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Tuesday, 7 October 2003
Page: 20689

Mr RANDALL (7:18 PM) —I am pleased to speak to the two concurrent bills this evening: the Migration Legislation Amendment (Migration Agents Integrity Measures) Bill 2003 and the Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment Bill 2003. These bills will amend the Migration Act 1958 and will implement recommendations of the 2001-02 review of the statutory self-regulation of the migration advice industry, which is generally known as the Spicer review. Out of that review came 27 recommendations. I want to deal briefly with the body of the legislation and then talk about some individual cases of my own. I certainly will not go into the politics of hate and envy, which the member for Reid has just indulged in. The fact is that this industry does need a clean-up. It has allowed itself, under self-regulation, to fall into disarray in some areas. MARA—the body that has been given the job of dealing with this industry—through lack of vigilance, lack of desire or lack of resources is not pursuing some of these cases as enthusiastically as I would have hoped. I will give you a case in point on that shortly.

First of all, I would like to deal with the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment Bill 2003. We know that this basically deals with recommendation No. 19 of the statutory self-regulation review—the Spicer review—which recommends the introduction of charges for those who wish to act as migration agents on a non-commercial basis. What has been happening is that people who quite rightly wish to involve themselves at a community level in charitable and community organisations and offer advice for free pay a much lesser fee. In paying this much lesser fee, they give advice where they can to people in need. What has happened is that a few sometimes unscrupulous registered agents that are non-commercial have suddenly decided they wish to become commercial agents. They then operate at giving commercial advice but on the much lower registration fee, which is quite wrong. I understand that people giving advice and then charging for it when they are not entitled to is an actual offence. This legislation introduces a pro rata fee, and it allows greater discretion for both MARA and the minister to investigate where offences have occurred to see that it does not happen across a wider range. To put that into context, there are some 3,800 registered agents in this country and 10 per cent of those are not-for-profit providers. Those 10 per cent do a marvellous job, and naturally they are not charging the exorbitant fees.

The bulk of the information this evening goes to recommendations 3 and 16 of the Spicer review—that is, education and sanctions for large numbers of vexatious visa applications. The purpose of this bill is to see that those key recommendations are given greater substance so that migration agents, or people who wish to become migration agents, go through a far tougher and far more rigorous education process so that they can become good migration agents for people who need their services. It has always been a concern in the community that a number of people suddenly decide for whatever reason—and the member Reid mentioned some of them, such as having an attachment to an ethnic community or whatever—that they would make good migration agents. They have no background in the area of migration law or in any migration processes. In fact, one person said to me, `I don't know. My husband's at work and I thought I wouldn't mind having something to do. I've often thought I wouldn't mind being a migration agent.' So off she trotted and got herself a migration agent's licence and she now dispenses advice as a migration agent. That is one of the reasons why there needs to be greater scrutiny and regulation in this bill.

As was found out from evidence given by MARA to a Senate estimates committee, there has been growth of between 13 and 20 per cent each year in the number of migration agents. In fact, last year the number of new migration agents grew by 700. There were 700 new migration agents registered last year. That has to say something about the industry. Either it is real cash cow and a lot of people have suddenly said, `How long has this been going on? I'd better get into this. There's a good earner here,' or there is a greater need. Given the fact that the very honest Minister Ruddock has put so much integrity back into the migration system—

Mr Kelvin Thomson —Did Hansard pick that up?

Ms Roxon —Hansard can't detect irony.

Mr RANDALL —We hear those opposite cackling and guffawing. He has done something they could never do and that is to bring integrity back to the migration system. There is no real extra work in this industry other than work that they suddenly decide to generate. There are some very interesting cases in point. Here we are with a huge growth in the number of registered agents, yet there are a greater number of complaints. My understanding is that in the last few years the number of complaints about migration agents has doubled. As the member for Reid quite rightly said, through his electorate office—and mine and, I am sure, those of many other members of this House—there are complaints on a regular basis about migration agents.

In Perth I sometimes recommend to people a migration agent called Robert O'Rourke. I have never had a complaint from anybody when I have suggested him. I hand out a number of cards of different agents in Perth that I have had good dealings with and that people have had help from. People like Robert O'Rourke provide a marvellous service to the industry. People from non-English-speaking backgrounds, people from overseas who come to this country for the first time, do not have a working understanding of migration law and they need help. They generally pay a fee for it. But I have brought to the attention of this House a number of migration agents who have caused some problems. For example, a person about whom I have had a number of complaints through my electorate office is Rose Todd of Todd Holdings Pty Ltd, in Walter Road, Dianella. She is somebody that, under this new legislation, there might be some attention paid to.

It is no secret that I also brought to the attention of this House, the media and MARA—and I will go through that process shortly—the case of a former upper house member from Western Australia, Mr Sam Piantadosi. I wrote to the Migration Review Tribunal in August 2002 about his activities. I then wrote to MARA. In relation to Mr Piantadosi and his dealings with a Mr and Mrs Bruno, I wrote to Ms Laurette Chao of the Migration Agents Registration Authority on 14 March this year and laid a complaint which was canvassed. Mr Piantadosi had been providing services to the Brunos and a number of other people, including Amano Signorelli, whom I had been helping through my office. As I said on the record earlier in this House, Mr Piantadosi had taken their money and had not even lodged their applications. He disputes this, of course. But the fact is that Mr Signorelli was going to be deported because his application for a visa had not been lodged. Yet Mr Piantadosi had taken the money. These are the sorts of migration agents that this legislation is intended to address.

I am disappointed with MARA, because it is 7 October and I received a letter on 24 April from them saying that they were investigating this case and that I should contact Mr Irving if I needed any further information. I just wanted them to get on with the job of completing the investigation into Mr Piantadosi in particular. That letter was signed by Laurette Chao. I have rung them today and they have told me that it is now with the Conduct Advisory Panel and that the executive officer is David Mawson. They have not dealt at all with this application that they are supposed to be investigating. So here is someone you would possibly call a rogue migration agent who is still practising after I brought this to the attention of the authorities over 12 months ago, starting off with the Migration Review Tribunal.

So I am a bit worried about giving MARA extra abilities and sanctions in being able to address this issue if they cannot deal with something simple under the powers that they have now. I hope that the minister—and this is one of the reasons the minister is going to have a ministerial intervention capability enshrined in this legislation—will take a sterner view of the activities of MARA. I think they had better beef up their activities in looking at some of the many complaints they get. In fact, my understanding is that the last time an agent was drummed out of business was in 1999, so it is not a great success record on behalf of MARA.

I understand that there is bipartisan support for this legislation. I did not hear all the comments of the member for Reid, but he seems to agree that there are a number of concerns in this area and that they should be looked at in terms of the operation of migration agents. I also note that Senator Bartlett on 20 June 2002 also expressed concern about:

the very large number of people who rely on migration agents and the enormous consequences for them if those agents do not act appropriately when they are meant to be helping them.

He goes on to talk about there being a possible lack of confidence in the integrity of registered migration agents and says the Migration Agents Registration Authority has been tasked by the parliament to do its job, basically. The select committee is also looking at this area.

An interesting case, which is quite fortuitous—and again the member opposite raised this issue earlier—was described in last Saturday's Weekend Australian. Both Rebecca DiGirolamo and Natalie O'Brien raised the issue of Mark Clisby, an Adelaide solicitor who is at the centre of investigations into a migration scheme spanning three states and who has previously been found guilty of unprofessional conduct. His dubious activity has gone back to court cases as early as 1995. So Mr Clisby has been under scrutiny since 1995 about some of his activities. The article in the Australian goes on to say:

Clisby has had his registration as a migrant agent renewed annually by the Migration Agents Registration Authority since 1999, despite it having full knowledge of his guilty plea and the tribunal reprimand.

Now similar criticisms are being levelled against him—this time by a handful of Federal Court judges.

So when you have Federal Court judges talking about a rogue migration agent—Clisby, in this case—there needs to be some sort of action. Further, in the article, according to government lawyers:

... Clisby orchestrated a scheme designed to frustrate the court, doctored court documents and failed to advise clients he had abandoned their cases, leaving them open to deportation as illegal citizens.

Why would Clisby be doing this? Why would Clisby want to put in all these sorts of bogus claims? I understand he currently has 600 claims clogging up the courts. It is very simple. It is because Mr Clisby charges, on average, $2,200 for each case that he has before the courts. They tell me that he has great success in getting these to the High Court. On any reckoning—let us give him the benefit of the doubt—Mr Clisby is looking at a fee arrangement for those 600 cases of $1.2 million. That is a bit ordinary! Not only that, but the fact is that these concerns have not been dealt with. They also tell me that Clisby was actually a bit of a serial branch stacker and tried to run for parliament a couple of times in South Australia—

Ms Roxon —For the Liberal Party!

Mr RANDALL —That is right, for the Liberal Party; we have rogues on both sides of the parliament. In this case, he has been mentioned in this article as having done the same. I believe it was John Olsen's seat that he tried to run for in South Australia. You do not go `Hee' for somebody who is misbehaving.

In this case, as I said, there are so many concerns that they could take these to the High Court. This is where I find the Labor Party so disingenuous on the whole subject. We could be stopping this huge range of legal entanglements from going through every court and every system in Australia if the Labor Party had supported our legislation on a number of occasions. We wanted to look at a smaller review process so that lawyers like Clisby could not use up not only the small amounts of money that many of these migrants and refugees have but the resources of the Australian courts.

People say, `Why don't they stop these people going all the way to the High Court?' There is one simple reason: the Labor Party, in conjunction with the Democrats and the Greens in the Senate, have stopped us trying to do something about this cascading succession of appeals through the courts. Yet today the member for Reid said that it is a problem. He outlined that there were people who prolong these things for up to 14 years, I think he said, so that they can get the balance of their family to Australia and then they have a better case for staying in Australia themselves. They are using the system to circumvent proper process when we as a government are trying to put in place legislation to do something about the problem. It is hugely expensive matter, and the time and the resources of our courts are being consumed in dealing with it.

But the Labor Party do not always tell it up front, because they have a political scalp to take here and a point to score there. Rather than trying to fix the system, they would rather bag Philip Ruddock, who should be beatified rather than criticised in the public's eyes. It is really funny in here. The Labor Party want to savage him and think they do well when they lay a glove on him, yet out in the community people think that Philip Ruddock is one of the greatest things that has ever walked. As I said, the general community thinks he should be beatified. For what he has done for the integrity of the migration process in this country, he should.

However, my last point about Clisby's case is that MARA's executive officer, David Mawson, says he cannot reveal whether Clisby's registration has been scrutinised by MARA because of privacy issues. That is fair enough, but you would think that after all that time—from 1995 to 1999; it has been reviewed ever since—that they would actually have a good look at him. As I said, this is what this legislation may well go to.

In the last few seconds I have I will just finish by saying that because of my concerns I have not just complained about it; I have written to the minister asking him to bring a term of reference before this parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Migration. That would be a good place to deal with this issue. The fact is that the minister responsible, the Hon. Gary Hardgrave, wrote back to me outlining the number of reviews that have taken place. As a result, bringing legislation to this House in the interim should deal with a great many concerns that we have with the migration agents and the control of them in this country. This is a bill that if supported by the opposition will bring back integrity to the process of migration agents, and also for the welfare of the people applying—(Time expired)