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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1224


Mr RIPOLL (6:28 PM) —Thank you, Deputy Speaker Thomson, for the opportunity to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2008 [2009]. Like other speakers, I will try to keep my remarks on this bill brief, but I do want to make a number of comments on migration broadly and then on the bill specifically. When I was first elected to this place in 1998, one of my areas of interest was migration—migration law and all the aspects of what makes for a good migration policy in a country. I am certainly very interested in the way that we deal with migrants and the process of migration in this country. I have also participated in the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, and through that process I have learnt about the systems and mechanisms in place, the way systems can be abused, the way they are effective, the way they do actually treat people with humanity and justice and the benefits that can be derived by any country from a strong, healthy migration program.

Just the other day I learnt the importance of that through a brief that I received regarding the state of the economy and the benefits that come to an economy through migration—they are many and significant. It is very important, in a country such as ours with a small population of 20-odd million people, that we have a robust, effective and economically very strong migration program, so I support enhancements in the area of migration legislation. I think that they go hand-in-hand with human rights and justice and ensure not only that we do the right thing by others but also that others do the right thing by our laws and our country.

What has become very clear to me over a long period is that, while the vast majority of migrants who come to this country, by whatever means, do so in a proper manner, there are a small number who abuse the system—as there are in any country. I congratulate the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon. Chris Evans, for making sure we bring in better practices, in particular to clarify the processes of the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal and put a more streamlined, efficient and effective process in place that can deal with a common-sense practice such as receiving evidence orally rather than just by the very rigid, tough mechanism of receiving evidence in writing only.

The bill reinstates effective and uniform time limits for applying for judicial review of a migration decision in the Federal Magistrates Court. This is important because it provides the discretion to extend that time when necessary. It is about a balance between making things more efficient and effective and making sure there is some discretion in the interests of justice. It also limits appeals against judgements by the Federal Magistrates Court and the Federal Court in order that systems are not abused.

Schedule 1 of the bill addresses some issues that came about through the case SZKKC v the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, where it was found that certain processes were not applicable. It will give the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal the capacity to obtain information from review applicants orally, which I think is the right way to go about these matters. I have sat in on some sessions of the MRT and the RRT, so I have firsthand experience of the complexities and difficulties faced by migrants and officers of the department and understand the importance of this legislation. I know that everybody in the House is supportive of this legislation, and it is good to see that support for this sensible way forward in addressing some of the limitations on the ability of the MRT and the RRT to go about their proper and effective roles.

Schedule 2 of the bill reinstates effective and uniform time limits for applying for judicial review of a migration decision in the Federal Magistrates Court. We have heard from other speakers how some people will use what is available to them—but it is an abuse. They use the lack of a time limit and use the mechanisms that exist to extend their stay in Australia beyond what is reasonable. In this they are not really seeking to address the substantive issue being dealt with in the courts. They appeal to try to extend their stay, to establish networks in Australia, to try to thwart our laws and regulations and their intent. The time limits reinstated by the bill mean people have to have genuine reasons and not just unlimited time in which to extend their stay in Australia and change their circumstances over that time, which may then compel a different decision later.

The amendments in schedule 2 provide for a new time limit of 35 days in which to lodge an application for review of a migration decision, from the date of that decision. The current time limit that applies to judicial review is 28 days from when the client is actually notified. This has been a problem in the past—which is something that has been covered by other speakers—but the amendments in this bill will address that issue. It will mean that the 35-day period will start to run from the time the decision is taken to have been made rather than from the time of actual notification. I think any fair individual would understand that sometimes serving papers can be very difficult. Some people deliberately seek not to be served. The changes coming into place will mean that the time limit applies from the date of the decision rather than from the time of serving, as is currently the case.

Schedule 3 of the bill will operate in concert with the amendments in schedule 2 and limits appeals against judgements by the Federal Magistrates Court and the Federal Court that make an order or refuse to make an order to extend time to apply for judicial review of migration decisions. Again, it is about limiting the opportunities for abuse and discouraging unsuccessful applicants from continuing a fruitless process not of trying to address the substantive matters, because they know they will not be successful, but simply using the system to seek to stay in the country for longer periods of time. There is a strong incentive for clients to litigate in order to extend their period of stay. As I said earlier, it increases the possibility of them extending their networks and their relationships to make it more difficult for the MRT or the RRT to make adverse decisions, when these people would otherwise be unsuccessful applicants.

There is some very good data on this, which, interestingly, clearly points towards abuse in those areas. Appeal rates in immigration portfolios, as you would expect, are very high. They are exceptionally high. In 2006-07, it was 78 per cent. So, of the 2,205 applications, there were 1,713 with adverse RRT decisions. The evidence is that people want to appeal. They are very rarely happy with the decisions made by those bodies and want to appeal, and they continue to appeal and use every legal mechanism they have available to them. Interestingly, though, they have a very low success rate. In fact, the minister has a very high success rate. The minister wins appeals in over 90 per cent of cases. That is a clear indication that there was really no chance in the first place that they were going to get an overturned decision. But I do not believe that that was ever their intent. They probably very clearly understood that they were not going to get one but wanted to go down that path anyway merely for the luxury of the extension of time. That is not the way our system is meant to operate; it is not the way it is designed to be. We need a streamlined, efficient and economical system that, as I said earlier in my remarks, provides justice and does the right thing by migrants to this country but is also balanced with what is just, fair and right for Australia and its citizens and what we need as a country. So I am very supportive of these changes.

In summary, there are a number of very important provisions in this bill. It clarifies and enhances matters in relation to merits and judicial review of migration decisions, which I think is important and needs to happen. It also clarifies the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal in terms of seeking oral submissions from third parties or by written invitation—giving effect to the original policy intention before the Federal Court’s decision in SZKTI v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. It reinstates the effective and uniform time limits for applying for judicial review of migration decisions and clarifies that the 35-day time limit commences not from the time of notification but from the time the decision is made. It also places effective time limits on unsuccessful applicants so as not to take advantage of delay for delay’s sake. Very importantly, it gives broad discretion to extend time where that is considered to be necessary in the interests of administrative justice. There are also a range of good quality amendments to ensure the immigration processes in this country are fair, effective, efficient and, I believe, in the interests of all Australians. I commend the bill to the House.