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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7329

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (6:09 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Migration Review Tribunal is an important body that takes actions that have an enormous impact on people's lives. Perhaps it is not as dramatic as the Refugee Review Tribunal, which makes life and death decisions, but the Migration Review Tribunal makes decisions that have massive impact on people's futures. There has been a significant problem with this tribunal being overloaded with cases and for that reason having long waiting periods before cases get determined. That backlog is very slowly being addressed but it is still far from ideal. Again, there is a real case for even some temporary extra resources to be provided to clear that backlog.

It is also important to note that it is a tribunal that has to operate in an area of regularly changing legislation. Sometimes the high-profile legislation about refugee and migration issues gets debated here, but there are many other regulations that pass almost unnoticed by this place that are very significant to practitioners in the migration industry and the people they affect. This makes it all the more crucial in terms of resources provided to the tribunal, even if it is just to keep up to date with the latest legislative changes.

Some of the high-profile changes that have been made through legislation do impact on appeal issues. There was a lot of focus on the package of legislation that went through just before the last election that dramatically reduced the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. I think it was not noticed that it also reduced the rights of people using the migration system itself. The privative clause removed the right of appeal of all migration decisions, which makes it all the more crucial that the Migration Review Tribunal be properly funded and that it is not under the stress of an excessive workload, because that tribunal is now the last port of call for most people. That makes it all the more unacceptable when it is not able to cope with the workload that it has.

The legislative changes that went through affected the entire Migration Act and all migration decisions, not just the refugee decisions. Indeed, there was another piece of legislation which was passed at the end of June without much controversy, which was very frustrating at the time. That legislation was the Migration Legislation Amendment (Procedural Fairness) Bill 2002 and, of course, it removed procedural fairness. Again, whilst its focus was supposedly on refugee decisions and people appealing refugee decisions, it also affected all migration decisions in that there is no scope for people to appeal a decision of the Migration Review Tribunal on the grounds that it did not follow natural justice. I think a lot of people find that fairly astonishing but that is the way the law is now. Natural justice was removed from the Migration Act as a requirement and replaced with a set of criteria which fall far short in the Democrats' view. If the privative clause works in the way it is intended to— which is something that we will find out in the next year or so—then that means that, even if those limited and inadequate criteria are not followed, there is still no scope for appeal.

All of those legislative changes that have taken away the rights of people in the migration area make the proper operation of this tribunal all the more critical. The Democrats believe that it is an area that should be given more focus. Migration decisions affect enormous numbers of people, despite the government rhetoric. There is no doubt that our system in practice operates in a way that discriminates against people on various grounds. It certainly discriminates on the grounds of sexual orientation and disability. In terms of applications for visitor visas and other types of visas, it certainly discriminates on the grounds of what country you come from, your age or your marital status in some circumstances.

Again, it is all the more critical that we have a tribunal that can ensure that, insofar as there is any fairness left in our Migration Act, that fairness be applied. In the Democrats' view, the fact that the tribunal is grossly overloaded makes it all the more difficult for people to get the justice that is denied them through any other avenue because of the restrictive Migration Act as it operates, having been passed through this place with the continuing support of the two larger parties.

Question agreed to.