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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 106

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:46 PM) —I have spoken a couple of times today on immigration related matters, particularly to address the situation faced by asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, so I will not address that aspect of the report. I want to speak slightly more broadly about the role of immigration and the role of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. I hope senators and the government would acknowledge that whilst on many occasions I have been critical of aspects of the Migration Act and the way that it is administered—I think that is our role in this place—I have certainly also acknowledged the enormous difficulty and complexity of this area, in part because of the way the law is structured and because it inevitably deals with a hard subject matter.

Given that situation, the reports that deal with the administration of the department are important. The broader challenge of trying to engage with millions and millions of people—and there are literally millions of people every year who in some shape or form use the Migration Act: every person who enters or leaves this country is doing so under the powers of the Migration Act, whether it is for the briefest of visits or to settle permanently—is to continue to look at the changing nature of migration in Australia. We have, in many ways, the benefit of a consciously determined migration program in this country and a regime that has surrounded that for over 50 years. Many other countries around the world are only now starting to think about a proper regulatory regime for regulating settlement type migration. We have a big advantage there.

The debate about migration in Australia is often very simplistic—whether we should have massive increases in numbers or change the composition. Those debates are important as far as they go, but I think we need to acknowledge that the vast majority of migration issues are not to do with how we often think of it—of people pulling up roots from one country far away and then settling here. Although people still do that—some senators in this chamber were born in one country and then uprooted with their families, settled somewhere else and put down roots—there is much more temporary movement these days. The number of people coming to Australia, even on longer term visas, temporarily rather than permanently is dramatically increasing. So, whenever we talk about migration intake, numbers and composition, we should be conscious that permanent migration of people into Australia and permanent departures are in a minority. That is not a bad thing; it is the reality. We need to do more to get our head around that when we have debates about how migration should work.

That is why I have concerns about the innate discriminatory nature of our migration regime. Earlier this week, we had questions in this place about a child whose family was being prevented from getting permanent residency in Australia because their child has autism. It is a clear example of the basic, undeniable fact that our Migration Act is discriminatory. Every day it discriminates against people on the grounds of disability, gender, marital status, sexuality, age and their general health—just to name some. That is not completely avoidable, but we can do a lot more to reduce that, particularly in this era with a lot more temporary movement of people. We want to be able to encourage movement into and out of Australia and encourage engagement with the world. We cannot have all these discriminatory barriers, particularly when they are able to operate in such an arbitrary way. That is an area that needs more focus, and it is certainly an area that I and the Australian Democrats will be paying more attention to. There is more to say about the issue but, given the time, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.