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Thursday, 29 March 1979
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Mr SINCLAIR (New England) (Minister for Primary Industry) - In the absence of my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, (Mr Peacock) who, unfortunately, is addressing the Seventh Australia- Japan Relations Symposium tonight and, as a result, is unable to be here, I shall reply. I apologise to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) -

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Could you speak up? We cannot hear.

Mr SINCLAIR -I would be disappointed if the honourable member were unable to hear me because I know that he dwells on my every word. I am apologising for my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs who is addressing a function tonight and is therefore unable to be in the House. This legislation is a subject of tremendous moment to every Australian. Not only are air fares now at a level which enables many people to travel overseas but also there is a tremendous mobility amongst our population. The possession of a passport is regarded as a prime right for every individual. The legislation has been introduced because of some disabilities that existed in the previous legislation. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, referred to the purpose of the legislation in his second reading speech.

Individual members have raised a number of matters. I shall canvass some of them. There are obviously details of concern in the proposed amendments that that Deputy Leader of the Opposition intends to present at the Committee stage. In the absence of the Minister I am loath to deal with them in any detail although I assure the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and other members that they will be given serious consideration. I shall make a few comments briefly about them. It is certainly true that if the Government believes that they would be beneficial in the administration of the legislation they will be considered and proceeded with in the other place.

The amendment to the second reading of the Bill has been considered. The general question of an option in the placing of the birth date on a passport has been canvassed fairly widely. It is not a matter appearing de novo tonight. The manner in which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has presented it makes it sound plausible enough to be adopted in the legislation. However, the advice that has been given to me is that departmental examination has indicated that the absence of a requirement to include a person's birth date might well exclude a person from gaining access to a number of countries. Of course, it might be said that if the option were there and a list of countries were published, individuals receiving passports would be aware that they would not be able to visit countries such as France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Vietnam, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Trinidad, Tobago, Korea, South Africa, Guyana and Yugoslavia. I am told that at this stage all those countries have responded to approaches from the Government and have said that they would find the omission of the place of birth unacceptable. Obviously, a number of those countries are the places of origin of many Australian residents. It would be a disability if people were not able to visit those countries.

It is also true that as a result of some studies by the Department there is a feeling that a traveller might well arrive at a foreign airport only to find that his passport would not gain him admission to that country. This subject is not closed. The Department has advised me that it is further studying the requirement with respect to the birth date, but in the circumstances which I have outlined I am afraid that the Government would not be prepared to accept the amendment to be moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. It believes that were it to be adopted by this House it would be to the distinct disadvantage of many people seeking to travel to places where, at the moment, there is an obligation for the date of birth to be shown. Perhaps in Australia we are more sensitive of our years than people in other countries are.

A number of detailed matters have been raised. Let me canvass some of them. The honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) pointed to a passport in which he has apparently placed his thumb print. I am told that there has generally been an acceptance by law enforcement agencies that the finger-printing of passports would provide a very real security against persons being able to travel on passports other than their own. Again, I think it is necessary to point out that in this country it is accepted that finger-printing is required only on criminal records. There is a very real civil rights belief that to require finger-printing on passports might well transgress the general form of our community requirements in this area. However, the Department is conscious of the necessity to prevent the forgery of passports. It has some steps in mind, including the placing of plastic laminate over passport photos and signatures to prevent forgery. The suggestion of the honourable member for Hunter has merit. Its only difficulty is that it intrudes to far too great a degree on the rights of individuals.

I do not want to deal with the contributions of individual members but, because there are a number, I shall deal with them and come back to the suggested amendments which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition intends to move. I understand that the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) referred to corporate criminals and the extent to which there is a necessity for some change in the present procedures. I draw his attention to the Minister's second reading speech and to correspondence that has already been entered into between the Commonwealth Government and the State governments in an attempt to consult with State corporate affairs officers to determine what alternatives there are to the current arrangements. Obviously, the extreme instances to which the honourable member referred need to be avoided. Obviously, it is essential that changes be entered into responsibility to prevent persons escaping justice. I believe that the discussions which are currently underway should help to correct that position.

The honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman) made a number of references to an area which has been canvassed with me by the honourable member for Hawker on other occasions, that is, the question of the inclusion of children on the passports of their parents. This is a sensitive issue. I know that the honourable member for Hawker has been particularly concerned about it in the past. He has canvassed the matter with me when I have been acting on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The proposal is that the inclusion of children on their parents' passports should be covered by regulation. As honourable members would know, the passports regulations are, at the moment, the authority for making endorsements in passports. It is proposed that new regulations will make the inclusion of children subject to the same conditions as those in the Bill which restrict the issue of passports to children. The new application form will make provision for the consent in writing of the parents to be witnessed by a responsible person from one of the categories who can now give the certificate regarding the applicant in a passport application. In instances of family crisis, authorised officers are sometimes faced with emergency situations which require an immediate response. In this area, of course, they are required to make the most thorough inquiries before exercising discretion. I believe that the officers of the Department do an excellent job in extraordinarily difficult circumstances in this area and I am sure that they will take on board the remarks made by honourable members during this debate.

A range of amendments are being suggested by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen). I have mentioned the endorsement of passports to include children. The present belief is that this matter can be dealt with adequately by regulation. There has also been a suggestion that the 'notice' be replaced by notification by the Minister'. This is a drafting choice and I will draw it to the attention of the Minister. Perhaps he can consider whether it should be adopted in another place.

With regard to proposed amendment No.(4), I am told that there are no basic objections to this, but that there are practical difficulties. Again there are many reasons, apart from those specified in the Bill, for a delay in passport issue, many such delays being due to the actions of the applicant. Were we to impose a firm requirement that the passport had to be issued in 30 days, it is felt that there could be some difficulties quite beyond the reasonable control of the officers responsible for administering the legislation. The penalties indicated in the legislation are maximum penalties only. They are related to penalties in similar areas in the Crimes Act and the

Government would be opposed to changing specific penalties in this legislation without looking at their correlation with others.

With respect to appeals, I can see some advantage in introducing a system of appeals. This may be achieved through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act or the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act. However, once again this is a question which I think needs to be examined by the Minister and I prefer not to give a final answer at this time. It certainly is an area in which the Government is not fundamentally opposed to the proposal being advanced by the Opposition and I can assure the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that I will request the Minister to consider the amendment and in another place give a response if he believes that there is reason for that proposal to be adopted.

Finally, a question has been raised as to the issue of a passport to Mr Harry Miller. I think I need only say that the inferences made during the debate are totally unjustified. The initial passport was issued after being queried by me on several occasions at the specific request of the then Minister for Administrative Services. It was issued on 22 April 1977 and, specifically, the stipulation was made by me following appeals by the Minister that a diplomatic passport was necessary to enable Mr Miller to undertake the particular responsibilities that he would be called on to pursue on behalf of the Government.

Dr Klugman - You are blaming Withers for it.

Mr SINCLAIR - The stipulation on the passport which the honourable member for Prospect might be interested to know while he is out of his seat and interjecting, was that the passport was for the duration of the absence from Australia only. Subsequently, without my knowledge and entirely within the normal administrative procedures, it was re-issued on three subsequent occasions.

Mr James - He still has it. You give them to crooks but you will not give them to honourable members.

Mr SINCLAIR - Again, it was with the stipulation that the passport be used for the duration of his absence from Australia only. I heard the honourable member for Hunter interject a moment ago and make the suggestion that Mr Miller had two passports. The honourable gentleman might be interested to know that I also have a diplomatic passport that expired when I ceased to be a Minister. If the honourable member would like to have a look at an expired passport he will find that it has no validity. A passport that has been issued for a temporary period, for a limited duration of time -

Dr Klugman - All passports are.

Mr SINCLAIR -Precisely, and once that period has elapsed, the passport is no longer valid.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order!The honourable member for Prospect has been told that he is not in his proper place.

Mr SINCLAIR - The suggestion that in some way a passport has been issued which has a duration without limitation is nonsense. The passport issued to Mr Miller was issued at the request of the responsible Minister to enable Mr Miller to undertake the business of the Government, which he did with distinction and to the benefit of the people of Australia. I understand that the passport is no longer valid because of the limitation that was imposed on it.

Let me say again that the passport issued to Mr Miller, as with passports issued to many others, was for a specific purpose, and was subsequently re-issued on three subsequent occasions, without my knowledge, but again with the same stipulation because again he was acting on behalf of the Government for particular purposes. His passport was issued in the same way, I might add, in which every diplomatic passport is issued. Diplomatic passports are issued only when the incumbent is pursuing some responsibility on behalf of the Government. In each instance they are issued for the duration of the absence from Australia only, in accordance with the stipulation that I placed on that original response to the request by the then Minister for Administrative Services.

I believe that the nature of this legislation will improve significantly the administration of the passport jurisdiction. I believe that there is a necessity for the changes that are provided in this legislation. I am afraid that the Government cannot accept the amendment proposed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition with respect to the exclusion or the option of exclusion of the birth date. But we recommend that honourable members support the legislation as submitted to them.

Mr LIONELBOWEN (KingsfordSmith) Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to correct a mistake.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins -Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?

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