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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19726

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) (4:51 PM) —I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

These amendments were acceded to by the government. They relate to the Migration Amendment (Duration of Detention) Bill 2003, which responded to the worrying trend of courts to release persons of concern—of character concern particularly—before final resolution of their court cases. The bill initially also dealt with a wider class of people, who were immigration detainees that the courts were releasing on an interlocutory basis. As a result of the amendments, the bill will only apply to persons in detention who are of character concern. As the bill was originally drafted more broadly but the opposition had indicated it would only support the bill if its effect were narrowed, the government has agreed to the amendments.

The amendments will affect two groups of people. The first group comprises persons detained because their visas were cancelled on character grounds under section 501 of the act. Their detention will continue until the final determination of the substantive proceedings relating either to the lawfulness of their detention or to whether they are unlawful non-citizens. The second group comprises persons detained while awaiting deportation under section 200 of the act. Their detention will continue until final determination of substantive proceedings relating to the lawfulness of their detention. The bill will apply to the two groups of people regardless of whether or not there is a real likelihood of the person detained being removed from Australia or deported in the reasonable foreseeable future and whether or not a visa decision relating to the person detained is or may be unlawful. Persons who are not detained as a result of their visa being cancelled under section 501 or who are not awaiting deportation under section 200 will not be affected by the proposed amendments.

I understand it has been claimed that the government is walking away from its border protection commitment by accepting these amendments. Let me make this very clear: the reason I have accepted these amendments is to protect the Australian community against the possibility of people of character concern being released from detention and of some tragic event occurring for which those of us who allowed a situation where a person was at large might well be blamed. I want to deal with that issue clearly. Equally, I intend to deal with the issue of interlocutory relief generally. I want to make that very clear. I will be introducing a new bill in the near future to cover broader concerns on interlocutory relief for all persons from immigration detention before final resolution of their court proceedings. If the opposition want that to be an issue through which we unwind mandatory detention and are seen to be unwinding it, let it be very clear that it is their decision in relation to the way in which this bill is dealt with that will bring that about. They will have an opportunity to support the new bill, because its intention will be to uphold the principle of mandatory detention of all unauthorised and unlawful non-citizens under the Migration Act. That has been part of the Migration Act since 1992.

I understand that, when this bill was debated elsewhere, there was also some interest in the situation of children in detention. I want to make it very clear that I am proceeding as quickly as possible. I might thank the Premier of South Australia for interceding to ensure that we got access to land in Port Augusta. Lack of access was preventing us from implementing this measure earlier. A contract with the South Australian Housing Trust for the purchase of vacant land for a residential housing project at Port Augusta was finalised on 9 September 2003. The building contractor commenced work to prepare the site today. These works include relocating existing utilities and site preparation. The contractor is close to completing preparation of transportable houses at Woomera for relocation to Port Augusta. The first house is expected to be on site mid next week. Completion of the building contract is expected early in November.

I want to make it very clear that the government is committed to the residential housing project at Baxter. I expect that, at the end of this week or early next week, we will have accommodation open at Port Hedland as well for the implementation of a residential housing project. I think it demonstrates the government's commitment to the miscellaneous series instructions that I gave earlier and ensures that appropriate accommodation is available for the implementation of that program. I commend the amendments to the House.

Amendments agreed to.