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Tuesday, 27 June 2000
Page: 15702


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (4:07 PM) —I move:

That these 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

MIGRATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (PAR-ENTS AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2000

This Bill, and the Migration (Visa Application) Charge Amendment Bill 2000 which I shall be introducing shortly, implement the Government's recent announcements on visa arrangements for parents wishing to migrate to Australia.

There is currently a pipeline of some 20,000 parents waiting to migrate to Australia.

If they were all allowed to migrate under current arrangements, the costs to the Australian taxpayer would be measured in the billions of dollars.

Whilst the entry of parents assists in providing support to their Australian sponsors, research shows that people who migrate to Australia late in life make a minimal contribution to revenue but incur a very substantial cost in terms of social security and health.

The Labor party when in Government recognised this cost.

It was they who introduced the Assurance of Support bond and health charge in the early 1990s.

During my community consultations on the 2000-2001 immigration intake, many participants who wished to bring their parents to Australia indicated they would meet all the costs associated with the migration of their parents.

In response to the preparedness of sponsors to contribute to the costs of aged parents migrating to Australia, I announced on 3 April 2000 that the Government would introduce new entry arrangements for parents in the 2000-2001 Program year.

These new arrangements will provide for a significant increase in the number of parents who will be able to come to Australia to be reunited with their children.

A contingency reserve of 4,000 visa places is available for this parent category over the next two program years. This is in addition to places for other parent categories.

The Senate voted to disallow the previous entry arrangements for parents as they believed them to be visas for the rich.

The Government was not creating a visa class for the rich. We wanted to allow more parents to live in Australia, in a way which ensured a fair deal for the Australian taxpayer.

As a result of the disallowance and the negative budgetary impact of parent migration, the Government was able to accommodate only 500 parents in the Migration Program intake for 1999-2000.

The Designated Parent visa category was introduced in November 1999 and was specifically designed to assist those parents who were adversely affected by the Senate's disallowance of the previous parent entry arrangements.

The Designated Parent visa classes incorporate key elements of the previously disallowed parent entry arrangements including the payment of a $5,000 health charge for each parent.

A very high level of interest in the Designated Parent visa category has been demonstrated by almost full acceptance of my invitations to lodge an application under this category.

Around 1,100 Designated Parent visas have been granted since November 1999, with the remaining 1,100 to be granted in the 2000-2001 Program year.

The introduction of the Designated Parent visa category was accompanied by an announcement of a more flexible visitor visa arrangement for parents with an on-going migration application.

This was in recognition of the extended processing times faced by parents and has resulted in a greater number of parents being able to visit their children in Australia.

Health and welfare costs for aged parents suggest that the previously disallowed arrangements may not have been a good deal for the Australian taxpayer.

On average, the total health costs for persons over 65 are around $6,000 per year. For a person with a remaining lifespan of 20 years, the total cost may be around $120,000.

The total welfare costs in special benefit and age pension payments could be as large as $160,000 per person over the same period.

Faced with these potential lifetime costs totalling about $280,000, the new arrangements introduced by this Bill involve a very reasonable contribution by applicants and sponsors, particularly for the cost of health services.

The most important features of the new visa classes are:

an extended Assurance of Support period of 10 years instead of the normal 2;

an increased bond payable in respect of an Assurance of Support. The amount will go up from $3,500 for the main applicant and $1,500 for other adults to $10,000 and $4,000 respectively; and

a choice for applicants to either obtain suitable private health insurance for the first 10 years in Australia should such a product be available, or pay an up-front health services charge of $25,000 per person.

The extended Assurance of Support period is consistent with the long-standing 10 year residency bar on access to the Age Pension.

The increased bond is refundable with interest after 10 years, less any welfare benefits accessed during that time.

The health services charges of $25,000 per person represents only about one fifth of the potential health costs.

While the current parent visa classes will be closed to new applications upon implementation of the new visa category for aged parents, those in the current pipeline will continue to be processed within current capped levels.

Given the greater financial commitment of applicants and the consequent lower budgetary impact, it should be possible to increase parent visa places over the next two program years, without placing an unsustainable burden on the Australian community.

The second major initiative in this Bill is the introduction of changes to Medicare arrangements for parent and protection visa applicants.

The Bill removes access to Medicare from parent visa applicants who are in Australia temporarily while their permanent visa applications are being processed.

This is necessary because the flexible visitor visa policy for parents may potentially result in increased Medicare usage, with the corresponding financial impact and community reaction.

Certain parents, however, will continue to qualify for limited access to Medicare under Reciprocal Health Care Agreements.

The Government is also concerned to ensure a consistent approach to health care entitlements for people who are seeking asylum in Australia.

The health care component of the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme was established in early 1994 as the appropriate arrangement for providing health care services to asylum seekers in the community. However, an unintended consequence of subsequent legislation changes in 1994 allowed some asylum seekers to become eligible to access Medicare in addition to the Asylum Seekers Assistance Scheme.

The Bill removes this access to Medicare for new applicants for Protection Visas, restoring the health care arrangements under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme as the vehicle for providing health services for all asylum seekers in the community.

The Bill also clarifies and simplifies Temporary Protection Visa holders' eligibility for Medicare. Holders of Temporary Protection Visas will be eligible for Medicare without needing to apply for a further visa as is currently the case.

You may note that this Bill takes the unusual step of amending regulations by way of a Bill. This is based on the Government's desire to ensure that the Parliament has the opportunity to consider this package as a whole. This is an important initiative, one which is intended to maximise the number of parents who can migrate to Australia. It is for this reason that I ask all parties to support this Bill.

I commend the Bill to the chamber.

MIGRATION (VISA APPLICATION) CHARGE AMENDMENT BILL 2000

This Bill complements the Migration Legislation Amendment (Parents and Other Measures) Bill which I have just introduced.

The amendments in this Bill will ensure that the visa application charge for the proposed new parent visa classes does not go beyond the visa application charge limit specified in the Migration (Visa Application) Charge Act 1997.

I commend the Bill to the chamber.

Ordered that further consideration of these bills be adjourned to the first day of the 2000 Spring sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.