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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1288

Senator COONEY —Mr President, my question is directed to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The Premier of South Australia, Mr Dean Brown, is reported today as saying that the requirement to obtain an Australian visa is racist. Why do visitors to Australia require visas and does the government intend to change its approach on this issue?

Senator BOLKUS —Mr President, I am aware of Mr Brown's comments. Sadly, as Senator Cooney's question might reflect, those comments reflect a profound ignorance not only of recent developments in relation to visa processing and business migration but also the whole rationale for our universal visa system.

  In the first instance, Mr Brown claimed that we are being seen as racist because we require visitors from Asia to obtain visas. The reality is that this is a ludicrous suggestion. The fact is that our non-discriminatory universal visa policy requires all people, with the exception of New Zealand passport holders, to obtain visas before coming to Australia.

  There is nothing racist about that. It is a policy which has had bipartisan support, still has it, and is applied in the same way all over the world. To appreciate this system even better, Mr Brown should understand that the visa system is a critical part of the overall entry facilitation and border control management of the Australian system.

  One of the main benefits of having such a non-discriminatory universal system is that the bulk of the entry processing for travellers is done not on arrival in Australia, but overseas at the point of visa issue. In effect, the visa practically guarantees entry to Australia for someone who has one. By contrast, a visa free entry would mean transferring the process involved in visa issue from overseas to the airports in Australia, which would place an extra burden on facilities at the airports, would create delays and would mean unnecessary inconvenience for passengers. In that context I should note also that the assessments are that visa processing onshore takes about 90 seconds—processing of people when they come to Australia takes, on the average, 90 seconds.

  Mr Brown also went on to say that the need for visas is doing incalculable damage to business and tourism. He should know that this is contradicted by the figures, which show a dramatic increase in the number of visas issued in many Asian countries over recent years. Indonesia and Singapore are great examples of that. The growth rate has been 40 per cent in those countries; whilst in Korea it has been some 60 per cent.

  Mr Brown also mentioned the area of business migration and temporary residence. He seems to be unaware that as recently as last month the government introduced some major reforms to facilitate the entry of business visitors and migrants. The arrangements for visa issue are, of course, kept under constant review to ensure that we maintain high standards and to ensure that we maintain standards of service to both tourism and business persons.

  To that extent, my department is now working on a new electronic visa issuing system which is designed to simplify visa issue so that it is almost invisible to the traveller. In fact, I was asked a question about this in the Senate three or four weeks ago and I announced then all the details of that electronic visa issuing system. Under that system no written application would be required and no visa would be placed in the passport. But the system would ensure that on arrival passengers continue to be processed quickly and efficiently through our airports. As I say, it is a continuation of the visa system, but it is a new electronic visa.

  Let me also state for the record, in refuting Mr Brown's allegations, that I am informed that no government in the world has asked us to do away with our visa system. In conclusion, Mr Brown would be better served by finding ways of attracting more tourists and business migrants to South Australia. I have already said a number of times that I am prepared to cooperate with him in doing so. Mr Brown and South Australia would be better served if he did that as opposed to making half-cocked comments without apprising himself of the facts.