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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14831

Ms GAMBARO (12:31 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I present the committee's report, incorporating a dissenting report, entitled 2003 Review of Migration Regulation 4.31B, together with the minutes of the proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Ms GAMBARO —by leave—I thank the House. I am very pleased to be here today to present the report on 4.31B as it applies to certain people who have sought refugee status in Australia by applying for a protection visa. Those people who have had their applications refused by the department of immigration may apply to the Refugee Review Tribunal for the review of those refusals. If the tribunal agrees that the applicants do not meet the definition of refugees in the United Nations Refugee Convention then the review applications are unsuccessful and the regulation allows for a fee of $1,000 to be charged. The purpose of this fee is to deter people from making applications for review of decisions merely in order to prolong their stay in Australia. The regulation is due to expire at the end of June 2003 as a consequence of a sunset clause. The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs requested that the committee review the regulation and report on it prior to 30 April 2003.

This is the third review of the regulation undertaken by this committee. The committee sought submissions through advertising the inquiry and by contacting all of those who had provided comment to its two previous reviews, in 1999 and 2001. The committee received nine submissions and heard evidence from four organisations in the course of those two public hearings. Many submissions argued against the continuation of the fee, some urged that it be continued and increased and others believed that the fee should not exist. In 2001-02, there were some 5,734 applications to the Refugee Review Tribunal for it to review the department's rejection of protection visa applications. The tribunal did not support 5,487 of the applications for review. Those applicants thus became liable for a fee of $1,000. Among this group were those who had a genuine belief that they had grounds for seeking a protection visa but were found not to meet the Refugee Convention definition.

Asylum seekers with a legitimate fear of human rights abuse may fall outside the scope of the Refugee Convention. The tribunal's rejection of their claim does not mean that they were attempting to abuse the protection visa arrangements. Nevertheless, there is abuse. All of the submissions to the committee which commented on the issue of abuse agreed that it existed, and the committee therefore examined a range of existing and proposed strategies to combat abuse. One of the incentives for applicants to make use of the appeal process is that it takes time, and some applicants in particular may, for economic or lifestyle reasons, be content to have their stay in Australia extended by using the appeal process even if they have to eventually leave. It appeared to the committee that measures which reduced the duration of the tribunal process would reduce the attractiveness of making unfounded refugee applications.

The committee had in the course of its work in this parliament visited the Refugee Review Tribunal and witnessed hearings there. The committee saw that the testing of applicants' bona fides is not always a short, simple task, particularly as new evidence may emerge between the initial protection visa application and the subsequent tribunal hearing. The committee therefore recommended that additional resources be made available to the tribunal to provide for more expeditious hearing and finalisation of cases appearing before it. The committee noted that the fee had not been increased since it was introduced in 1997 and that its relative value had therefore eroded—and potentially its deterrent effect. The committee therefore recommended that the fee be raised to match that of the Migration Review Tribunal, which is currently $1,400. The committee also concluded that the fee was probably achieving its purpose and therefore recommended that the regulation remain in operation for a further two years, to be reviewed again in 2005.

In conclusion, I would like to thank all of those who gave proposals and submissions to the committee. I particularly want to thank the deputy chair, the member for Oxley, for his work and the committee for their fine work on the first report of this parliamentary sitting and for the cooperative spirit in which the contending interpretations and views were offered and debated. I would also like to thank the secretariat of Richard Selth, Steve Dyer and Peter Ratas for their extremely efficient assistance with the inquiry arrangements and the processes. I commend this report to the House.