entreaties that my office made to the post, they were unable to get the person issued with a visa just because a whole lot of other people from the area that that post dealt with tended to overstay.

If you are a young or single person from the Middle East, you just will not get a visa. I think that is terribly unfair to a lot of the really good people who can show that they have done everything right in this country, that they have been good, upstanding citizens. Sure, they accept that there are other people from their homeland who may have overstayed, but they should not be put in the same boat.

We have really got to the stage where maybe both sides of the parliament have to apply their minds to the question of finding a way to deal with those decent people. If we do not, we are going to find that those people will really feel a backlash and think that their value to this country accounts for less than someone from your background or mine. If we really want to do something to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Citizenship Act, we should find some way to satisfy the genuine desire of those citizens who have complied with every law and regulation that we have. If they want to invite a friend or a family member out, they should be able to.

It also often causes those people considerable embarrassment because they have been travelling back and forth to their homeland over the years, they have enjoyed the hospitality of relations and they feel that they are not able to do the right thing by their relations. They will go back to Lebanon, Syria, India or Bangladesh and stay with a friend or a relation, but they cannot reciprocate. I really think we need to do something about that.

The second issue I will touch on, and I will try to be brief, is the question of the very lengthy delays now experienced at some posts for the issuing of visas to spouses. I know that governments over a period of time have had problems with marriages of convenience—although I think there are fewer of those now than in the past and people are taking a much more mature approach—but we still have long waiting lists for spouses to be reunited. I really do not think the government should get in the way of the marital relations of Australian citizens and their spouses.

While governments may not believe in true love, I do find it rather disgraceful that someone can fall in love with a person here in Australia and marry them next week, if they want to, but if they fall in love and marry someone who does not live in this country they can find that—as my office has found—it can take up to two years to be reunited with their spouse. I had a woman come to my office who went through the trauma of having to have her child on her own, with her husband not allowed to come to the country because he was on this visa queue. They were married overseas, she was an Australian citizen and they could not be reunited. Both sides of politics should accept that there are fewer marriages of convenience and agree that the great number of Australian citizens who marry people from overseas should not be at a greater disadvantage than those who marry people who live in this country.

I think those two things should be addressed. I know the minister will say that they are not easy—and they are not—but there have been a number of things that governments have addressed in changes to the migration program over the years which have overcome some of these issues. We could find some way to have a bond or some other form of enforceable penalty for people who ask someone to come as a visitor who then overstays. It is surely not beyond our wit to work something like that out.

I am sure we could do the processing for spouses of Australian citizens onshore. These are Australian citizens. They are not people who have come here for a holiday and decided they want to marry someone else who has come here for a holiday. These are often people who have been born in this country, have gone on an overseas holiday and have decided they have found someone they want to marry. Why should they have to wait and wait? It does not happen here. If you want to get married here, usually the only people who get in your way are your parents. But when people wish to marry someone from abroad, the people who get in the way are the state.

Once again, the perception is—whether it is right or wrong—that the state gets in the way of one group of people far more than it gets in the way of another group of people. If one of my kids went back to Ireland, where my grandparents came from, and got married, I am sure they would not be waiting 12 months for their spouse to arrive here in Australia. If my nephew, who is of Lebanese descent, went back to Lebanon and got married, he would be waiting longer than his cousin.

I do not see how we can say to people that we are not treating one group differently from others, and I really think that we ought to try to address that. I have a lot of differences with the minister over many things, but the minister is a good hearted person. I have said many bad things about the minister from time to time, but I have never said that he was not a good hearted person. I really think that these are two issues that we should try to address.

I think there is a danger for us if we do not resolve these two issues in that there will be a large group of people who live in this country, who are citizens of this country in the same way that you and I and the minister are citizens of this country, who genuinely feel that they are being treated differently. That is not fair and it is something that we should try to overcome. While the opposition does not disagree with the legislation before the House, I think that many members on both sides of the House would have quite sincere concerns with those two issues that I have just raised in this debate.