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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Canberra: 9 September 2003: government's temporary protection visa regulations, Philip Ruddock's use of ministerial discretion, Iraq TPV holders' protest outside Parliament House.

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





ROXON: Well today I have called this press conference to announce Labor’s position in relation to some regulations that the Government tabled yesterday. Minister Ruddock, in the Parliament yesterday, tried to give himself an enormous amount of extra power. Labor has decided today that we will oppose those regulations.

We don’t believe that when the Minister’s current powers are under serious question that he should be seeking to give himself even more power. Labor is going to oppose these regulations.

We think that this is absolutely red hot. There is a Senate Inquiry in place at the moment where the Minister’s discretionary powers are being looked at very seriously. There have been questions that have been raised about favouritism, influence and much more and now he wants to extend these powers even further. Labor is just not going to have a

bar of that.

JOURNALIST: What sorts of powers is he seeking?

ROXON: What he is seeking to do is to extend the existing temporary protection visa system to a bigger group of people and he as the Minister will be the only person who will be able to grant this new category of people with permanent protection. He is also giving himself more power to vary the times of visas that people are granted with.

We think that this Minister has more power than any other Minister. He has a complete discretion, which is exercised in secret. He has used it nearly 2000 times since he has been in Government and we don’t think that he should have any more powers while those powers are being brought into serious question.

JOURNALIST: Is that your only concern, or are you concerned about extending the TPV system to on-shore arrivals as well?

ROXON: That is a significant concern of ours. The Temporary Protection Visa system that he is seeking to extend is fundamentally flawed. This Government has set up a rolling Temporary Protection Visa system. We think that it is very cruel to have people in a permanent state of limbo, in fact some of you may have seen the Iraqi protest out the front today. These are people on Temporary Protection Visas who have been waiting for months and months and months and don’t even know from this Minister when he is going to process their claims.

We don’t want to extend the difficult circumstances that those people are in to a whole other group of people.

There are some positive parts to these regulations and we will be asking the Government to separate out those parts of the regulations, but it is interesting that even the Iraqis that are out the front of Parliament House today, who might benefit from those positive changes, do not support these regulations because they see that it catches more people in the future in the very trap that they are in.

JOURNALIST: What are the positive parts?

ROXON: The positive part is that the Government is seeking to remove a seven-day rule which was introduced several years ago, which meant that if people seeking to come to Australia spent more than seven days in another country along the way, that they wouldn’t be able to make a claim here.

The Minister’s regulations change that for about 2,500 people, but they keep it in place for everybody else and everyone else in the future. We don’t support that part of the regulation and we are going to be moving to disallow the entire regulation.

JOURNALIST: If the Government refuses to separate out those two bits, what is your position then going to be?

ROXON: Our position is to oppose the regulations. We believe that these regulations have been specifically designed to give the Minister even more power. We think that it is incredible - when his personal powers are being questioned - that he would seek to just have more and more power. I mean, we are entitled to say, ‘When will this stop?’ There should be a system that is accountable so that all of the public can see how the Minister makes his decisions and we are not going to give him any more power while we are disputing those issues.

JOURNALIST: And so you would disallow it, even if it would have an impact on those 2,500 TPV holders?

ROXON: Yes, we would and the refugee advocacy groups and many of the individuals affected have supported our position to do that. They know that they are caught in a trap. They don’t want people in the future to be caught in a trap and they are being used as a bargaining chip. We call on the Government to make separate regulations that will affect the seven-day rule - they can do that if they choose to. But the Government is specifically using them as some tool and we will not be bullied into giving the Minister more power, when we question the way he uses his current powers.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

ROXON: The Minister is quite free to separate out the different provisions of these regulations and if he wants to - and we would urge him to - move regulations that would affect those 2,500 people. The reality is that this is a tidying up act on behalf of the Government. It is a mistake that they made. They can correct it and they don’t need to tie it with incredibly damaging provisions for the

future of our whole refugee program. We will not give the Minister more power just because he is using those people as a bargaining chip.

JOURNALIST: Do you support regulations to look after those people?

ROXON: If the Government were persuaded to - and we will certainly be seeking to negotiate with them to put forward a separate regulation just for those 2,500 people. We think that it is very cruel for these people to be held in limbo year after year after year.

Labor’s policy is that if you are given a Temporary Protection Visa, you should only be given one once, and after that you should be assessed as either being entitled to permanent protection or being able to be returned home. The Government is not doing that. At the moment, in fact, for the Iraqis out the front of Parliament House, they are not even processing their claims. The Minister can’t leave them in limbo and he can’t use these sorts of distractions to get away with making decisions in the area that he really needs to make.

JOURNALIST: Why didn’t you speak yesterday at the protest outside Parliament House?

ROXON: There is a range of things that we need to do here in Parliament. We are not always able to be at each of them and I was conscious that the position that Labor has taken needed to go to our Caucus this morning. That has now happened. My office has met with a number of the people involved. And we are very concerned that they should have their claims processed and should get some security about how their matters will be handled. The Minister is not giving them that and we urge him to do so.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the timing, when would this disallowance motion come on, and would you be negotiating with the Government first to try to separate these two regulations?

ROXON: We will be lodging our notice of intention to disallow today. We think that it is very important to send a message that the Minister cannot just seek to extend his powers time and time again and go by unchecked by the Opposition or by the public. We will be doing that straight away, but there then is period before it is listed and we will be negotiating with the Government then.

JOURNALIST: Just on that protest, do you believe that Carmen Lawrence is acting as a de facto Shadow immigration spokesperson for Labor … (inaudible)? Are you happy for her to continue on in that role or do you think that she should come to her senses?

ROXON: Well, I think that any member of our backbench is entitled to speak on whatever issue in the community that they want to. Many people feel strongly about this issue. I am not seeking to stop people being able to speak on this issue. When we are talking about Labor’s position obviously I am the spokesperson, but that doesn’t restrict any of our backbenchers from talking about whatever issues they choose to.

JOURNALIST: Nicola, can I clarify something. You were saying that the Minister is seeking to extend his discretionary powers. Is he going to get extra discretionary powers over these new on-shore arrivals that he doesn’t currently have over other TPV holders?

ROXON: He is. What the Minister is seeking to do with these new regulations is say that everyone who makes an on-shore application can only ever have temporary protection. If they want to get permanent protection he will be the sole decider over whether someone will get the right to stay in Australia or not.

We don’t think that the Minister should be the person that plays God. We think that he already has too much power and we question whether it is being used properly and fairly. We are not going to give him more power just at a time when those questions are being asked.

JOURNALIST: Should any changes be made to the actual visas themselves? Some of the protesters are saying that once they were in Australia - which they wanted to be - they cannot actually leave again to visit their families. Should changes be made in that respect?

ROXON: Well, these are a lot of the serious issues that affect people are on Temporary Protection Visas that the Minister has chosen not to deal with. Instead he is seeking to extend those sorts of provisions to more people and the same problems will exist for this new category of people that are covered by them. So we are worried that when those sorts of questions are not answered, where people can’t actually visit their families sometimes for four or five years at a time, that you don’t want to extend the system that is failing these people - and probably failing our international obligations - to a bigger group of people.


9 September 2003 (21/03)

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