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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5312

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (17:30): I am happy to address the matters raised by the shadow minister. First, the shadow minister raised the question: why the difference? I actually did address that last night, and earlier this evening, and I am happy to spell it out again as clearly as I can for the shadow minister tonight: the changes proposed by the government are there to fix a problem; the changes proposed by the opposition are a solution in search of a problem. The Leader of the Opposition—the shadow minister for immigration, sorry; I am getting a bit ahead of myself: he might be the Leader of the Opposition soon, but he is not yet—has not outlined the problem he is trying to fix. When you bring in a change to legislation it is normal practice to outline to the House what is wrong with the existing legislation—what is wrong with the character test as it applies to tourists, to 457 visa holders and to all non-citizens and visa holders in this country. There are 4½ million applications for permanent and temporary visas in Australia each year. So what the shadow minister needs to do is point out where the problem is that he is trying to fix.

In relation to people in detention, the government has pointed out that offences committed by people in detention can result in damage to public property and harm to Commonwealth employees and to people in our care—that is to say, detainees. Of course, there have been a series of events which have shown that the character test needed to be strengthened, that it would benefit from more clarity in being strengthened. The shadow minister, in search of a political solution— which I completely understand as that is his role as shadow minister: to find political solutions to political challenges for the opposition—has put forward this amendment. But it is not a solution to a public policy problem—because there is no public policy problem which he has identified. I invite the shadow minister again to show us an example of somebody who has come to Australia, who has had a custodial sentence of less than 12 months at some point in their past, and who has gone on to cause a problem in Australia.

I will deal with the matter of ETAs, because the shadow minister has chosen to verbal me—or, alternatively, he has misunderstood. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say he did not understand what I was saying last night. I was actually pointing out last night exactly what the shadow minister is pointing out: that there is an inconsistency, that ETAs, which apply to people who come to Australia from several countries, would not be covered, and you would therefore have an inconsistency in terms of how this amendment would be implemented. If you came from certain countries, you would be covered in a certain way; if you came from other countries, you would be covered in another way. This had not been thought through by the shadow minister, with due respect to him. This was a thought bubble, cooked up as a solution to making him look tougher. As a result, he would implement a system which would mean that the department would have to devote considerably more resources or see processing times blow out very substantially for tourists, for 457 visa holders et cetera. I wonder what the tourism industry would think about that. I wonder what the resources industry would think about that. I wonder what industries in search of more skilled labour would think about that. This government has worked hard to reduce processing times for 457 visas and has achieved considerable results, with much better processing times than in years past—yet we see this nonsensical amendment from the opposition. I invite him to call a division.