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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7150

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (2:46 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Ellison. Given that the Australian government continues to use phrases such as `the need to safeguard the Australian community' as a justification for trying to keep refugees out of Australia and for the continuation of the mandatory detention policy, can the minister confirm that security checks by the immigration department and ASIO were conducted on all of the 8,000-plus refugees who were given temporary protection visas? Can the minister also confirm that these security checks revealed that not one of those people was identified as presenting an adverse risk to Australia? Will the minister also confirm that the check of almost 14,000 files due to new information regarding nationality being received have resulted in the cancellation of just eight visas, with none of those cancellations having anything to do with terrorist links?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —I am not aware of the detail in relation to the second half of Senator Bartlett's question on those visas. I will seek to obtain information about that and advise him. However, I am aware of the evidence that I think Dennis Richardson, the inspector-general of intelligence, gave at a Senate committee. He said that he did not believe that anyone had failed on security grounds in the checks that had been carried out. But I can say that, in relation to the question of detention of those people who come here illegally, it is essential that we continue with that policy. It is essential for a number of reasons, and security is but one of them.

There are also other checks that have to be carried out. The fact that to date it would seem that there has been not one concern does not mean that there might not be any in the future. In relation to health, we also have checks to be carried out. You also have to remember that, in many of the cases where people have come here illegally, they do not have identification with them. That is one of the first things that we have to verify: where they have come from and the identification of those people. We believe that the system we have in place facilitates that sort of investigation.

We also believe that the changes we have implemented have resulted in an expeditious consideration of the application for asylum by those people. I believe that 80 per cent of applications are sorted out in a matter of weeks for those people who seek asylum. All of that can be done adequately in the current regime that we have. So, despite what Senator Bartlett might say about the security aspects, we still believe that this is a policy which is essential to the interests of Australia.

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the minister has confirmed that refugees who arrive by boat have been shown not to present any security threat to Australia or Australians, why does the government continue to utilise enormous amounts of resources by preventing people who are not a security threat from arriving in Australia and being processed here, rather than using those resources and targeting them towards people who are a security threat to Australians, such as terrorists and extremists?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —One of the aspects I mentioned was identity fraud and the establishment of a person's identity. We have discovered a number of cases in relation to that. There have been newspaper articles on that very point. That is but one of the issues that we have to sort out. Identity fraud can mask all sorts of threats—be it security, a person's criminal past, or someone coming from an area where there may be criminal activity or human rights abuses—and all manner of investigations have to be carried out, including security investigations. That is why it is essential that these people are in an area where those inquiries can be carried out.