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Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Page: 8386

Mr BIDGOOD (11:11 AM) —I rise to speak to the Migration Amendment (Notification Review) Bill 2008. It amends the Migration Act to effect three broad policy initiatives of this government. The first is to provide that actual notification will apply if the deemed notification provisions cannot operate. The second is to provide that where the minister, or the relevant appeal tribunal, reasonably suspects that a person has care and responsibility for a minor, who is defined as someone under 18 years of age, then notification of that person equates to notification of the minor, except where an authorised recipient has been validly appointed. The third is to provide that substantial compliance with the required contents of a notification document is sufficient.

Notification as proposed in the bill represents a set of natural justice obligations under the Migration Act 1958 to notify applicants of, amongst other things, visa refusal and cancellation decisions and to provide information on any review rights available as a result of these decisions. The purpose of these amendments is to achieve a notification regime that is simpler, provides greater clarity and consistency and is sufficiently flexible to respond to individual circumstances. These amendments will reduce complexity and deliver more consistent, fair and reasonable outcomes to clients.

At the tribunal level, the obligations under the act relate to notifying merits review applicants of, amongst other things, the tribunal decisions. The Commonwealth Ombudsman, in his report Department of Immigration and Citizenship: notification of decisions and review rights for unsuccessful visa applications of December 2007, drew attention to the difficulties with the notification provisions and their potential to result in the unlawful detention of clients. This bill seeks to clarify some of these interpretations and recommendations by the Ombudsman.

The courts have generally adopted an extremely strict interpretation of the notification provisions and require absolute compliance with these provisions. The courts’ strict interpretation of the notification provisions diverts enormous departmental resources. Highly technical decisions by the courts on notification have undermined the administration of the migration system, thus creating situations where action taken in good faith by departmental officers in respect of a client is actually unlawful as the client was not properly notified of a departmental decision. This bill is the first step in seeking to rectify these issues. A broader series of measures are being considered by the government. The changes that are proposed in the bill will provide a very fair and reasonable outcome to clients in that if they receive a letter from the department or tribunals they can rely on it and act on it. The amendments do not seek to disadvantage clients in any way; rather, they provide clarity and certainty. These changes should result in fewer cases going to court, which should also result in reduced costs to the taxpayer. One thing that this government is concerned about is reducing costs to the taxpayer. Having an efficient administration and tribunal system and having this clarity help reduce costs to the taxpayer. That can only be a good thing.

The act and the migration regulations of 1994—the regulations—contain numerous provisions dealing with the requirements for notification in specific circumstances. These cover the content of the notice, who must be notified, where and by what method. These provisions have created confusion for departmental officers and fertile ground for the courts to find defects in notification. Technical errors can also be relied upon by those clients seeking to delay resolution of their case. Overall, this is a technical cleaning up of various parts of the Migration Act, and it is good to hear that it is something that is welcomed by the other side. This bill will help people have a pleasant experience as they go through their citizenship applications and their migration experience. As we all know, Australia is a multicultural society and has a rich tapestry of cultures. We are all the better for it. The least that this government can do is make the experience of migration as pleasant, efficient and clear as possible. Therefore, I recommend this bill to the House.