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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20473


Mrs ELSON (11:54 AM) —I rise to support the Migration Legislation Amendment (Identification and Authentication) Bill 2003 which is particularly aimed at amending the Migration Act 1958 so that the existing statutory powers to identify noncitizens are strengthened and clarified. But it is more than that; it is part of a bigger picture. To understand the importance of this legislation, let us first of all take a quick look at the big picture into which it fits. This bill is part of a whole-of-government approach aimed at tackling the growing problem of identity fraud. The problem of identity fraud is, of course, not confined to Australia; it is an international problem, so we need to be aware of the technologies and processes other countries are using so that we can choose the best and most appropriate tools with which to tackle the problem.

Why is it so important to control identity fraud? It is important to minimise the opportunities for identity fraud because it does not just impact on the integrity of our immigration program. At an organised level, it is linked to international terrorism and organised crime. It endangers Australian safety and security. The best way to deal with fraud is to prevent it happening in the first place, rather than mop up the mess afterwards. This means that, if we wish to keep Australia safe, ensure the integrity of our continuing immigration program and keep out terrorism and organised crime, we need the tools to combat identity fraud quickly and accurately without causing undue delays or inconvenience to the public. We need to be able to quickly identify persons seeking to enter and remain in Australia, whether they are entering through the normal visa processes or attempting to enter without documentation. Unfortunately, we cannot ignore the fact that many of the latter people have deliberately destroyed their documents to avoid accurate identification, for whatever purpose.

If we need to identify these noncitizens—if we need to authenticate someone's identity—what personal identifiers and tools can we use? First of all, there is the possession of particular identifying documentation such as passports, licences or certificates. As well as documented evidence—which of course can be fake or stolen—there is biometric information, which includes face and iris scans, signatures, fingerprints, handprints and voiceprints. This type of biometric information does not in itself identify an individual. Its usefulness is that, when it can be identified by other means as belonging to an individual, it can be compared against similar records as a means of verifying those records. To authenticate someone's identity often not one but a combination of personal identifiers are used; and that is the crux of this legislation. While the Migration Act 1958 provides the capacity to collect personal identifiers, it does not actually define what a personal identifier is, how it is to be provided or under what circumstances it may be required. The aim of this bill is to address that lack of definition.

This bill specifies what personal identifiers are and when and how they can be used. It enables such identifiers to be collected from visa applicants, from persons entering Australia and from persons in immigration detention. It is not about changing the meaning or the focus of the act but rather about clarifying and enhancing the government's ability to authenticate the identity of noncitizens at key points in the migration process, in a way that is entirely consistent with the current requirements of the act. While the bill specifically identifies and clarifies these processes, it also inserts protections for those required to verify their identity. Once again, while the Howard government seeks the security and protection of Australia and Australians, it is also very conscious of the need to balance rights and responsibility, to balance accuracy and fairness and uphold human dignity.

Let us look at exactly what is in this bill. Item 11 inserts a new section 5A which defines the meaning of personal identifier. It says:

personal identifier means any of the following (including any of the following in digital form):

(a) fingerprints or handprints...

(b) a measurement of a person's height and weight;

(c) a photograph ... of a person's face and shoulders;

(d) an audio or a video recording ...;

(e) an iris scan;

(f) a person's signature;

(g) any other identifier prescribed by the regul-ations, other than an identifier the obtaining of which would involve the carrying out of an intimate forensic procedure...

Leaving aside the last of these items for a moment, surely none of these identifiers—fingerprints, photos, heights and weights or signatures—should prove objectionable to any genuine person wishing to prove his or her identity. These are simply routine identity authentication procedures. To obtain a drivers licence you need to provide documentary evidence of your identity, plus a photo, your height and signature. Nobody objects to that.

The last item on the list—`any other identifier prescribed by the regulations'—simply allows the list to be expanded by regulation in future, if necessary, to incorporate new needs or new technology. Other countries have already enhanced their identification procedures in response to the growing incidence of immigration fraud. It is crucial that Australia also has the ability to use these current and evolving technologies or it will be seen as a soft target by terrorists, people smugglers, forum shoppers and other noncitizens of concern.

However, this flexibility to regulate the provision of new identifiers comes with many safeguards. The bill specifically disallows the use of intimate forensic procedures—it excludes, for example, blood or hair sample tests from being prescribed. It goes on to list criteria that the minister must ensure are met before any new identifier is introduced. Those criteria cover both the type and the purpose of the test, and must be met for both.

Any new identifier must be an image, measurement or recording of an external part of the body and must be used for one or more of the following straightforward purposes: to assist in the identification of any noncitizen as required under the act; to improve the integrity of entry programs, including passenger processing at Australian borders; to improve visa procedures and ensure a visa holder's access to his or her rights; to improve procedures for determining protection under the refugee convention; to help identify noncitizens with a criminal history or who are a national security concern; to combat document and identity fraud in immigration matters; to complement anti-people-smuggling measures; and to inform the government of a foreign country when a person is to be deported back to that country.

We have looked at the crux of this bill and the definition of personal identifiers which can be used to authenticate a person's identity where that identity needs to be proven under the existing act. But let us look at the balance of the bill. While the bill is aimed at safeguarding Australian security and the need to be diligent and responsible in doing so, it balances that with the need to protect the dignity and human rights of those people whose identity must be verified. A large part of the bill is aimed at carefully ensuring their protection. It deals with the authority of officers to obtain personal identifiers and it sets out general rules for the identity tests. Not only must the noncitizen be given specific information about the reason for the test, how it will be done and his or her rights in the matter but they must be given information in a language they are reasonably fluent in and therefore able to understand.

The bill stipulates that identification tests should not be carried out in a `cruel, inhuman or degrading manner' and must treat the person `with humanity and with respect for human dignity'. It also says that the tests must be carried out in reasonable privacy; must not be carried out in the presence or view of a person whose presence is not necessary; must not involve the removal of more clothing than is necessary for the test; must not involve more visual inspection than is necessary; and must allow for the person to request someone of the same sex to perform the test. There are also built-in safeguards for minors who are under 15 years of age and for incapable persons. The only identifiers anyone in either of these categories can be required to provide are height and weight measurements and a photograph or image of his or her face and shoulders. Even these can only be taken after informed consent is given by a parent or guardian, or by an independent person if the parent or guardian is not readily available.

The bill talks about obtaining information, and we need to ensure that such information is safeguarded, that it is treated with respect and that it is only used for its specified purposes. For this reason, the bill contains penalties of two years imprisonment or 120 penalty points, or both, for anyone accessing or disclosing identifying information without authority. It also sets out what information may be retained and what must be destroyed and when. Information can be released to a foreign country, police force, law enforcement body or border control but only with the written authority of the secretary. Such a disclosure cannot be made if the information relates to an applicant for a protection visa or for refugee status relative to that country or if the officer making the disclosure is not satisfied that the country or body to whom he or she would give the information will not reveal it to such a country.

I want to place on the record my disappointment at the negative inferences in the remarks made by the Labor members for Blaxland and Gellibrand about the police profession. Such negative stereotyping of our police men and women is very sad and very inappropriate. The Australian public would expect more from these Labor members, and they should take every opportunity possible to thank these brave men and women who put their lives at risk to protect our people and our communities.

If a stranger knocks on our door and asks to come into our home for whatever reason—to use a telephone, check the power, look for an intruder or examine a pool fence—you would want to know who they were and you would probably want them to verify their identity in some way before you let them inside your house. Just because that person says he is from a telephone company, the council or the police does not mean he is telling the truth. You have the right to politely ask for more information or more evidence to prove his or her claim. It does not mean that most people are untruthful, but it does mean you need to be aware, you need to be careful and you need to take steps to verify people's identity before allowing them to enter your home. You need to protect yourself from fraudulent entry.

In the same way, we need to know who is entering Australia. It is not unreasonable to expect that. We need to be able to verify their identity—we need to know who they are and that they are not trying to fraudulently enter this country. It is not that we think most people have ulterior motives, but if we are not aware—if we are not diligent in taking security measures—then we become a soft target for immigration fraud, people smugglers, international terrorism and organised crime. Of course, we do not want to be, or be perceived to be, a soft target for such groups.

The bill allows us to seek personal identifiers from noncitizens to verify their identity when they wish to enter or remain in Australia. Those identifiers are reasonable, non-invasive and non-threatening. They simply include biometric information such as fingerprints; hand, voice or iris prints; photos; external measurements; and signatures. But the bill goes further than that. I believe it achieves a balance between security and respect. It insists that, while such information is essential for our security, it must be obtained in a manner that is always conscious of human dignity and the rights of those whose identity must be verified. I commend the bill to the House.