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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17349


Mr DANBY (7:09 PM) —The purpose of the Migration Legislation Amendment (Sponsorship Measures) Bill 2003 is to amend the Migration Act 1958 to provide a comprehensive framework for migration regulations to deal with sponsorship requirements. Migration is an important issue in my electorate. I take the issue very seriously, both at an individual level with constituents and as a general policy issue. Australia is a country of immigrants, with more than one in five Australians being born overseas and one in three either being born overseas or having parents born overseas. There is a further category of people, which I suppose I fit into, and that is those people with one parent born overseas.

So many Australians have a particular, familial concern with migration policy. This is very much the case in my electorate. Almost 33 per cent of the people in Melbourne Ports were born overseas—around 10 per cent more than the national average. Melbourne Ports is ranked 30th out of the 150 electorates in terms of the number of people born overseas. Melbourne Ports is ranked the 11th highest in terms of the number of people who have arrived in the past five years—6.4 per cent, more than double the national average of 2.7 per cent. It is a very pluralist, multicultural part of Australia, where people seem to enjoy the difference. It is very apparent at citizenship ceremonies, where sometimes, if the minister for citizenship permits, even the federal member is allowed to speak.


Mr Kelvin Thomson —Is that right?


Mr DANBY —But only very rarely. It is interesting to note that, of the 20 highest ranked divisions on the basis of the proportion of persons born overseas, only three are held by the coalition. It is not surprising then that this government has cut immigration numbers, kept kids in detention and introduced the Pacific solution. And now we have these allegations about ministerial intervention and support for the Liberal Party being linked. In my view, the government could generally have shown greater compassion, sensitivity and understanding to migrants and the issue of migration.

As a child of an immigrant, I understand the importance of immigration. I understand the struggle immigrants go through when they first arrive here. I also understand what immigrants have brought to Australia. Last year, there was a major summit on population and immigration. At that summit, one of Australia's most prominent immigrants and a true success story, Richard Pratt, addressed the summit. He said:

I arrived in Melbourne in 1939 from Poland via London as a child aged four. I was literally tucked under my mother's arm as she fled the gathering storm in Europe. Our family was probably seen by many as a `bunch of reffos'. But we found that Australia was indeed a real refuge.

It was also a land of great promise, just as it has proved to be for so many migrants since. Indeed, the story of Australian business growth and development in the past 50 years cannot be told without including the story of immigration. But in addition to my own over half a century, I have a third reason for supporting immigration: the national interest.

That is an attitude that I believe should inform all of our attitudes to immigration. Mr Pratt continued by saying:

We know that Australia's improvements in economic prosperity, cultural diversity and lifestyle enrichment didn't just happen. They're the results of decisions—and risks—that our political leaders took more than 50 years ago—

and since. Mr Pratt continued:

In the same way, the policies and decisions our generation makes will determine the Australia of 2050. Will we choose as wisely as those who came before us? I hope so, because all three parties of government from the 1930s through to the 1970s understood the vital importance of immigration and population growth for Australia. There was a basic bipartisan assumption that guid-ed national policy during those vital decades.

I want to issue a call to arms to my fellow Australians. I want a vision that looks ahead to the year 2050, a vision of a democratic, secure, prosperous, fair and pluralist Australia with a population of 50 million.

Any of us who are familiar with basic immigration patterns and the natural increase will realise that Mr Pratt's vision is perhaps a little overblown as far as the final numbers in 2050 go. We are much more likely to have around 25 million to 27 million people by then. But I think his basic, positive message about immigration stands. Whatever size Australia's population is and whatever population size the Australian community wants, it is important to remember what migration has done for Australia—and that is what this government seems to be forgetting in its passion to protect our `borders'. `We decide who will come to this country' is another code phrase, another dog whistle. The Labor Party recognises the need for border protection. In fact, the Labor Party has a policy to establish a coastguard, which the government does not share. Labor's migration and asylum seeker policies are, in my view, the right balance of compassion, caring and sensitivity combined with the necessity to protect our borders. I think the member for Lalor's second reading amendment, which I strongly support, says it all. I will return to that in a minute.

I would like to specifically look at the bill. The Labor Party supports the broad thrust of this bill and supports the longstanding government policy that, where non-citizens are brought to Australia by sponsors, the sponsors—as opposed to the Australian community—should bear the costs in relation to the non-citizens. This is particularly the case in relation to temporary resident sponsors who gain a commercial advantage from the sponsorship arrangements. Most visa classes, including most business and family reunion visas and some humanitarian visas, require some form of sponsorship. There are also special sponsorship mechanisms for migrants coming to work in rural and regional areas of Australia. Currently sponsorship measures vary from visa subclass to visa subclass. However, in general a sponsor accepts responsibility for: all financial obligations to the Commonwealth incurred by an applicant for a temporary visa; compliance with all relevant legislation and awards in relation to any employment entered into by the applicant; and compliance by the applicant with conditions of entry into Australia specified in the visa.

This bill comes out of a review of the temporary residence program conducted by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. The review commented that sponsorship requirements are different for every class of visa, including, where sponsorship was required, who could be the sponsor, the form of sponsorship and the requirements placed on the sponsor. It stated:

... the requirements to be approved as a sponsor, the undertakings required of the sponsor and the sponsorship approval processes differ for different visas. The differences do not necessarily reflect different policy objectives but seem to have resulted from sponsorship requirements for different visas drifting apart over time.

The review made two recommendations in relation to sponsorship under the Migration Act. The first was:

... that sponsorship be a requirement for all temporary residents except under the short stay business visas or where there is an agreement in place which obviates the need for sponsorship (eg diplomatic visas) ...

The second was:

... that there should be a standardised sponsorship, involving standardised undertakings, for temporary resident visa sponsors.

All of this makes perfect sense and I support it, as does the opposition. The bill partially adopts these recommendations by laying the framework for a more uniform sponsorship regime. The details of the regime will be in the regulations.

I will turn to regulations in general for a second. Regulations can take a maximum of 30 sitting days to be disallowed by parliament, as I understand it. The government will often carefully time the proclamation of regulations to give them maximum effect before the Senate can disallow them. If the minister proclaimed an unacceptable regulation on 13 November 2002, the government would not even have to inform the Senate until 13 May this year and the Senate could disallow it until 18 August. Therefore we would be left with an unacceptable regulation for six months before the Senate has to be informed and a further two to three months before the Senate has to disallow the regulation. Many people can be refused visas or be deported in those six to nine months. Perhaps the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs or the Scrutiny of Bills Committee can consider other mechanisms for parliamentary scrutiny of subordinate regulations or ensure that regulations do not take effect until after regulations are tabled in both houses.

The government is particularly seeking to introduce enforcement measures for temporary residents on the 457 business long stay visa and the new professional development visa. The business long stay visa class is a visa about which Labor has consistently expressed concern. It allows a person to be sponsored into Australia, with some restrictions, for the purpose of employment. Labor has been pressing the minister to introduce sanctions against employers who breach their obligations, but this has not happened. Even the member for Mitchell said that some of these employers play games. I think he was understating it, but I will come back to his remarks a little later. The minister has said that he is minded to introduce some type of sanction. However, through the estimates process it has been established that no such legislation has even been drafted.

We had quite a dramatic case outlined to us by the member for Lalor about the Serbian fresco painter who had been brought here under such terrible circumstances for four years to paint frescos for $200 a week. The 456 business short stay visa was also graphically described by her. I think the member for Mitchell severely underestimated this problem, saying it was some kind of ACTU conspiracy that the member for Batman was involved in, whereas we know that we have such serious cases as the South African slave labour ring which was operating here and was a very serious abuse of the visa system in Australia.

I turn to the government's lack of sensitivity in the enforcement of migration laws. Visa applicants, migrants and asylum seekers are not people, according to it; they are lesser human beings. They are tools or pawns in its border protection game. This has been evident, in my view, from the government's reaction to the recent Family Court decision that indefinite detention of children is illegal. Instead of being concerned about children, the government is concerned about this mantra of `border protection' that it takes up in all cases regardless of the circumstances.

An example is the government's refusal to allow a refugee to visit his children in Indonesia, whose mother was burned to death on the SIEV X, on the basis that it might breach the integrity of the border protection game that this government plays so well. These kinds of circumstances are completely inexcusable in the kind of Australian society that I understand we live in. But the minister insists on prosecuting them regardless of the tragic human circumstances of these individuals. In my view, the government has an attitude that it is more important to play wedge politics, as it has been called, rather than look at individual cases and see whether some simple humanity could be shown towards these people.

The importance of improved enforcement of visa conditions and sanctions against employers and sponsors who breach visa conditions was shown by the recent immigration raid on a building site in my electorate where 18 Chinese workers were found to be working illegally. While I support the enforcement of the Migration Act, the employer should also be prosecuted for illegally employing people who are not entitled to work in Australia. This is not, as the member for Mitchell indicated, some conspiracy involving the ACTU or the member for Batman, who he misidentified as the member for Melbourne Ports; it is a real issue. It is an issue that I have experienced recently with the police sirens wailing at a building site in Port Melbourne and the sudden round-up of foreign workers.

It is the responsibility of employers to ensure that their employees are entitled to work, yet this government seems intent on prosecuting the individual migrant rather than their employer. Why? The answer to that is easy but the real question is: is this right? The answer to that is also easy: no. Employers should be prosecuted for every breach of the law in the same way an individual immigrant who breaches their visa is. If you prosecute the employee, prosecute the employer. If you prosecute the migrant, prosecute the sponsor. I will be asking the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs questions about this on the Notice Paper, and I hope he will answer them quickly. I also call on the government to amend the law to introduce appropriate regulations ensuring that all persons who are party to a breach of visa conditions are liable.

The opposition has a solution to the issue of the nearly 30,000 illegal workers who are apparently in this country. This underground work force enables some unscrupulous employers to undermine Australian wages and conditions and reduces the number of jobs available to Australians. The member for Mitchell seemed to think that this was some kind of conspiracy involving the member for Batman, but 30,000 people is no conspiracy; it is a real problem. The government is ignoring this problem because it does not fit in with its world view. It does not want to fight with employers who, in my view, are profiting from these scams.

Labor, by contrast, would crack down on illegal workers by—as the member for Lalor suggested—issuing a US style green card to noncitizens who have a visa which entitles them to work; obliging employers to check green cards and prosecuting those who employ illegal workers; creating an illegal workers roundtable—involving the federal government, state governments, employer representatives, small businesses, farmers and unions—designed to implement the green card system; and resourcing and creating an illegal workers strike force within the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs.

Another section of the bill that I would like to deal with is item 1 of schedule 2, which proposes to add a new paragraph 338(2)(d) to the Migration Act to restrict appeals to the independent Migration Review Tribunal. It provides that a decision to refuse a visa where having a sponsor is a criterion for granting a visa is only reviewable by the MRT if, at the time of applying for a review, the person has an approved sponsor or the decision on approval of a sponsor is pending. The explanatory memorandum says that the purpose of this new paragraph is:

... to ensure that only those visa applicants who have an approved sponsor, or are seeking review of a decision to refuse to approve sponsorship, may apply to the MRT for review of a decision to refuse to grant a prescribed visa. This is to prevent abuse of the merits review process by refused visa applicants, who have no sponsor, and therefore no ability to meet the criteria for grant of the visa, seeking to extend their stay in Australia by lodging a review application.

Some of this may seem logical, yet I fear it is another slip down the slope of abolishing the rule of law in cases of migration.

It is fundamental to our system of government that the executive cannot act unchecked. The courts have a responsibility to ensure that the government acts in accordance with the law. Every time parliament restricts people's rights to appeal it enhances areas in which the government is free to do whatever it wants; unrestricted by the courts and unrestricted by the law of the land. That is why this parliament will have to carefully monitor the use of this section and the regulations declared under it to ensure that the government is not seeking to expand its powers and trample on the law.

In conclusion, I strongly support the second reading amendment moved by the member for Lalor, the shadow spokesperson, which says:

That all words after the word `That' be omitted with the view to substituting the following words:

`whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, and while supportive of the specific proposals in this bill, the House notes that, if they are to be successful the Government's inept handling of the migration program, will need to be ended and the whole program administered with greater integrity, transparency and humanity'.

The member for Lalor noted that, despite all of the government's protestations about being concerned about children and their fathers, 112 minors remain incarcerated on Manus Island and 110 in mainland Australia. This is not the kind of Australia that I believe most Australians support. It is something that, under the mantra of border protection, still continues. I believe it is quite understandable why the program in Woomera is undersubscribed. Who would want to be the father or older boy of a family and be in Port Hedland while the rest of the family is in Woomera?

I believe that one can have a successful immigration program in this country through sensible steps like the sponsorship legislation that is before this House and, at the same time, show more humanity by taking children out of detention and putting fathers and older brothers with mothers and the rest of the family. I believe that one can run a successful immigration program in this country; we have done so in the past. We should be very proud of the role immigration has played in the development of this country. I support the bill and the second reading amendment.