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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6030


Mr DANBY (7:10 PM) —In light of the member for Murray’s motion, it is important to make clear the government’s position on section 417 ministerial intervention powers. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has said openly that he believes section 417, and other ministerial powers like it, give him too much power. He argues that you would not expect a minister for social security to make decisions on an individual’s pension or a Treasurer to make a decision on your tax return and nor would the public accept such interventions as appropriate. That is an entirely legitimate political view of the whole issue of ministerial intervention and immigration. The member for Murray charges the minister with ambivalence in relation to his powers of ministerial intervention. However, it should be pointed out that on 26 February this year the minister stated:

Let us be clear on this. There is no question that as long as those powers in the act are available to the minister I will exercise them in accordance with my responsibilities.

In that regard the figures speak for themselves. In 2008 the minister finalised 2,241 ministerial intervention cases. That exceeds the number finalised in 2007, which was 1,840, and in 2006, which was 2,113. These statistics show that the minister has been getting on with making decisions while ministerial intervention powers remain available, and, in parallel, pursuing appropriate reforms.

It is just a political discussion, Member for Murray; I do not know why you are so agitated about a minister having open views about exercising his discretion. The member for Murray in her motion seeks to request the minister to respond to the Proust report. The short answer to this is that the minister has responded to it by taking appropriate action, and this work is ongoing. This may be an unfamiliar approach for those opposite, who over 3½ years ignored the Senate select committee, as Ms Proust observed:

It is surprising that so little use has been made of the report …

By way of contrast, aspects of some of the recommendations in the Proust report had already been acted on by the time the report was released. For example, the minister noted in his media release, as the member for Hasluck said, that he had already taken steps to delegate some of the powers that he was able to delegate to the department in line with recommendation 3 in the Proust report. Other recommendations have been fully implemented since the report was released. For example, recommendation 1 of the Proust report, ‘that the department commence immediately the practice of providing a recommendation on each file going to the minister for a decision’, was fully implemented some time ago. Aspects of recommendation 2, which relates to improving transparency and confidence in current arrangements, have also been implemented. The minister has also acted upon recommendation 5, which recommends that almost all discretions currently exercised personally by the minister be delegated either to the department or to the Refugee Review Tribunal for appropriate review and oversight.

The Rudd Labor government expects to introduce legislation to bring in complementary protection later this year. Ms Proust noted that a system of complementary protection:

… has the advantage of transparency, efficiency, accountability and, for the applicant, gives more certainty and reduces the time involved in the processing.

If the member for Murray were serious in her concerns about the consequences of delay for individuals and families seeking ministerial intervention, she would get on board and support these government complementary protection decisions. Instead we heard from the member for Murray, as soon as parliament rose after the budget was announced, that the sky would fall in if we allowed people who faced the risk of torture or death to apply for a visa and have any decision to refuse the visa reviewed. However, we should not be surprised at the opposition’s actions on this at that time. We have seen the opposition playing politics with the tragic events that claimed the lives of five people in April near Ashmore Reef. The member for Murray has continuously made claims in relation to the government’s change in policy on asylum seekers and made claims that are patently not correct about Labor cutting resources for border protection. In fact, the figures on government expenditure show a slight increase, and they are published on my website.

As a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, the member for Murray endorsed the reforms announced in our first report in December. She also criticised the abolition of the temporary protection visas but could not say whether she would reintroduce them. She supported the closure of the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres, yet her colleagues have left open the possibility of reopening the Pacific solution. As opposition spokesman, the only policy she has announced in 18 months is that she will hold an inquiry.

I can only endorse the paeans of praise made by the member for Cowan and the member for Murray about Greek, Italian, Vietnamese and other immigrants in Australia. But you cannot condemn the minister for being ambivalent and then question him for making all these interventions. (Time expired)


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AR Bevis)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.