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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4162

Dr STONE (9:05 PM) —I have submitted a minority report to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s second report into future options for additional community based detention alternatives. The committee established three considerations to inform its assessment of community based detention alternatives. These considerations are that community based detention must ensure a humane, appropriate and supportive living environment for those awaiting resolution of their immigration status; that it should maintain a robust and enforceable immigration system that operates with integrity throughout arrival, assessment, resettlement or departure processes for unlawful noncitizens; and that the alternatives must be cost-effective and appropriate value for money.

These considerations, as well as the surging wave of unauthorised arrivals since the softening of government policy in August 2008, informed my response to the inquiry. Since then we have seen 20 boats with over 782 asylum seekers on board. The recommendations made in this report would undoubtedly be seen as a further softening of this government’s response to people smugglers and their clients that would expose even more to injury and death. For this and other reasons I will explain I do not support the new bridging framework which is articulated in particular in recommendations 2, 3, 8 and 10 in the report. In my considered opinion the proposed new bridging visa framework does not comprehensively meet the agreed report considerations and criteria nor does it help to deter people smugglers from targeting Australia as a preferred destination.

Recommendations 2, 3 and 8 describe the majority of the committee’s view that unlawful noncitizens should be diverted out of detention before their security, health and identification status checks are completed. These ex-detainees would then be transferred into the community within a so-called bridging visa framework. The entitlements and support to accompany the bridging visas are described in recommendation 8. They include basic income assistance that is means tested, health care, sourcing temporary accommodation and basic furnishings, information about tenancy rights and responsibilities, and community orientation information.

Recommendation 10 proposes that these bridging visa holders would also have work rights. As unemployment continues to climb, it cannot be assured that asylum seekers can readily step into and keep employment. Looking for work with broken English, qualification recognition problems and no ability to indicate a long-term stay in the job would make it extremely difficult for someone to gain a job. Alternatively, placing the person on welfare could colour their future attitudes to finding work in Australia and earning an independent living in what will continue to be a very difficult economic climate.

As well, most detainees do not stay for long periods in secure detention, and all detention centres have been upgraded or have been recently funded for further upgrades. The committee took evidence that, as at 1 May 2009, 47 per cent of stays in detention were for less than one month, with 72.1 per cent of the stays for periods of less than three months. Processing times for those in the most recent smuggling episodes are being shortened all the time.

We heard compelling evidence from a number of people who worked to support detainees released partway through their processing into the community that increased use of bridging visas without a substantially enhanced provision of support may result in some people being no better off, or even worse off, than in immigration detention. Given the severe reductions in staffing and funding now applying to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, including some 600 fewer staff since the 2008-09 budget, it is important that the remaining resources are not diverted from efficiently and swiftly finalising the identity, health and security status of individuals in detention. If detainees were consigned for a very long time to the grey no-man’s-land of a bridging visa with no swift resolution of their status, this would not represent an improvement on the current situation. The department’s support, oversight and monitoring of those on bridging visas, the surety requirements and the regular personal reporting requirements for those on bridging visas would be resource intensive and debilitating for those locked into this status limbo.

It is also more likely under the new framework proposal that every rejected asylum seeker claim would lead to an administrative, ministerial and judicial challenge to this decision—whatever was possible. If the detainee understood that their time—whether months or years—in the appeals process would be spent in the community with full work or income support and other rights, substantially more time would be wasted in dealing with vexatious claims, and money that would otherwise be committed to better settling refugees into our country would be diverted into dealing with these vexatious claims. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—Does the member for Melbourne Ports wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?