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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4309

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (12:55 PM) —The Migration Amendment (Protection of Identifying Information) Bill 2009 amends the Migration Act 1958 to ensure that all personal identity information obtained by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is subject to the access, use and disclosure regime in part 4A of the act. It follows provisions first enacted in the Migration Legislation Amendment ( Identification and Authentication ) Act 2004 which provided for the collection of biometric data by immigration officials. By strengthening the power of officials to collect personal identifying information, in turn the integrity of our immigration and border protection system was strengthened. Part 4A of the amended act contained provisions restricting access and disclosure of this personal information. Use of personal information outside these provisions carried significant penalties, including up to two years imprisonment.

In 2007, the coalition introduced the Migration Legislation Amendment (Information and Other Measures) Bill 2007, which sought to broaden the circumstances through which personal identifying information could be accessed. These amendments were particularly important in improving the process of dissemination of information throughout the government, particularly for security related purposes. We are now advised by the government that recently acquired legal advice suggests that, in some cases, personal information collected by the department from other domestic and international agencies may not be protected by part 4A of the act. The coalition will be supporting these amendments to ensure that all personal identifying information held by the department is protected by part 4A provisions.

In the other place, the shadow minister for immigration and citizenship, Dr Stone, gave detailed background to the context and importance of this bill. Her remarks were in stark contrast to the misguided, ill-informed and politically-driven comments which were levelled by those opposite her, most particularly by the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, Laurie Ferguson, who chose instead to use his second reading speech to attack the opposition and, most remarkably, to defend himself over the recent Auditor-General’s report on his department’s actions in the allocation of grants, including to his own electorate of Reid. Mr Ferguson appeared to lose sight of the important legislation at hand, instead embarking on a desperate attempt to defend himself and Labor’s actions.

So let us look at ‘whiteboard mark 2’, and how Labor was found to have ignored its own guidelines on grant allocations. In a report dated 21 May 2009, the Auditor-General found that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship breached guidelines on the allocation of funding for the 2008-09 Settlement Grants Program. In Senate estimates on 28 May 2009 I was told that, of the 399 applications from 244 organisations, 230 new projects were funded under the program in 2008-09. When additional monies became available, the department identified five projects for funding. Four more projects were identified after discussions with the parliamentary secretary. No record was kept of this conversation. Of the four additional fun-ded—surprise, surprise!—two were in Mr Ferguson’s own electorate of Reid. It seems strange that, of all the remaining 170 projects that could have been chosen, two out of the four were from the parliamentary secretary’s own electorate. The Auditor-General’s report goes on to claim that it is not clear whether the ‘most deserving projects on the basis of merit’ were funded. The report is very critical: ‘without adequate documentation, departments are not able to demonstrate that all applications have been treated equitably.’ This incident makes a mockery of the so-called reforms to the administration of grants programs advocated by Labor after it came to power. This is indeed shades of the whiteboard and indeed can be aptly described as ‘whiteboard mark 2’. Instead of explaining the importance of the legislation, Mr Ferguson embarked on a feeble attempt to defend his actions—actions which have been criticised by the Auditor-General. In conclusion, the coalition will be supporting this bill.