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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6467

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (6:14 PM) —Addressing the question from the member for Hasluck: yes, the government has made some significant enhancements to the subclass 410 visa to give greater assurance that the visa will be renewed and to reduce requirements for further retirement visas. There are currently about 8,200 retirement visa holders. Many have been here for more than 10 years and are valued members of the community. Retirement visas previously had to be renewed every four years and were subject to a limit of 20 hours work per week. Commencing in 2009-10, retirement visa holders will be able to renew their visas for 10 years and no work limitation will apply. The department is working to have these changes in place for a 1 July 2009 start date.

In addressing the member for Murray, I will talk about the issue of people-smuggling in response to the next two questions but I would refer her, in terms of the Living in Harmony project, to the fact that there is a national action plan to build on social cohesion, harmony and security that is administered by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and known as the National Action Plan. Off the top of my head, I think it is some $40 million that has been allocated over a two-year period for that program. I would refer her to that.

In terms of the issue of education agents, and specifically the assertion that they perhaps could have prevented the violence against Indian students, I think, with respect, that that is drawing a long bow.

Dr Stone —That’s not what I said.

Mr McCLELLAND —I will let the member clarify that. But that they could have some role in helping to protect—I made a note of the words—is, I think, a very serious matter. The government has formed a task force to look at the issue. The Victorian government has called on police and prosecutors to redouble efforts and indeed to enforce greater sanctions and penalties in terms of imprisonment where the offence seems to be related to racial prejudice.

Currently there is at the federal level, as you would be aware, an offence of inciting violence against a group of individuals on the basis of their race, religion or ethnicity. As part of a response to recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission, the government is examining the possibility of amending that offence to include a criterion of inciting violence against an individual on the basis of that individual’s race, religion, ethnicity or nationality. These are things being considered in response to the guest worker issue. I would like to know the member for Murray’s position in respect to guest workers, quite frankly. There was considerable dissension within the opposition ranks as to whether they supported or did not support the program. I think a lot of interests in rural and regional Australia actually supported it. It is in fact a small, demand driven pilot program that may have the benefit of providing labour in those areas where it is required. I should emphasise that the precondition to anyone being engaged as a guest worker is that there is no local labour available, and that it cannot be used to undercut and undermine actual wage rates that are being paid in the area. There can be benefits all round if the program is successful. I stress that it is a demand driven pilot.

In terms of people-smuggling, the government is seriously committed to addressing the issue. It is, as I have mentioned, committing $654 million to it. The government does, in fact, have a ministerial task force, one that is supported also by senior public servants in key agencies, in order to enhance our response to the issue of people-smuggling. There is, in particular, enhanced aerial surveillance and enhanced maritime surveillance, but there are also significant programs for engagement and capacity building at both a law-enforcement and intelligence prosecution level. There is also, of course, capacity to extradite those people so that they can come and face the justice system where that is established in Australia.