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Wednesday, 24 August 1983
Page: 217

Mr MAHER(8.56) —I am delighted to have the opportunity this evening to make a contribution to the debate on the Migration Amendment Bill. Before I make my comments I should answer some of the points made by the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender). In particular, I am confused as to whether the Opposition really believes we should have a migration program in this nation. Four million of our population were born overseas. They come from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe, Asia, Africa-from the whole globe. A great scheme was launched by the Labor Government after the war, a scheme that has enriched and changed our nation. Yet tonight I have heard some appalling comments from Opposition speakers.

I take exception to the notion that people are refusing to take up Australian citizenship. I ask honourable members: When did the previous Liberal-National Party Government do anything to encourage non-citizens to take up citizenship? There was no program. The Government was frightened of getting Labor voters on the roll. It took the attitude that the people who are not citizens will vote for the Labor Party, therefore one must do anything possible to delay the processing of citizenship applications and do nothing at all to encourage people to become Australian citizens. There was never any scheme to promote citizenship . I see dozens of people every week who are non-citizens. Everyone of these people, with one or two exceptions, takes out citizenship. People who have not taken out citizenship often have some emotional reason for retaining their old nationality. It is a very big step to give up one's previous citizenship and nationality. One or two have had to keep their Dutch or some other citizenship to keep a military pension. There was some worry amongst some of the Italian people in my electorate that they would lose their Italian pensions if they took out Australian citizenship.

I believe it is total hypocrisy for Opposition speakers to claim that people are refusing to take out Australian citizenship. The children of these non- citizens are Australians. Perhaps many of the spouses of these people are Australians. These people have rights. It was, after all, a Liberal Government that reversed the deportation order on Mr Pochi. That proved to be very unpopular in the electorate. Under the Liberal Government the law stated that there was a de facto amnesty after five years. I feel that some of the speakers for the Opposition are unaware of the provisions the Government is amending tonight in this Bill.

The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), who led for the Opposition, made the point that he was critical of the Minister having less discretion. My experience in migration matters is somewhat considerable, representing as I do an electorate that has a third of its population born overseas. My opinion is that the Minister's powers of discretion left a bad taste in my mouth. It depended on who one knew amongst the Ministers as to whether one received a favourable decision when discretion was involved. I believe that the less discretion there is the better and that the more decisions that are made in accordance with the law and fixed and firm rules and the fewer decisions left to a Minister's discretion or fancy the better. It suits me completely that the Minister's discretion is being cut down. The Bill refers initially to the abolition of the distinction between aliens and immigrants. Those two categories will be discarded and henceforth we will have one category only relating to non- citizens. This country will have citizens and non-citizens.

The extensive amendments proposed to sections 12 and 13 of the Act arise out of the watershed High Court case of Pochi, which I have already mentioned. The judgment by the Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs was endorsed by Justices Mason, Wilson and Murphy. The provision in the Australian Constitution which gives any government the power to deal with immigrants and immigration-section 51 (xxvii)- which was put to the High Court is referred to in the judgment as being a difficult section. It appears that any non-citizen who has merged with the population may not be covered by that section. This suggestion was put in the application for special leave to appear before the High Court. The judges did not have to deal with that point. But it is believed, and it was inferred, that perhaps the Government, in dealing with immigration matters, would be on stronger ground if it used that part of our Constitution which deals with the alien power, that is, section 51 (xxix). Although the High Court was not called upon to determine that point, the case is of great significance. It has caused the Government to review the Migration Act and to slant the Act towards the alien power, rather than the immigrants power.

Pochi, as everyone knows, was convicted of an offence and served one year in goal. He ultimately failed in his litigation but the Minister of the day revoked the deportation order against him. The Government seeks to amend section 7 (4) of the existing Act to remove the de facto amnesty. It will also amend section 16 of the Act which deals with deportation and the certificates or documents which are tendered to an officer in the course of his or her duty, such as a medical certificate, a trades certificate, a job offer or any other documents which are found to be forged.

The Government also seeks to amend section 14, which relates to the deportation of a non-citizen. Section 14 (1) allows the Government to deport a non-citizen who has been a resident for 10 years or less. But the proposed new section 14 (2 ) will deal with non-citizens who have been in Australia for more than 10 years. With regard to this section, the Opposition has said that it deals only with a limited number of crimes under the Crimes Act, which it does. Indeed, very serious problems arise because a non-citizen could be married to an Australian, have Australian-born children who are nationals and, after 20 years in this country, could still be sent back to an eastern European country. It would be an appalling double penalty on a family if the bread winner-the husband or father- was not only sent to gaol but also made to return to his country of origin where the penalty for the crime committed may be death. A death sentence may await the person when he arrives in that country. This country has encouraged migrants to enter in large numbers-in some cases, when they were very young. By accident they may have been born in New Zealand, Italy or Yugoslavia and came to Australia as infants. By a mere technicality, some members of the family may have been born in Australia and others overseas. But the ones who were born overseas have the threat hanging over them that if they are convicted of a serious offence as described in proposed new section 14 (2) of the Act, after serving a prison term, irrespective of whether they have an Australian family, are domiciled in Australia and are, to all intents and purposes Australians, they may be deported. They may not even speak the language of their country of origin. I believe that this is a very important and serious section. The Opposition seems to be unaware of it.

Mr Deputy Speaker, a number of honourable members wish to comment on these Bills tonight. I commend the Bills to the House. I congratulate the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) for bringing forward these measures. I encourage all honourable members to support the legislation.