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Thursday, 4 July 2019
Page: 312


Mr COLEMAN (BanksMinister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) (11:58): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Introduction

The department's biometric program for the provision of personal identifiers has been implemented in phases. Commencing in 2006 with the collection of facial images and fingerprints of illegal foreign fishers, it was extended in 2010 with the addition of facial images and fingerprints for visa applicants in high-risk locations and expanded to noncitizens refused entry at Australia's international airports. More recently, in 2015, the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics) Act 2015 simplified and expanded the department's personal identifier collection capability with a broad discretion to require personal identifiers for the purposes of the Migration Act 1958 or regulations made under that act.

The purposes of the biometric program include:

assisting in the identification of a person;

improving the procedures for determining visa applications;

enhancing the department's ability to identify non-citizens who have a criminal history or are of character concern;

assisting in identifying persons who may be a security concern;

combating identity fraud in immigration matters; and

facilitating genuine travellers more efficiently.

The collection of personal identifiers is essential to establishing the identity of noncitizens, as checks using personal identifiers are far more accurate than document based checks of biographic details such as name and date of birth alone.

Intention of the bill

The intention of these amendments is to enable the collection of personal identifiers to be a prerequisite to making a valid visa application. If an applicant refuses to provide their personal identifiers then they cannot make a valid visa application and cannot be considered for the grant of a visa.

The measures provide a mechanism for the minister to specify a group of visa applicants who must provide one or more personal identifiers (also specified) to have a valid application—that is, it will be a mandatory requirement. The groups of applicants would not include persons unable to provide certain personal identifiers, such as the collection of fingerprints from people with a permanent physical disability, resulting in the inability to collect fingerprints.

These amendments do not remove the discretion to require personal identifiers from visa applicants at any time after a visa application has been made. The minister would continue to be able to require additional personal identifiers after lodgement of the visa application, where for example the identity of the visa applicant remains uncertain.

Protections

These amendments fully retain existing protections associated with the collection of personal identifiers in the Migration Act, such as those relating to privacy, humanity, and dignity. Nor do these changes expand who may be required to provide personal identifiers or what personal identifiers may be required. Rather, this amendment is about enabling the streamlining of the process by which personal identifiers are required and provided at the time of a person applying for a visa.

As per the current biometrics collection program, people who are incapable of providing a particular biometric will be exempt from the requirement.

For visa applicants who may need to travel quickly to Australia, for example due to a family emergency, it is not intended that the requirement to provide personal identifiers as an application validity requirement apply to short-stay visas in emergency situations.

Conclusion

It's important that identity checks are able to be done against personal identifier data to detect individuals of concern as soon as they make a visa application. Personal identifiers are far superior to checks undertaken using biographic details such as name and date of birth that are contained in identity documents.

Recent terrorism-related events both in Australia and overseas highlight the need for the Department of Home Affairs to know who is applying for a visa as soon as they make a visa application through the provision of personal identifiers. These amendments will enable enhanced scrutiny, improve the integrity of our visa programs, and reduce the risk of terrorism.

This bill enhances the integrity of Australia's visa programs and protects Australians from persons who are a criminal threat or a risk to national security. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.