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Wednesday, 17 September 2003
Page: 20253

Mr HARDGRAVE (Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) (10:51 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, the member for Murray, for her contribution on the previous bill, the Migration Legislation Amendment (Migration Agents Integrity Measures) Bill 2003; I could not have put it better myself. It being Citizenship Day, I was detained to speak to people on Kerri-Anne Kennerley's Mornings with Kerri-Anne program. We have just conducted a citizenship ceremony.

This bill continues the ongoing work of the government in implementing the various recommendations of the 2001-02 review of statutory self-regulation of the migration advice industry. As with the previous bill, it underscores the government's determination to ensure that consumers are well protected, that the industry is on a very sound footing and that those who practice in the migration advice industry are well based in every possible ethical and professional way.

This bill introduces a new charge for migration agents who register with the industry regulator—the Migration Agents Registration Authority, known as the MARA—to provide immigration assistance on a non-commercial basis but who intend after that to give migration assistance on a commercial basis during the course of their 12-month registration period.

To apply for registration as a migration agent, a person must pay the relevant application charge set out in the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Regulations 1998. Currently, the regulations provide for two different registration fees, depending on whether the applicant intends to provide immigration assistance on a commercial or non-commercial basis.

A migration agent provides immigration assistance on a commercial basis if they intend to charge a fee for providing that assistance. They provide assistance on a non-commercial basis if they do not intend to provide a fee—for example, if they intend to provide immigration advice on a voluntary basis.

Currently the legislation only requires agents who change from non-commercial to commercial status to notify the MARA of this change when they next apply for registration. This means that you could literally say that you are a non-commercial agent one day, pay the smaller fee, create a business the next day and escape the need to pay the difference—which is something in the order of the difference between $160 and $1,100—until the next time you register. The government wants to act on this to give greater certainty and professionalism to the industry.

The charge to register on a commercial basis therefore is significantly higher than the charge to register on a non-commercial basis.

The government and the MARA are committed to keeping down non-commercial agents fees, as these agents normally work as volunteers in community based organisations assisting the most vulnerable clients—people without strong English language skills and, often, people who have themselves recently passed through the migration system and want to sponsor others to come, as is their entitlement as permanent members of the Australian community. Seeking that advice is something that they culturally want to do. They would prefer to deal with someone to seek advice, rather than directly fill in the forms themselves. It is important to note that people do not need to contract a migration agent to contact the government or to perfect a visa application. It makes no difference in the broad sense. Nevertheless, when people do deal with migration agents, those agents must be registered.

In broad terms, this bill amends the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Act 1997. It will ensure migration agents do not avoid paying the higher commercial application fee by registering as a non-commercial agent but then acting on a commercial basis later in that same registration year.

The bill requires such agents to then pay a pro rata amount of the application fee for registration as a commercial migration agent. This is a very simple, straightforward and competent measure.

I believe this will enable the MARA to regulate the industry in a fairer and more effective manner, as its activities are almost solely funded from initial and re-registration fees levied particularly on commercial migration agents, who have the capacity to pay.

This bill will ensure that the proper resourcing of the MARA is not undermined and that agents working solely for not-for-profit community organisations continue to be able to access nominal registration fees.

It is for this reason I am confident that support will come from the opposition and people in the other place. I certainly ask that all parties support this particular measure.

I commend the bill to the House and also present the explanatory memorandum to the bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Griffin) adjourned.