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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6084

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (3:03 PM) —Yesterday Senator Bartlett asked me a question that dealt with a number of issues. I took the question on notice and said that I would table the answer; I seek leave to incorporate that answer.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

Senator Bartlett asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Indigenous Affairs (Senator Ellison) the following questions without notice on 11 November 2002.

(1) Can the Minister explain the extraordinarily long period of time- up to 10 years in some cases—that it has taken the immigration department to determine the claims for asylum for well over 1,500 East Timorese asylum seekers?

(2) Can the Minister inform the Senate how many claims from East Timorese have now been rejected and when the decision on the remainder will be made?

(3) Is it the case that those people who exercise their right to appeal these decisions to the review tribunal will be plunged into poverty as a consequence, reliant solely on charity to survive for months, if not years to come?

(4) Can the Minister detail what the economic and social impacts will be if hundreds of families are unable to work and are ineligible for government assistance?

(5) I note the Minister's comment that these are being assessed using standard criteria. Does the Minister acknowledge that these are not standard cases?

(6) Is it the case that out of all these people who have received negative decisions-over 564 already: that is 235 separate families—any who seek to appeal to the tribunal will not be eligible for assistance, will not be able to work and that the children involved in these cases will not be eligible to go to school?

(7) Can the Minister indicate how many of those people who have married Australian citizens in this period and have been knocked back or are about to be knocked back will be forced to return home?

(8) How many children have been born in Australia whilst their parents are waiting to be processed

Senator Ellison—The answers to Senator Bartlett's questions are as follows:

(1) Decision making on Protection Visa applications lodged by East Timorese asylum seekers had been delayed for several years because of litigation over nationality issues and more recently due to the need to ensure that the situation in East Timor was clear enough and our information sufficiently sound to enable the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) to finalise these cases reliably.

(2) As at 12 November 2002, 235 cases, covering 564 people, have been decided. All decisions so far have been refusals. Further decisions will follow in the coming months. The precise timing of decisions will depend on the details of individual applications.

(3) No. East Timorese applicants who seek merits review will continue to be able to access asylum seeker assistance support, and continue any access to work rights and Medicare until their application is finally decided.

(4) As stated in the answer to Question 3 applicant's will continue to be able to access asylum assistance support, and any work rights and Medicare until their application is finally decided by the RRT.

(5) No. East Timorese Protection Visa applicants are claiming the need for refugee protection. The tests applied for the grant of a visa are set out in the Migration Act and are binding on decision makers and must be met by all applicants. East Timorese applicants are being treated fairly and equitably as are all Protection Visa applicants. DIMIA has, however, taken comprehensive steps to ensure that East Timorese applicants have been notified of the processes to be followed in the processing of their cases and have been given a thorough opportunity to advance any new claims or information they wish to have considered.

Like all PV applicants, East Timorese applicants have access to independent merits review. If they are found not to be refugees by the RRT, the Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Indigenous Affairs has a power to act in the public interest to substitute the RRT decision with a more favourable decision. This power is non-compellable and discretionary. The Minister has made it clear that he is keen to hear of cases where there may be public interest grounds warranting the use of this power.

(6) No. As stated in Answer 3, applicants who seek merits review will continue to have access to asylum assistance support and any work rights and Medicare access will continue. International obligations require all children in Australia, irrespective of status, to be able to access basic education. Children of PV applicants who have applied for merits review are able to continue to attend school until the application is finally decided.

(7) (8) Statistics on these questions are not readily available and in any event data on new dependents and Australian citizen spouses depends on the applicants notifying DIMIA of these matters. As decision makers work through this caseload these issues will be explored in detail on a case by case basis and more reliable information on these matters will emerge.