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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20464


Mr PROSSER (11:19 AM) —I rise in support of the Migration Legislation Amendment (Identification and Authentication) Bill 2003 to amend the Migration Act 1958 to provide a legislative framework for the collection of personal identifiers, such as photographs, signatures and fingerprints from certain noncitizens at key points in the migration process. The measures proposed in this bill are important and necessary developments in migration law. With the ratification in May 2003 by the International Civil Aviation Organisation of measures for facial biometrics to be used as the international standard for travel documents, this government believes that using such biometric identifiers would strengthen border protection through robust identification and reduce the risk of passport fraud.

For those who do not know, biometric identification is captured by a digital image of a person's face and stored in a microchip in their passport. The digital image allows a computer to check the person's face more accurately, to ensure the person carrying the passport is who they claim to be. Biometric systems can also reduce patterns in a person's fingerprints, irises, voice or other characteristics to mathematical algorithms that can be stored on a chip and be machine readable. When arriving travellers put their fingers into biometric scanners or stand in front of a face recognition camera, a computer will check whether the patterns it detects match the ones the subjects gave when they were first scanned. The system will also check whether visitors appear on a watch list of suspected terrorists or immigration violators. More immediately, people applying for new passports will have to meet tougher checks to ensure they are who they say they are, and biometric visas and passports will certainly be harder to fake.

DIMIA has identified instances of identity fraud in all aspects of its processes but particularly amongst protection visa applicants and detainees at the entry stage and visa application stage. The bill will clarify and strengthen existing proof of identity provisions and enable DIMIA to conclusively identify its clients at each stage of immigration processing, such as in relation to applicants for protection visas. The bill will allow DIMIA to identify asylum shoppers and double dippers where claims are made under multiple identities and identify applicants who have disappeared into the community. In relation to unauthorized and undocumented arrivals, the bill will assist DIMIA to better identify these persons and take appropriate removal action, which will also help to reduce time in detention.

In relation to immigration processing at our borders, in 1999-2000, it has been reported, 32 per cent of people refused immigration clearance at Australian airports provided either bogus or no travel documents at all and many of these people attempted to disguise their identity. This bill strengthens our ability to collect personal identifiers at the border and better determine appropriate action and resolution, be it turnaround or detention.

DIMIA already routinely collects photographs and signatures from visa applicants. However, this does not prevent the presentation of fraudulent identities and claims, and does not allow for the collection of fingerprints. This bill will enable such identifiers to be collected and allow for better identification and authentication of the identity of applicants, including those of character concern or terrorist concern.

Personal identifiers under this bill include fingerprints or handprints, measurements of weight or height, photographs of the face and shoulders, audio or video recordings, iris scans and signatures but exclude intimate test procedures such as the taking of blood or saliva. The requirement to provide personal identifiers will allow for the enhancement of DIMIA's systems to capture and store personal identifiers that will serve to register an applicant's unique identification. In the flowthrough of the immigration process from initial application to grant of citizenship, the provided personal identifiers can be crossmatched with information held by the department. This will reduce the incidence of identity fraud related activities in citizenship processing.

The amendments proposed under this bill will permit the adoption of new technologies in a rapidly developing environment and will also allow the government to respond to new risks or concerns as they arise, apply future technological advances to the accurate identification of persons seeking to enter Australia, and keep abreast of measures being introduced in other countries. Australia faces the challenge of being able to quickly and accurately identify those who seek to enter and remain in Australia. This challenge is heightened by the issue of identity fraud, which is becoming increasingly serious both in Australia and worldwide. Other countries have already responded to the growing incidence of fraud in the immigration context by enhancing their identification and client registration powers. Problems with fraudulent documentation and the need to track histories of identities in client processing have led many countries to introduce identification-testing measures similar to those proposed in this bill.

Many of my constituents in the south-west of Western Australia in my electorate of Forrest are constantly raising with me their safety and security concerns relating to the procedures for allowing non-citizens into this country, especially in the wake of previous boat arrivals, September 11 and the Bali bombings. I have reassured them that this government is in control of whom we allow into this country and that the identities and characters of all permanent visa applicants and temporary protection visa holders have satisfied Immigration's strict guidelines. My constituents had the opportunity to speak directly with our Minister for Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs recently when he visited my electorate, and I must say he left a lasting impression in the minds of my constituents that this government is serious about our borders and our international and internal security.

I would like to digress for a moment and bring to the attention of the House the fact that next week the member for Berowra, the honourable Philip Ruddock, our Minister for Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, will celebrate 30 years in federal parliament. I wish to congratulate the minister on his longstanding contributions to this government and his fair and just stewardship as the very respected head of our immigration policies since 1996, the implementation of which has proven to our critics—as Janet Albrechtsen in the Australian commented yesterday—that controlling immigration does not mean opposing immigration. Indeed, I champion the government's tough stand on illegal immigration and note that since December 2001 only one boat has arrived in Australia. With the introduction of this bill we will be able to more quickly process applicants as well as reduce the time necessary in immigration detention.

I acknowledge that the immigration department has a difficult job in processing visa applications from around the world, ensuring to the best of its ability that the identities and bona fides of all applicants are genuine and that the applicants are who they say they are. However, the immigration department has a continuing requirement and responsibility to ensure that the increasing numbers of visitors and temporary residents are not a threat to the Australian community and are authorised and entitled at all times to be in Australia. But, as no system is fraud proof, it is necessary to continually improve procedures, keep pace with advances in antifraud technology in use or being proposed in other countries and to stay in step with emerging international responses to the global problems of immigration fraud, people-smuggling and asylum shopping.

There are risks to government and the community if these fraud issues are not confronted up-front, as various levels of government and private sector administrative and financial systems rely upon the identifiers established by DIMIA to confer benefits and entitlements to people in the community. Stronger border security and enhanced proof of identity requirements are therefore critical to Australia's national security and to the integrity of its services and programs. A recent study of the refugee and special humanitarian case load processed by DIMIA's post in Nairobi has revealed significant concerns about the levels of fraud encountered in that case load. Many people who fail to meet the criteria for migration, and/or who experience difficulty in obtaining personal documentation due to local conditions, simply and easily resort to fraud to meet their objectives, generally in the form of non-genuine claims of identity, family composition or reason for persecution.

There is also operational evidence that the protection visa case load is associated with: frequent absence of verifiable identity documents; the use of multiple identities or variations of a real identity in order to support spurious claims, to avoid detection of a previous successful claim for protection in another country and/or to make multiple applications for a protection visa; a change of identity by a successful applicant for a protection visa, through freedom of information requests or during citizenship processing, in order to perpetrate fraud in Australia; and use by some refused applicants of a protection visa for a new identity to facilitate further entry to Australia.

The use of fraudulent identities in the immigration context is not limited to protection visa applicants. The department has also identified cases where persons deported from Australia, for a range of reasons, have been able to obtain a new passport in their home country through legal name change procedures and re-enter Australia using the new passport. There is national and international evidence to indicate that those who are in detention are more likely to attempt to return to Australia under other identities. As such, it is imperative that the identity of detainees can be checked against histories of identities in immigration processes to detect identity fraud. Some detainees also refuse to identify themselves accurately in the hope that they will not be removed. In those circumstances, the collection of personal identifiers from detainees would facilitate their removal from Australia.

More enhanced identification powers to match those in place in Canada, the European Union, the UK and the US will provide opportunities for information exchange to combat the movement of illegal migrants, terrorists and transnational crime into Australia. This will help to ensure that we can identify noncitizens who exploit refugee and immigration provisions by assuming false identities and those who attempt to conceal the fact that they have effective protection in another country—that is, their first country of asylum, to which they will be returned. We will also be helped to detect and hinder those who attempt to re-enter Australia under fraudulent identities, thereby preventing Australia from being seen as a soft target by terrorists, people smugglers, asylum shoppers and illegal migrants. Therefore, the identification provisions proposed in this bill are essential to Australia's ability to regulate entry and stay in Australia and to identify and prevent entry by those who may be of criminal or security concern.

The dynamic nature of the global environment presents an important challenge to ensuring the integrity of Australia's borders and the delivery of the programs administered by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. The challenge includes growth of global technology, trade and international travel, which continue to create opportunities for people smugglers; growth in the level and sophistication of fraud; increased security risks due to the threat of global terrorism; continued growth in numbers of people seeking entry to Australia; changing administrative and operational strategies associated with technological change; and requirements to ensure that increasing numbers of visitors to Australia do not present a threat to the Australian community and are authorised to be in Australia. With this in mind, Australia can ill afford not to keep up with advances in technology to authenticate the identity of our migrants. For the reasons I have outlined today, I support this bill. I commend the bill to the House.