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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6081

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (2:45 PM) —My question is to Senator Ellison, representing the minister for immigration. Is the minister aware of the reports that a construction worker who was injured in the collapse of a water tower at Lake Cargelligo two weeks ago, Mr Malothane, was a black South African who was brought to Australia in July to work—possibly for a small business—on the project 14 hours a day, seven days a week, for $100 a month? Is he further aware of reports that Mr Malothane entered Australia on a business visa but has denied ever having seen or signed a visa application? Does the minister agree that, if true, these reports suggest not only lax border control but what could be slave labour in Australia? What action has the government taken to investigate these reports?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —The claims made by the South African High Commission and the CFMEU relate to an industrial accident in October at Lake Cargelligo in New South Wales, as indicated by Senator Collins. This accident is the subject of investigations by the relevant industrial and police authorities in New South Wales. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs is also investigating this as a matter of priority. For privacy reasons, the minister will not comment on matters relating to individuals, but what can be said is that the allegations made about immigration malpractice need to be substantiated so that they can be properly investigated. Officers from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs have been working with representatives of the South African High Commission to determine the extent of any organised malpractice involving South African nationals working illegally in Australia. Officers from the department have also been in contact with the CFMEU in Sydney on this matter. On 31 October this year it was put to the CFMEU that if they had information suggesting a racket then they should provide it.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Heffernan!

Senator ELLISON —Obviously Senator Carr is not interested in listening to this answer, but there may be others who are. The New South Wales state secretary of the CFMEU could supply no further information. He simply continued to refer to this incident as a scam. The minister has taken note of the information raised in today's media and there is no new information to suggest anything other than this case being an isolated instance of visa abuse. In fact, today's article in the Australian suggests that the person, now back in South Africa, denies any knowledge of an organised black slave labour market. The minister does not discount the possibility of an organised racket being associated with the case. However, all evidence produced so far indicates otherwise. I reiterate that when the CFMEU were approached they simply referred to this incident as a scam and could provide no further information. The overall assessment is that South African short-stay business visitors to Australia are a low-risk case load. Nevertheless, the department will review its visa issuing procedures in Pretoria and will also review those procedures with a view to detecting bona fide applications. The matter continues to be afforded high priority within the department, but I stress again that there is no new information offered in the press report today.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Has the government at least established how Mr Malothane entered the country? Despite the government's claim that no new information has been offered in the media today, what is the government itself doing to establish the facts in this matter? When are the inquiries that the minister referred to going to be concluded and reported back publicly to the parliament?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —I was not asked how he arrived here, but I can say it was a short-stay business visa that was granted. That is one of the things that I mentioned in my answer which is being reviewed. That is what is being taken up with our mission in Pretoria. These are matters which are being looked at. When the matter was put to the CFMEU there was no evidence provided, other than the allegation that a scam was involved.