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Wednesday, 9 March 2005
Page: 134


Senator BARTLETT (6:50 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The annual report from the Migration Agents Registration Authority is reasonably late in the piece, due, I understand, to issues within the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. I followed the development of the Migration Agents Registration Authority with some interest, in part because it was the first significant piece of legislation I had to deal with at relatively short notice when I first came into the Senate back in 1997. Therefore it has been of personal interest to me to see how things have panned out since then. It has been an area of continuing contention. Many members of parliament, both in the Senate and in the lower house, would have had experience with constituents with migration problems and issues. The Migration Act is an area of law that affects literally millions of Australians in all sorts of ways, mostly without too much of a problem. But, as within many areas of the law, when you run into difficulties it can be extremely difficult.

The migration agent profession is still developing and, in many ways, it is still in its infancy. But, because of the way the Migration Act can impact on people’s lives and futures, it is a very significant one. People need quality advice, many times, to get the best outcome and to get their rights enforced. They need to be confident that they will get good advice from people who hold themselves out to be migration agents. They need to be confident that there is some form of redress if they run into difficulties. It is worth noting a few things from the report. Firstly, over 3,250 agents were registered at the end of June last year. That figure is up on the previous year. The vast bulk of those are commercial or for-profit agents, but I would like to mention the 271 non-commercial and non-profit agents, most of whom work for community legal centres and provide pro bono advice, particularly for people who are without adequate means of support—refugees or others who have run into difficulties and need that sort of advice. They play a vital role.

The authority, the MARA, continues to provide investigations into areas of complaint and continues to provide a continually developing area of professional education and development for migration agents. Certainly all the evidence that I have seen is that it is continuing to do that in an ever-improving way. This whole area of professional development is continuing to evolve. The authority—and the Migration Institute, which is closely associated with it—continues to ensure that it evolves effectively. We have had significant changes to the law affecting migration agents in recent times and I expect we will have more significant changes over the coming months and years. It is very important that there is stability and coherent leadership in this profession, particularly given the unique and fairly unusual role that the MARA plays in relation to that.

I would like to also take the opportunity to note the contribution of the outgoing president of the MARA, Ms Laurette Chao, who stood down from that position at the last AGM, and to welcome on board Mr Len Holt, a Queenslander, who will go into that onerous and important role. Ms Chao will stay on the board as well. I know they will both continue to make an effective contribution to ensure this authority operates effectively and ensure that migration agents provide an ever-improving level of service to the many people who need it, particularly given the less than ideal way that the migration law is sometimes administered by this government and by the department. To have such a body of expertise is absolutely invaluable. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.