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Thursday, 29 March 1979
Page: 0

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Kingsford) (Smith) - I wish to say at the outset that because of the time at which I am commencing my speech it will be necessary for me to continue my remarks at 8 o'clock. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) would apologise for me at a function to which he is going and at which I was to represent the Opposition.

Mr Peacock - Certainly.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN -The Passports Amendment Bill 1979 pursues a number of purposes. It sustains the discretionary authority for the Minister to issue, or not to issue, or to cancel a passport. It stipulates, for the first time, certain grounds on which a passport may not be issued by an authorised officer. It establishes a range of offences and penalties to prevent the improper use of passports and to protect their value in the hands of honest citizens. The Opposition does not oppose the Bill, but will propose an amendment to the motion for its second reading and will propose a number of amendments in Committee. There is always value in more sharply defining the authority and the discretion of officials. This is not to question the integrity of government officials, but it is an important principle of responsible parliamentary government.

In this case, the Government would appear to have pursued that objective in setting out powers which may or must be exercised by officials in withholding or cancelling passports. It is the Government's judgment, however, that a general discretion must be retained. It is appropriate, in this circumstance, for that discretion to rest in the hands of the Minister. This however, creates a somewhat anomalous situation in which the one Act, in the one area, provides both an unlimited discretion and specific limited powers. There is also some anomaly created by defining the authority of officials, but nowhere providing any requirement that the applicant should ever be informed of any decision taken by the official. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) states, the right to hold a passport may be regarded as a human right, inasmuch as the passport is the basic means to enable a person to travel beyond his country. Governments must also, however, retain a right to withhold a passport. The Bill usefully specifies some circumstances in which that will be done. But it ought also to specify that the applicant has a right to know when a negative decision has been taken and the reason for that decision. The applicant ought also to have a right of appeal against a negative decision. Before turning to the details of the Bill, we wish to take up some of the points made by the Minister in his speech. The Minister has provided an unsatisfactory account of the disadvantages to the passport holder of not including place of birth on the passport. He said:

A number of countries would not accept passports which did not show the place of birth. The authorities of certain other countries advised that, although acceptable, the omission of the place of birth could cause difficulties for the passport holders.

It is unfortunate that the Minister has the habit of generalising because we do not know what countries he is talking about and he has not told us. The fact is that many naturalised Australians and other Australians born outside Australia do not wish to have their place of birth stated on the passport. Many of these passport holders may be caused difficulties because their place of birth is stated. We would like to see the Minister provide us with more information. We would like the individual to be able to choose whether he wished to have his place of birth entered on his passport. At a later stage I propose to move the following:

Whilst not opposing the Bill, this House is of the opinion that the place of birth shall only be disclosed on a passport if the holder or applicant so elects.

I think that would meet the situation.

Debate interrupted.

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