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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6464

Ms JACKSON (6:00 PM) —I rise tonight to direct some questions to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship concerning a group of people who reside not only in my electorate but across Australia. Minister, you might think it is rather unusual for a member to speak on behalf of a group of people who have no right to vote in Australia because they are not citizens—though many of them would dearly love to be. I am speaking about people who reside in Australia as subclass 410 visa holders, retirement visa holders. They are a relatively small group and the majority of them have resided in the country for over a decade, and some of the individuals in my electorate for over 20 years. I have been made aware of their issues on a number of occasions, first when doorknocking in Hasluck prior to the 2001 federal election. I met David and Marie Austin, who at the time lived in Helena Valley and were very active local members of my community. They had left the UK, sold up all their possessions and made the decision to come and spend the rest of their lives in Australia.

The main issues that confront 410 retirement visa holders have arisen because the visa is a temporary visa. It must be renewed every four years, with all of the administrative burden that entails. When I first met David and Marie it was at that stage every two years. The visa does not allow access to Medicare and holders must have private health insurance. Because they are seen as temporary residents, they are not eligible for health insurance cover that would apply to other visitors, so it is extremely expensive. They are not entitled to the private health insurance rebate, though interestingly enough they do not meet the eligibility criteria as a visitor to access the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. They are not allowed to work more than 20 hours either in a paid or an unpaid capacity. Certainly in my electorate many of them use their current work eligibility to work as unpaid volunteers and they make a magnificent contribution to the community. Of course we certainly consider them to be residents for tax purposes, but they have many difficulties. They find it hard to obtain credit cards, travel insurance and also, from one example in my local electorate, funeral insurance.

Since I first met this group I know that there have been considerable attempts to look at what enhancements may be possible. I was delighted that the Rudd government announced that several enhancements would be made to the retirement visa as part of this year’s budget to give them greater assurance that the visa would be renewed and to reduce the requirements for further applications for visas. I think this will have a terrific impact. I want to ask the minister to perhaps outline the enhancements that apply to this particular class of visa holders and the benefits that will be experienced not only by the 410 retirement visa holders but also by the community as a result of the changes that have been introduced as part of the budget.

I would also appreciate, Minister, some advice on when the changes will become effective. Many people are currently part-way through their four-year eligibility for their visa and I would be curious to know when these new benefits will in fact take effect. Of course, I could not let it go without saying that many people currently on the retirement visa have family members in Western Australia and have very strong ties to our community. It is certainly my view and my hope that in the long run retirement 410 visa holders who have chosen to make Australia their home will have some sort of pathway to permanent residency and Australian citizenship. I will certainly continue to support that goal. The way that it is, a step forward is always better than a step backward. I do want to congratulate the government on the enhancements that they have made and I would appreciate the information that the minister can provide.