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Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Page: 8397


Mr PERRETT (12:04 PM) —I also rise to speak in support of the Migration Amendment (Notification Review) Bill 2008. I commend the member for Makin and the speaker who preceded him, the member for Isaacs, for their contributions to the debate. As the member for Moreton, I know that the name ‘Moreton’ comes from Lord Moreton, who was a British peer. I know the history of the name ‘Isaacs’—he was the first Australian-born Governor-General and the first Jewish Governor-General. But I am not sure of the history of the name ‘Makin’. I certainly know that Tony Zappia has a strong connection with multicultural Australia himself and has a strong history of supporting the fact that Australia is based on migrants coming from all over the world. That is one of our greatest strengths.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—The honourable member for Moreton ought to refer to other honourable members by the name of their electorate and not by their actual name.


Mr PERRETT —I thank you for your guidance there, Mr Deputy Speaker, in terms of my detailing the name of the member for Makin. I take your guidance strongly. Many migrants who come to Australia choose to live in my electorate. In fact, more than one-third of my electorate were born overseas. When I get out and about in my electorate, I see the United Nations, depending on which suburb I go to. There are people from all over the place. In the 10 months that I have been the member for Moreton, I have offered support to hundreds of visa applicants across a range of visa classes, including humanitarian and refugee entry, skilled visas and family visas. When those people come into my office—and I am sure the member for Makin has had similar experience—I hear them telling their personal stories of trying to track down children or siblings or trying to bring a husband or a wife or a fiancee to Australia. It is always incredibly compelling to hear those stories and to see the actual tears, and I realise how important it is that the government in Australia gets our immigration laws correct.

Certainly one of the tougher parts of being an MP is understanding how slow and frustrating the migrant story can be. I have heard compelling stories from each of these visa applicants and their families and now fully appreciate how the decisions made by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship can have a major impact on a person’s life. It can be the difference between a life lived in fear and a life of freedom—a life close to family and loved ones or a life of loneliness on the other side of the world. So I understand how important communication is between the department and an applicant or the appropriate authorised person.

The department is required to adhere to strict notification requirements to advise visa applicants of decisions and provide information about their rights for review and appeal. Particularly in the case of negative decisions—and, unfortunately, I have been involved with some of those negative decisions in meeting with people after they have received them—and in all cases, it is vital that applicants receive correspondence from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship within an appropriate time frame so that they do not miss out on the opportunity to seek review, which is normally allowed within 21 days of receipt of the information about the decision.

The Migration Act 1958 and Migration Regulations 1994 detail how the department is to communicate with clients. The act and regs cover the content of the notice, who must be notified and by what method. The current regulations, unfortunately, have been a little bit confusing for the department and, due to strict adherence by the courts, have meant that minor errors—almost to the extent of typographical errors—can be used as grounds to appeal immigration decisions.

This bill amends the Migration Act 1958 to clarify the notification procedure and to provide certainty for the department and subsequently for their clients, and should result in fewer cases going to court. Firstly, the bill changes the way the department will communicate with minors—that is, people under the age of 18. The act currently requires that correspondence be sent to the relevant person for the notification to be effective, even when that person is too young to understand the nature of the correspondence. This bill will enable the notification to legally be sent to a recipient who the minister, or the minister’s delegate, believes has the care of and responsibility for that minor. It will still be possible for the notification to be sent directly to the minor where no carer for that minor can be identified. These amendments will help to ensure that the person who has the power and capability to act on a notification is the one who receives it.

The bill also clarifies the notification procedures to overcome the conflicting interpretations that have been delivered by the courts. There have been occasions when a client has received correspondence from the department or tribunal and acted on it but a court has determined that, due to a minor technical error, the client has not actually legally received the correspondence, while other courts have accepted that the client has been legally notified. The deliberations by the courts on these matters have wasted departmental resources and undermined the administration of the migration system. As I said earlier, because it is often a life-and-death situation when you are talking about decisions about people’s loved ones overseas, it is important that we get it right. The bill before the House ensures that clients cannot use a technical error to argue that they never received a notification when they have, to all intents and purposes, been notified. The bill before us will deem a person to be notified where there is evidence that the person received the notice and acted upon it and appears not to have suffered any detriment despite any small technical error.

It is common for visa applicants to have an authorised person to manage their visa application and correspond with the department. It is usually a family member—someone that has gone before them who understands some of the processes—but, if they do not have someone like that that they can turn to, often they will go to a migration agent. In my electorate of Moreton, because I have such a range of people from around the world—some that have come as refugees, some that have come as business migrants and obviously lots who have come on family visas—I am often asked, ‘Who should I turn to?’ That is why in my office we have started compiling a list of the migration agents based in or around Moreton—so that we can provide that information to people. Obviously some agents do it on a pro bono basis, some do it totally for free, some take on the occasional pro bono case and others do it strictly on a fee-for-service basis. There are migration agents and lawyers that do migration work. That is one of the services that we are providing to the people who come to my electorate office. Obviously the department will continue to correspond with the person notified until the department are advised otherwise. Migration agents do great work in helping sort out many complications. This bill goes some way to avoiding the practice of using minor technical and typographical errors to delay decisions through the courts.

As someone of Anglo-Saxon background—I think my background is French, Italian and Irish—it has been an honour to represent Moreton, where we have significant groups of people from all over the world, particularly the Chinese diaspora. We have a lot of Taiwanese along with Hong Kong Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, mainland Chinese and even Fijian Chinese people. We also have a significant African population, especially Sudanese—even to the extent that in Moorooka, the suburb where I live, there is a little African community, with lots of African restaurants. There is also a very significant Muslim population who have come from all over the world but particularly from Zimbabwe and South Africa. I could not forget the New Zealand population, who also make up a significant proportion of my electorate, and obviously the English, Irish and Scottish, the Greeks and many others.

So, obviously, the history of Australia is one of settlement. Certainly for the last 200 or so years, leaving aside the 50,000 or 60,000 years beforehand, we have been a country based on settlement. In a changing world it is important to make sure that we have good connections with these communities—that when the communities from around the world come to Australia they are well settled and have strong roots in the communities of Moreton, Brisbane et cetera. As we have seen around the world all too often, if we do not get the balance right, the mix right, we can end up with violence and devastation and people picking up weapons to attack their neighbours. Thankfully, in Australia we do not have that history—certainly not in the last 50 years. Although, if we look at the settlement of Australia, one of the first things the parliament of Australia turned its mind to was the White Australia policy, they were different times; we have moved on a lot since then. We now have much healthier multicultural communities.

The bill before the House goes some way to preserving some of those basic tenets: that we get on with our neighbours and we accept people from around the world. I do not know the words to the second verse of Advance Australia Fair off by heart—the member for Port Adelaide might be able to help me out—but from memory it talks about embracing those who have come from across the sea because we have boundless plains to share. That is what we are about as a nation: giving people an opportunity in life. We can do so in such a way that we do not have to put children in detention. We do not have to create these artificial bits of Australia in other countries. If people do come to Australia in circumstances that do not involve standing in line and getting a visa in their part of the world, we can still help them as much as possible—check their history, make sure that their health is fine, help them integrate into the Australian community and get them paying taxes as soon as possible. Obviously, we need to cross the t’s and dot the i’s as much as possible, to make sure that this system runs smoothly.

The bill before the House will make significant improvements to the notification regime. It will ensure that the hard work of our immigration department is not undermined by rigid court decisions and it will provide greater clarity and consistency for visa applicants. I commend the bill to the House.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—I thought for a moment that the honourable member for Moreton was going to break into song.


Mr Pyne —Not again! That was a close call.


Mr PERRETT —As I said, I don’t know the second verse off by heart!


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I am sure that we will not hear it in the House—not being sung, anyway.