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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6027

Ms JACKSON (7:00 PM) —I find this an extraordinary proposition being promoted by the shadow minister for immigration tonight. It is quite an absurd motion that she has put forward. It is predicated on a number of falsehoods and completely disregards the facts. One could argue perhaps that this is not inconsistent with her past form in that it also offers no policy direction for the future and provides no clue as to the shadow minister’s own views about how ministerial intervention powers are and should be used.

At least she was accurate in the part where she quoted from the Hon. Chris Evans’ speech to members of the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal when he talked about his concerns regarding the use of section 417 ministerial intervention powers. He indicates that this is something that struck him very much when he first became the minister, because of the extraordinary powers that he had. He raises a number of concerns about how much the minister’s involvement had become commonplace in individual cases and that there had been a substantial expansion in requests over the preceding decade. For example, he cited that in 2006-07 over 4,000 requests for ministerial interventions were received by the department, and he contrasted that with earlier years: in a two-year period Minister Gerry Hand handled only 81 applications for the exercise of discretion. Senator Nick Bolkus, during his three years as minister, handled 311 and Philip Ruddock intervened on 2,513 occasions from 1996 to October 2003. The minister raised a couple of concerns. One was that it has become almost part and parcel of the immigration system—thanks to the previous government—that there is an expectation now that, as a matter of substance and form, there is an additional avenue for any individual to pursue their application for a visa and that is to make an individual complaint to the minister, which is quite a departure from what had previously existed. His other concern, which he clearly raised, was that there is no other minister with similar powers of intervention. Indeed, I am sure we would all agree with him.

Let us say the minister for social security had this power. If I were not happy with a Centrelink payment, the minister could intervene and grant a Centrelink payment—or, indeed, the Treasurer. If I did not like my Australian Taxation Office result, should the Treasurer have such extraordinary powers? These powers are part of a process to deal with exceptional circumstances such as in the nation’s security. The minister himself says that he appreciates that it is appropriate in circumstances for the minister for immigration to have those powers. It is one thing to be exercising them in terms of a national security matter—a check on the system, in my opinion; it is quite another thing when it becomes just another avenue which an individual may pursue. To know that there are regularly some 2,000-odd appeals for ministerial intervention in the system is staggering. Frankly, I think the minister has done the right thing in putting in place a process to begin to address this very system.

The allegation of the shadow minister that the government has not responded to the Proust report handed down in July 2008 is absolute nonsense. Indeed, the minister has, on a number of occasions, indicated what steps have been taken with respect to the six recommendations made by the report.The shadow minister may like to examine the minister’s media release of 9 July 2008 where it talks about the ministerial intervention powers under review and the steps he has taken since he commissioned the report to restore the integrity and transparency in the system of ministerial intervention after concerns were raised about the process. She may find that extremely instructive to her in her role as shadow minister. It is absurd to suggest that the minister has taken no action on the Proust report and it is absurd to suggest that the minister has been unclear. (Time expired)