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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 489


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (11:24): I am pleased to stand to speak on the Migration Amendment (Visa Revalidation and Other Measures) Bill 2016. Anybody who listened to the minister's second reading speech or read the explanatory memorandum on this bill would think we were talking about a bill which was actually quite noncontroversial. In fact, the Labor opposition supports the measures which were described in the second reading speech and which are outlined in the explanatory memorandum. Some of them were covered in Labor's policy before the election, and essentially we would support them as quite reasonable measures—if you took the minister's second reading speech at face value. And I am going to cover the things that he did cover at face value first, just to put in context the rest of this bill, which is actually quite good—in fact, quite important.

The bill introduces revalidation checks, according to the minister, because we have introduced ten-year visitor visas for China, with India coming on at the end of 2017. The ten-year visitor visas for China are incredibly important for tourism. It also talks about rapid approval of visas for Chinese tourists. This is all incredibly important and, as outlined in the second reading speech, well worth supporting for our tourism industry.

The bill also covers what we call SmartGates. That is about using technology to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of screening at airports. It involves improving technology, biometric capability, reducing manual processing, facial recognition and various biometric data collection. Again, this is a really important use of technology to improve our efficiency at airports.

If it were just those things, we would be having quite a different discussion now. But, unfortunately, there is a ticking time bomb in this legislation, and it is one that the minister chose not to raise and it is one not covered in the explanatory memorandum. It relates to the revalidation of visas. While the second reading speech talked about the Chinese 10-year tourist visas, the reality of this bill is that it allows the minister, without needing to bring it to this parliament and without any ability for this parliament to disallow it, to essentially require the revalidation of any class of visa. It is incredible overreach.

Whether this is sloppy drafting or intentional we are going to have to speculate. But the change in this bill does not only relate to 10-year Chinese tourist visas. It relates to any class of visa or any class of person. It allows the minister to decide that any group of people or any class of visa—permanent residence; marriage visas; spouse visas; you name it—or a group of people, based on race, a country they have passed through, an age or anything, actually require revalidation under this bill.

If this were sloppy drafting, you would expect that the minister and the government would have responded to the concerns of third-party stakeholders. There were many criticisms of this bill in the various stages of its process, and the minister has ignored those. The Labor opposition approached the minister in November last year asking for some changes, and he did not respond until Monday. So if this was sloppy drafting, this is not the way you deal with it. Given that it was not mentioned in the second reading speech, that it was not mentioned in the explanatory memorandum, that there has been a public presentation of a bill which is quite narrow in its focus, and that, when the extent and breadth of it is exposed, they simply proceed as if it was their intention all along, one could be excused for believing that this was actually an intentional opening up of a minister's powers to an extraordinary level—a level which we have never seen in Australia.

Australia is a country with a non-discriminatory immigration program. We are proud of it. We have a multicultural community. It is unimaginable that our community would accept unfettered power by a minister—any minister, for that matter—to decide, on a whim, that he would require an entire class of people or visas to be revalidated. It is even worse when you consider that that minister is Minister Dutton.

Regardless of which minister it is, no minister should want this power. This is a power that exceeds the usual powers of a minister and the powers that a minister should require. This is not something that we do in Australia. But you are talking about Minister Dutton, who has stood in this place and in others and lumped whole groups of people together as bad Australians, as a mistake that Australia made in letting this group or that group into the country—as a mistake we made, literally, in letting people into this country. Some of the people who are most offended by those statements live in my electorate. I know them, and I assure you it was not a mistake. They are fine people. Here we have a minister who will make those kinds of statements now seeking for himself the power to act on the basis of those statements—the power to require entire groups of people or classes of visas to be revalidated—without the possibility for those changes to be disallowable in the Senate. As I said, there are no limits to the minister's power under these amendments in this bill.

We should all be concerned with the security of Australians. If the minister wishes to expand his powers, he should do so openly and with real consultation. That has not happened here. We on this side of the House are asking that those measures be removed and that we have a real debate and discussion about them, rather than what appears to have happened, which was to try and slide these extreme changes through under the guise of a different meaning altogether.

I state again—because there may be people out there who are not familiar with the way that parliament works—that second reading speeches and memorandums of understanding are actually part of the legal document. They are part of the interpretation that courts make, for example, when they look at a bill. They are written by the departments, rather than ministerial staff, and they form part of the way that the country understands the interpretation of a bill. For a minister to stand in this House and pretend that this bill is simply about 10-year Chinese visitors visas is quite extraordinary. If it were just sloppy drafting, we would have expected it to be changed by now. If it were sloppy drafting, you would expect the minister, the government and the department to have been running around for the last few months trying to fix it, and yet we have not. We have seen them stand by their guns and continue to pursue a line of giving the minister powers that no reasonable parliament would give.

I think it is pretty clear, from the speakers that have spoken on our side, how we feel about this and what we expect the government to do on this. We expect them to be up-front with the Australian people. If they do want to dramatically expand the minister's powers, they should say so openly and have the debate and not go about trying to hide it in this way. But they do what they do. This is the kind of behaviour we have come to expect from Minister Dutton. This is an extension of it, and we should, as a nation, resist the giving of extraordinary powers of this kind to any minister at all. I totally reject this increase in powers.

As I said, it is a shame, because the rest of the bill is actually quite good. From my Chinese community and my Indian community that would be open to the 10-year visas at the end of 2017, I know that that part of this bill is actually really good. It is good for my community. I hope this government can find a way to ensure that this parliament is treated in a way that allows us to support that section of the bill without the expansion of the minister's powers in this way.