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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Canberra: 5 September 2003: inquiry into Philip Ruddock's use of ministerial discretion.



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Nicola Roxon MP Shadow Minister for Population and Immigration Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on the Status of Women

T R A N S C R I P T M E D I A R E L E A S E T R A N S C R I P T

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP - PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA 5 SEPTEMBER 2003

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: INQUIRY INTO PHILIP RUDDOCK’S USE OF MINISTERIAL DISCRETION

ROXON: This morning the Senate is commencing it’s inquiry into Minister Ruddock’s use of personal powers to grant visas. He has granted visas nearly 2000 times and people are entitled to know whether he’s granting them for the right reasons.

Many people have been concerned that there are allegations of favouritism, and influence and much worse and today the Senate inquiry is going to be looking into whether those allegations are true. I want to make the point today that Minister Ruddock’s personal power is exercised in secret; no one knows why he grants a visa in one case and not in another.

And this is a power that no other Minister has. The Treasurer can’t decide that someone shouldn’t pay their tax, Minister Vanstone can’t decide that someone gets unemployment benefits or not but Minister Ruddock gets to make these life and death decisions and he’s done it nearly 2000 times.

JOURNALIST: Do all Immigration Ministers have those discretionary powers, Labor and Liberal?

ROXON: Minister Ruddock has exercised his discretion powers nearly 2000 times. The previous minister's highest number of times has been about 300 - 311, I think to be precise. So this is a large number of interventions, it's a large part now of our immigration program and we're entitled to know whether it's above board.

JORUNALIST: The number of requests have gone up as well though.

ROXON: Certainly the number of requests to come and settle in Australia have gone up and requests for intervention have too. The Minister is not prepared to set out categories of people who can get these visas and who can’t and we want there to be a transparent and accountable process.

Can I just say before we go into more questions, there are more allegations today - people may have seen the papers - that Bob Robertson, a Liberal Candidate, was granted favourable treatment for his Iraqi father to come and settle in Australia. Bob Robertson is now in jail having been convicted of fraud offences. So, the Minister carries on and on about boat people being queue jumpers, but we find the biggest queue jumpers in town are his Liberal Party friends.

JOURNALIST: What will you be asking him at the committee hearing today?

ROXON: The Minister has said at this stage he won’t be appearing before the hearing, but DIMIA is. They’ll be being asked all sorts of questions and we want them to explain how the Minister exercised his discretion, how he chooses between the people who he says yes to and the people he says no to. We want to be confident that it’s not on the basis of whether they are a Liberal Party donor.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s time to get rid of Ministerial discretion?

ROXON: I think that there are probably some arguments for why you would want discretion for a small number of cases that might not fit a legislative framework. But we think that there are much better ways to have a transparent and accountable system and also to make sure that the reasons for getting a visa are what the Minister says they are. At the moment we can’t tell if that’s right or not.

JOURNALIST: So you would like to see perhaps, the reasons published after the discretion has been…?

ROXON: Yes, at the moment the documents that are tabled in Parliament are in complete standard form. They provide no information, no details of country of origin, no political or religious persuasion, no family background, nothing. It’s impossible for the public and the Opposition in particular to be able to assess whether or not the Minister is exercising his discretion in worthy cases.

(ENDS)

5 September 2003 (17/03)

For more information call: Nicola Roxon or Matt Nurse on (03) 9687 7355 or 0417 386 535