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Wednesday, 26 September 2001
Page: 31481


Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (12:22 PM) —I thank the members for Barton, Sturt and Stirling for their contributions to the debate on the Jurisdiction of the Federal Magistrates Service Legislation Amendment Bill 2001. I indicate that, not surprisingly, the government will be opposing the second reading amendment moved by the member for Barton. This bill will amend the Migration Act 1958 to give jurisdiction to the Federal Magistrates Service in matters under part 8 of the Migration Act. This jurisdiction will be concurrent with the Federal Court.

Many migration matters are of a routine nature and would be suitable for the service. The Federal Magistrates Service is able to resolve matters within six months and often in less time. This quick processing of cases will help ensure that less complex migration cases are dealt with quickly. Contrary to the suggestions made by the member for Barton, the Federal Magistrates Service is dealing with the matters before it quickly and efficiently. Matters before the service are disposed of within six months—a significant and important improvement in service delivery for people with federal legal problems— and that includes those in regional and rural areas. Contrary to the assertions of the member for Barton, but consistent with the submissions of the member for Sturt, the Federal Magistrates Service not only has magistrates permanently located in regional areas which did not previously have a permanent federal judicial presence but also is circuiting extensively to rural areas. Unfortunately, the opposition has not really done its homework as to where migration cases are likely to be filed and heard. The reality is that the vast majority of those cases are filed in the Sydney and Melbourne registries of the Federal Court. So it makes sense to locate additional resources to deal with those cases in the Federal Magistrates Service in those registries.

The bill has been drafted to amend the Migration Act 1958 in its current form. However, as the opposition has now indicated that it will support the passage of the Migration Legislation Amendment (Judicial Review) Bill 1998 [2001], the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2001 and the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 6) 2001 in the Senate, amendments will be moved in the Senate to take account of those bills. This will ensure that the amendments in those bills will also apply to the jurisdiction of the Federal Magistrates Service under part 8 of the Migration Act.

The Migration Legislation Amendment (Judicial Review) Bill 1998 [2001], when it comes into force, will change part 8 of the Migration Act 1958. It is necessary, therefore, to introduce consequential amendments to the Jurisdiction of the Federal Magistrates Service Legislation Amendment Bill to take into account the changes in the wording of part 8 of the Migration Act. This is necessary to ensure that the objective of the legislation is achieved, despite the change in the wording of the primary act. The effect of the amendments will be to ensure that, in the event that the Migration Legislation Amendment (Judicial Review) Bill 1998 [2001] comes into force, the jurisdictions of the Federal Court and the Federal Magistrates Service with respect to migration matters will remain parallel.

The Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2001 also amends part 8 of the Migration Act. The amendments to part 8 prohibit class actions in migration litigation and limit those persons who may commence and continue proceedings in the courts. The Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 6) 2001 amends the Migration Act to provide that the identity of applicants for protection visas should not be published by the High Court or the Federal Court. The proposed amendments ensure that the relevant provisions of these bills will also apply to the Federal Magistrates Service. Conferring jurisdiction in migration cases on the Federal Magistrates Service is part of the government's broader reform of the migration system in Australia. The coalition is committed to ensuring that our migration system is fair and efficient. This bill will assist in achieving that goal.

The member for Stirling made an assertion that giving jurisdiction to the Federal Magistrates Service will create another layer in the process. This is in fact not at all correct. Giving jurisdiction to the Federal Magistrates Service in migration matters will not add another layer to the process. Appeals from decisions of the service go directly to the full Federal Court. There is no provision for an appeal to a single judge before the appeals go to the full court. The Chief Justice of the Federal Court does have a discretion to allocate an appeal for hearing by a single judge, but that judge is exercising the appellate jurisdiction of the full court. This ensures that there is no additional layer of appeal, but at the same time ensures that the Federal Court is able to allocate appropriate resources to the matter. Any further appeal from the full Federal Court is to the High Court, with special leave. So the situation with regard to the involvement of the Federal Magistrates Service in migration matters is effectively in terms of layers of process identical with the current situation with respect to the Federal Court.

As I indicated, the government opposes the second reading amendment moved by the member for Barton. The government welcomes opposition support for the bill and for its broader migration reform package of bills currently in the other place. However, the member for Barton's amendment is a worrying attempt by the opposition to have its cake and eat it too. The opposition wants to be seen to support migration reform, but at the same time to oppose it. The Australian people deserve better than that. They deserve to know where the opposition really stands. The member for Barton suggested that the opposition is concerned that recent amendments to the Migration Act might be found to be unconstitutional. I note that the purported concern about constitutionality was the basis on which the opposition opposed the original Border Protection Bill 2001, so its concerns about constitutionality in this case clearly are not serious enough; otherwise it would not be supporting this bill.

The member for Barton has called for the tabling of legal advice about that bill and yet the opposition has previously rejected the government's assurances about the constitutionality of the original Border Protection Bill. The member for Barton wants to express concern about the effect of legislation Labor is supporting. That—to use language frequently used about the opposition—is both flipping and flopping. In this case, it is grandstanding. Either the opposition supports the legislation or it does not. It is a simple choice, but one that the opposition seems unable to make with any confidence. The Australian people will have difficulty in having confidence in the Labor Party if they stand by their current support but oppose the bill in substance.

In the second reading amendment moved by the member for Barton, it is proposed that the House:

(4) expresses its concern that the Government has not addressed the issue of vexatious or unwarranted proceedings being commenced as a tactical delay to the implementation of migration decisions;

The opposition, it might be pointed out, failed precisely to support the government in its attempt to do that by its failure to support the government on the original Border Protection Bill. I commend the bill to the House.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.