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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1820


Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(10.16) —I move:

That the Bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows-

PASSPORTS AMENDMENT BILL 1984

The purpose of this Bill is to provide for amendment of the existing passports legislation in three main areas: To prohibit the issue of Australian passports to people who are not Australian citizens and to remove the present distinction in the Passports Act between British subjects who are not Australian citizens and other non-citizens; secondly, to simplify the procedures whereby passports may be issued to unmarried children in those exceptional circumstances where they are unable to comply with the existing provisions contained within the Act relating to the obtaining of consent; and thirdly to make certain decisions under the Passports Act and Passport Regulations subject to review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

For reasons that have now become historical the authority to issue passports to British subjects was included in the original 1938 Passports Act. It is now several years since Australian passports were issued regularly to British subjects. In rare emergencies documents of identity are still issued to British subjects until such time as they have been able to obtain a passport from their own national representatives. This will continue; and the measure therefore will not affect Australia's ability to meet its obligations to provide consular assistance, including the issue of a travel document, to citizens of Commonwealth countries who are unable to obtain the assistance of their own national representatives.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking in its 'Interim Report No . 2-Passports' recommended that issue of Australian passports be limited to Australians, to help to provide tighter controls over the issue of Australian passports and to assist in establishing the identity of passport applicants.

The problems involved in the issue of passports to children may be complex. The section controlling the issue of passports to children, section 7A, was included in the Act in 1979 as a result of concern felt by the Government of the day over the use of Australian passports as the travel document in which children were removed from Australia against the wishes of a person entitled to guardianship or custody of, or access to, the child. However, unforeseen difficulties have arisen in the administration of section 7A. For example, frequently a person whose consent is required cannot be located by reasonable effort, and the alternative of obtaining a court order to permit the child to leave Australia may be unreasonably expensive. Again, many of these problems involve applications by children who are outside Australia. In these cases the consent requirement must be weighed against the denial to an Australian citizen of the facility to return to Australia.

The inability of many applicants to obtain the required consents has led to administrative delays resulting in the frequent necessity to seek Ministerial approval to override the consent provisions and issue passports in deserving cases. To streamline this procedure, this Bill proposes to insert in the Act a provision by which the Minister may designate a senior officer of the Department who may, having regard to the circumstances of each case and guidelines laid down by the Minister, approve the issue of a passport where, because of circumstances, a required consent cannot be obtained.

It should be stressed that decisions by a designated senior officer will be made under strict guidelines, will be subject to reversal by the Minister and, like other decisions made under the Act, will now be subject to review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I intend issuing the following guidelines to the approved senior officer who would be designated by me:

Guidelines Issued Pursuant to Sub-section 7A (6) of the Passports Act 1938.

The approved Senior Officer may waive the requirement for the consent of a person entitled under a law of the Commonwealth or a State or a Territory to custody or guardianship of, or access to, a prescribed minor for the purposes of Section 7A of the Passports Act 1938 in the following circumstances:

(a) the person whose consent is required

(i) is medically incapable of providing written consent,

(ii) has had no contact with the child for a substantial period of time, or

(iii) cannot be contacted or located within a reasonable time; or

(b) there is a legitimate need for a child who is already overseas to return to Australia or to travel to another country.

There is a broad agreement that decisions under the Passports Act should be open to review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Any decision to issue, renew or endorse a passport, or to refuse to do so, or to cancel a passport or endorsement, may be subject to review. However, where the Minister in taking a decision under paragraphs 7E (1) (b) or 8 (1B) (b) of the Passports Act has certified, at the time of taking that decision, that Australia's international relations were the determining factor in that decision, the Tribunal may only affirm the decision or remit it to the Minister for reconsideration in the light of the Tribunal's findings. It is intended that in these cases where the Minister rejects the recommendation of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal he should table in Parliament his reasons for that rejection. The proposed measures are not expected to have financial implications for the Department. Nor is it anticipated that the volume of applications for review will place undue pressure on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Bill makes a number of other useful procedural and drafting changes, which will be evident to honourable senators. I do not need to delay the Senate by elaborating on them at this stage. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

REGISTRATION OF DEATHS ABROAD BILL 1984

The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the registration in Australia of the deaths, occurring overseas, of Australian citizens, Australian residents and people in receipt of Australian social security benefits, whose deaths cannot be registered under existing State or Territory legislation. It will also enable Australia to conform to accepted international practice by registering the deaths of these and other persons which occur in international airspace or waters, on board Australian registered ships or aircraft or on board ships or aircraft travelling to and from Australia. Registration of deaths occurring within Australia is a State and Territory responsibility. There is, however, no legislation covering the registration in Australia of deaths which occur outside Australia. Legislation does exist, both Commonwealth and State, providing for such deaths to be registered in certain circumstances. Most States for example, provide for the registration of deaths occurring outside the State on ships, and in some cases aircraft, proceeding to that State. These registration schemes leave a number of potential gaps. I should emphasise that only deaths which cannot at present be registered in any other Australian jurisdiction will be registrable under this Bill although it will be no bar to registration that the death has been or may be registered in a country overseas. Although no conclusive statistics are available it is known that more than 200 Australians die overseas each year. Over the years, a number of deaths have occurred outside Australia which have not been able to be registered, either in Australia or another country. There are at present about 12 cases in which the deaths of Australians who died outside Australia cannot be registered. As a result, the personal representatives of such deceased persons have experienced considerable difficulties in winding up the estates because no death certificates can be issued in Australia. Lack of capacity to register deaths abroad also provides opportunities for social security and passports frauds. There are instances of social security benefits continuing to be paid even though the person entitled has died overseas. A registration scheme will also assist the Australian Bureau of Statistics by providing more complete data on deaths, which are an essential component of population estimates.

The Bill creates a Register of Deaths Abroad and makes provision for the appointment of a Registrar. The Registrar, Australian diplomatic and consular officers and the officials of any country authorised to perform consular functions on behalf of Australia are specified to be registering officers. It is expected that the Australian Capital Territory Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages will be appointed Registrar of Deaths Abroad. Disappearances from ships and aircraft are deemed to be deaths where a registering officer is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that death has occurred. For the purposes of the Bill, space craft are considered to be aircraft.

Deaths which have occurred before the Bill comes into force may be registered, so that many of the difficulties which led to the introduction of this scheme may be resolved. Since registration will have a number of significant legal effects, relating, for example, to the winding up of estates, persons having an interest in the contents of the Register may apply for searches, copies and extracts. Provision is made for the Register and copies and extracts of the Register to be admissible in evidence. The Registrar may, upon application or on his own motion, correct both the Register and certificates of death abroad already issued, and he may also cancel registration. Interested persons are to be given notice if that is practicable that the Registrar proposes to amend or cancel registration of a death and they may object to the proposed amendment or cancellation. In view of the legal consequences which may flow from decisions by the Registrar or registering officer, such decisions are subject to the jurisdiction of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The financial considerations of this measure are not expected to be great. There will be no need for additional staff in either the office of the Australian Capital Territory Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages or in diplomatic and consular missions overseas. In the first year of operation it will be necessary to establish the Register, print death certificates and publicise the facility. The estimated cost of this is $30,000. Annually recurring costs are estimated to be approximately $5,000. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.