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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2230

Senator HUMPHRIES (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans. I refer the minister to his answer in question time yesterday where he said that he would not exercise his powers to revoke the permanent protection visas of those who were found by the NT Coroner to have given false testimony and been part of a plan to cripple the SIEV36 until the NT DPP had decided whether to lay charges and secure convictions against these individuals. Does the minister accept that the capacity for him to revoke these visas on character grounds is already made out under section 501 of the Migration Act and by virtue of the coroner’s findings?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Humphries for his question. I am not sure whether Senator Humphries was at Senate estimates on Tuesday, 20 October 2009, but Senator Fierravanti-Wells and I traversed this ground then. I would recommend that you read that Hansard, because I went through very carefully why we had taken the action that we had, what process I had put in place and what advice I had sought to ensure that we maximised our capacity to pursue convictions for anyone who was found to have done the wrong thing or who was referred by the coroner back to the police. I am very well aware of what my powers are but on every occasion I have taken advice as to how we would maximise the Commonwealth’s interest in prosecuting successfully anyone who may have acted unlawfully or criminally while on that boat. We have sought at every stage to seek the appropriate advice so as to maximise that possibility.

I remind the senator that when considering these matters last year I specifically engaged with the Northern Territory Police to seek their views on whether or not we ought to grant the visas, being aware that the power of cancellation remained with me if charges were laid.

Senator Humphries —It is your power.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Humphries, I have made it very clear that it is my decision. As I said very clearly at Senate estimates in October, we look to maximise the position so as to ensure that we could prosecute any criminal activity. We sought advice from the Northern Territory. They agreed with the process that I put in place. Now they will consider the coroner’s findings. If they lay charges successfully and someone is convicted of a criminal offence, we will be able to cancel their visas.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, do you accept, firstly, that the coroner has found that these three individuals were part of a plan to cripple the SIEV36; secondly, that their evidence under oath was not truthful; and, thirdly, that you therefore now, as of today, have compelling grounds under section 501 of the Migration Act to revoke these people’s visas?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I am very aware of the coroner’s findings. As a result of his findings, he has referred his findings to the Northern Territory police for them to consider whether or not they ought to pursue criminal charges. The Northern Territory Police will make that decision. But when they found they had no basis for laying charges last year, they agreed that we could proceed to grant visas, knowing that the cancellation of those visas was a power available under the character provisions of the Migration Act. I would suggest to the senator that the Liberal Party give very careful consideration not just to the point that the Attorney-General made yesterday about possible prejudice to any trial but to their own experience in the Haneef matter, where people sought to act politically rather than in an appropriate manner under the Migration Act. I think, Senator, that you will find I have acted in accordance with advice and perfectly appropriately.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Does the minister acknowledge that a failure to act immediately in the light of these damning findings by the coroner can only send the strong signal that blatant acts of sabotage endangering life are acceptable tactics for those wishing to obtain entry to Australia?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —What is clear to me is that the Liberal Party would pursue a political point than have a successful outcome of prosecution of anyone who has committed a criminal act in relation to this incident. This government is absolutely committed—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —If senators wish to debate the answer that the minister is giving, the time to do that is at the end of question time.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —This government is absolutely committed to trying to ensure that any person who is responsible for criminal activity in relation to this incident is brought to trial and punished if found guilty. Everything that I have done in relation to this matter is directed at maximising our capacity to do that. The Liberal Party might consider whether the sort of attitude that they take now is in the best interests of a successful prosecution or just in the best interests of some cheap headline today. I have acted in the best interests of the Commonwealth in discharging my duties in this matter, and the record will show that.