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Monday, 6 March 2000
Page: 13972

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) (6:16 PM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1999 implements a number of the government's policy initiatives within the Immigration and Multicultural Affairs portfolio. These initiatives will enhance the efficiency of the administration of the Migration Act 1958, while preserving the integrity of that act and the rights of persons affected by the provisions of the act. Schedule 1 of the bill introduces powers to cancel temporary entry business sponsorships and to request relevant information from people who have applied for, hold or have held business sponsor status. These measures ensure that there will be effective cancellation and monitoring mechanisms to provide a balance to the streamlined temporary entry of key business personnel. They flow from recommendations made to the previous government by the Committee of Inquiry into the Temporary Entry of Business People and Highly Skilled Specialists. That committee was chaired by Mr Neville Roach AO, who has made and continues to make an extraordinary personal contribution to issues of national significance, in particular the framework for managing cultural diversity in Australian society.

The committee chaired by Mr Roach advocated a discretionary system of assessment and sanction to allow for the consideration of any breach of temporary business sponsors' obligations. I am pleased to say that this bill puts into place the final elements of the changes suggested by the committee and agreed to by this government. Schedule 2 of the bill amends provisions related to the ways in which visa applications may be made. The amended provisions will prevent applicants from making applications that would necessarily be refused under current migration policy. This will save clients time and money that would otherwise be wasted in making applications that could not succeed.

Schedule 3 of the bill introduces a more flexible method of authorising persons, and classes of persons, to be officers for the purposes of the Migration Act 1958. These measures enable the authorisation of classes of persons, in an administratively straightforward manner, without reducing the obligation of the minister to notify the authorisation in the Gazette. Schedule 4 of the bill is intended to ensure that the Australian community is protected from convicted criminals who are subject to deportation. It will amend the Migration Actto ensure that corrective service authorities can detain non-citizens who are liable for criminal deportation on completion of their prison sentence. The government is committed to providing visa applicants who have a connection to the Australian community with merits review of adverse decisions. Schedule 5 of the bill will ensure that applicants for permanent migrant spouse or interdependency visas have merits review rights. It will align the review of such offshore migrant visas with the current availability of merits review for onshore spouse and interdependency visa classes. Schedules 6 and 7 of the bill introduce two beneficial measures in relation to the migration program.

In the early 1990s the former government enacted provisions to assist in the management and control of the annual migration program. These allow for the setting of numerical limits or `caps' on the number of visas that can be granted in prescribed visa subclasses in any one program year. The measures introduced by schedule 6 of this bill will allow certain applicants who would otherwise be adversely affected by successive caps to be granted a visa. The people who will benefit from these changes are those who were not able to meet health and character criteria before the cap came into effect. This will only apply, however, where the inability to meet those criteria was beyond the applicants' control.

Schedule 7 of the bill will extend from 12 months to two years the period in which a points tested visa applicant who has not met the prevailing pass mark but did meet the lower pool mark may have their visa application held in reserve. The people whose visa applications are held in reserve in the independent category may elect to provide details of their educational qualifications and work experience for inclusion in a skill matching database operated by my department. This database is a key resource for the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme and the state and territory nominated independent category, which are designed to encourage a wider dispersal of the skilled migrant intake. It allows migrants to take up opportunities in regional and rural Australia. The extension of the pool period will ensure that state and territory governments and regional employers have available to them a greater number of pooled applicants with a range of skills to meet identified skill shortages.

Schedule 8 of the bill removes the age limitation for full-time members of the Refugee Review Tribunal in line with the government's policy to remove the compulsory age limits for public office holders. Finally, schedule 9 of the bill ensures that the integrity of the scheme for judicial review of immigration decision making is maintained by treating decisions of the new Migration Review Tribunal in the same way as those made by the Immigration Review Tribunal. These amendments are required because the Migration Legislation Amendment (Judicial Review) Bill 1998, which is presently before the Senate, has not been passed. That bill, once passed, will enable the courts to speedily dispose of abusive applications. I take this opportunity to urge members of the opposition to support passage of that bill, which is of even greater importance now with the large numbers of unauthorised arrivals being brought to Australia by people-smugglers. In conclusion, the bill before you today contains measures that are beneficial to clients, while ensuring that the government's migration program is not compromised. I commend the bill to the House and table the explanatory memorandum.