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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8510


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (15:29): I seek leave to make a statement for the convenience of the House in relation to this bill.

Leave granted.

Mr BOWEN: For the convenience of the House I want to foreshadow government amendments that I will move in the third reading stage. The purpose of these proposed amendments is, of course, to implement the central recommendation of the report published yesterday by the expert panel on asylum seekers, led by retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston. These amendments will give effect to the panel's recommendation that legislation to support the transfer of people to regional processing arrangements be introduced into the Australian parliament as a matter of urgency. The panel went on to recommend that the parliament should be provided with oversight of the minister's decision to designate a country. This would be done by specifying that the designation is a legislative instrument that can be disallowed by parliament. The proposed government amendments will provide the necessary legislative basis for this recommendation.

There have been discussions today between me on behalf of the government and the honourable member for Cook on behalf of the opposition. He and I have discussed the opposition's concern that a legislative instrument should be prospective as well as retrospective and that there should be accountability in instances where a legislative instrument is tabled or prepared in circumstances where the House is not sitting or where the House is not able to consider the matter before the instrument is acted upon. The member for Cook and I have agreed on this amendment on behalf of the government and the opposition. The member for Cook has indicated to me that the opposition will therefore support this legislation.

The amendment goes to the following matters of detail. Before a legislative instrument can be acted upon, one of two things must have occurred—either both houses of parliament must pass a resolution approving the designation or five sitting days must elapse in both houses without either house passing a resolution disapproving of the designation. This means that each house of parliament will be given the opportunity to veto any designation before it comes into effect. The amendment also provides that only one country can be designated in each instrument, so there will be no job lots where multiple countries can be designated in one instrument. Further, the amendment provides that the designations cannot be time-limited, providing ongoing uncertainty of arrangements until the minister determines that a designation ought to be revoked. This means that people smugglers cannot seek to build an expectation that the designation will be coming to an end.

We stand today at a clear point of decision. As I said earlier, the time for action passed long ago. We are committed to implementing these recommendations. I thank the opposition for their indication of support and I thank the member for Cook for jointly preparing this amendment. The Australian people expect nothing less than action, and the people smugglers fear nothing more. For the convenience of the House and for the transparency of the process I table the amendments I will be moving at the third reading stage. The amendments will also be circulated.