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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 6515

Mr DANBY (10:43 AM) —I am pleased to speak on the Migration Amendment (Protection of Identifying Information) Bill 2009. The bill is an important part of the government’s streamlining of the Australian migration system. It is designed to create a system that better serves the needs of Australia’s society and Australia’s economy while treating migrants and those who wish to come to this country with fairness and dignity. In his second reading speech last month my good friend the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, the member for Reid, explained the reasons we are introducing this bill. The bill seeks to fix a problem which has arisen with the legislation that was passed by the previous government in 2004. I do not seek to make a political point about that. This is a complex area of policy and it is not always possible to foresee all the consequences of any piece of legislation. To paraphrase the honourable member for Warringah—‘stuff happens’.

I do note, however, that when the bill was debated the then shadow minister, the member for Gellibrand, now Minister for Health and Ageing, did raise some concerns about the operation of the scheme that the previous government was setting up. Problems have indeed now arisen with that piece of legislation and this bill is designed to fix them.

The purpose of the Migration Legislation Amendment (Identification and Authentication) Act 2004 was to create a new regime for the collection, use, access and disclosure of personal identifiers collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship under the Migration Act 1958. It was a recognition that identity theft and identity crime are an increasing problem for governments all over the world and that this is particularly a problem for governments in the field of migration. Labor supported this objective in opposition and we are consistent in supporting it in government. This government is determined to protect the security of Australia’s borders and the integrity of our immigration system. Both as a matter of security and as a matter of immigration policy, it is important that we know that people coming to this country as immigrants, visitors, businesspeople, family members or students are who they say they are. Just as those who steal and fake identities are becoming more sophisticated in their operations, we must be more sophisticated in our response.

But it is also important that personal data collected from people entering Australia be kept confidential and that there be no possibility of it being misused. That is, of course, how identity theft works—by misusing someone else’s personal data, whether it is their date of birth, their fingerprints, their credit card number or their signature. Australians, unfortunately, are increasingly aware, particularly, of the abuse of credit card theft by other people. I think that is probably the fact that is uppermost in the public consciousness at the moment, but it is a problem in other areas as well, particularly in a serious area like immigration.

It is the responsibility of government to prevent that, and we are taking this responsibility seriously. The problem that has arisen is that there is a technical incompatibility between the 2004 act and some other pieces of legislation, which means that it is not as clear as it should be that all personal information collected from people dealing with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is fully protected regardless of who actually collects the data or whether it is collected inside or outside Australia. In order to redress this problem, to ensure that the rights and privacy of such people are protected under the act and to assure our international partners that the data they provide us will be given this protection, it is necessary to make sure that all personal information collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for these purposes is covered by the same statutory regime—namely, part 4A of the act. This bill will bring the definition of identifying information in the act into line with the original policy intention of 2004 that all personal data obtained by, or on behalf of, the department is protected by part 4A of the act.

As the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, the member for Reid, pointed out, it is important that this matter be dealt with quickly. There are criminal penalties associated with unauthorised disclosure, modification, impairment or failure to destroy identifying information when required. Any loophole in our law can be exploited by criminal elements who may want to evade or subvert our border protection system. They include identity thieves, people smugglers, potential terrorists, drug runners and those who traffic in illegal sex workers. Any such loopholes must be closed as quickly as possible.

And here I want to give some context to these measures. This is not seen by the current government as some hysterical problem that we have to react to as a result of vast numbers of boat people. To hear the opposition talk over the last few months, one would have thought not that 350 people had arrived by boat to be dealt with by Australian immigration authorities but that there had been 350 boats full of people who were unauthorised arrivals. We have measured and considered immigration policy. This government is not hysterical, as the previous government was, about unauthorised arrivals, and the current minister has obviously taken a measured and intelligent way of responding to the few boats that have arrived.

I must say that I was surprised by the member for Murray’s description of recommendation 10 of the second report on immigration detention from the committee which I chair and by her discussion about whether people should be released into the community or not. Of course, what she did not mention was the fact that the report had taken evidence that people kept in immigration detention—about whom there was no dispute that ultimately they would be identified and who were no security risk to Australia—had suffered by being kept in detention for many years and months, as had happened under the previous Australian government. That was a balancing factor that the committee took into consideration when making its recommendation.

This bill is further evidence that the Labor government is determined to protect Australia’s borders and the integrity of our migration system while also safeguarding the rights of all individuals who come in contact with that system. It shows once again the falsity of claims made by some members opposite that Australia’s border protection has in some way been softened or weakened under this current government. The member for Murray said that the previous government’s policy on immigration was widely considered as objective and even-handed. I must say that that is not a perception in the community that I have picked up over the years. In the context of speaking on these justified measures about identification and making sure that acts of parliament enable the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to deal with this properly, this government has not had a hysterical attitude to boat refugees coming to Australia. It has not been involved in disgraceful events like that of the Tampa, and to describe the migration policy and the refugee policy of the previous government as ‘objective’ and ‘even-handed’—as the member for Murray, the opposition spokesperson on immigration, did—is certainly in a context that is completely illegitimate in my view and, I think, in the view of the majority of the Australian people on this very important bill.

Let us stay measured and balanced. Let us protect the integrity of Australia’s migration system and let us welcome refugees when they do come here. Let us judge them properly. Let us release them into the community if there is no problem about their identification. If the information about their identification is ultimately going to come and if there is no worry about their security, it is much better for people be under a bridging visa than to be locked up in detention for months and years. If there is no threat to the Australian community—apart from the cost to the Australian community—they may as well be out in the general community earning a living under the bridging visa proposals that were proposed in the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. I commend these bills on the integrity of the migration system to the House.