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Thursday, 25 November 1999
Page: 12731

Mr KERR (5:31 PM) —Firstly I would like to thank the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs for the kind remarks that he had made in the Senate, through his representative there, in relation to the work that we undertook together on this matter. Whilst never objecting to the objective that the minister proposed by way of amendments to prevent forum shopping, the opposition identified three matters which it regarded with great seriousness in the original draft that the minister supplied on a confidential basis to us. The first was retrospectivity. The second concerned the possibility that the obligation to remove a person from Australia under these provisions might facilitate or permit the return of a person, who had sought to engage our protection obligations, to a country about which that person might have well-founded fears of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The third concerned the question of East Timorese asylum seekers. Without suggesting that the discussions with the minister were anything other than cordial at all times, I might say they were tough and extensive.

Mr Ruddock —Really?

Mr KERR —Perhaps not tough.

Mr Ruddock —I just think that you're a hard bargainer.

Mr KERR —Yes. Might I say that they certainly took place over a very extended period of time. That they occurred between the minister and me really flows only from the fact that, by agreement between the shadow minister for immigration and me, this border protection legislation had my general carriage and, secondly, the shadow minister was engaged in a very serious political discussion regarding the three-year visa issue and in that circumstance I had the occasion to undertake those negotiations.

Whatever the arrangements, I am certain that the outcome is legislation which does achieve the government's objectives while each of the three points that concerned the opposition have been addressed now. They were addressed by the amendments which were incorporated in the government amendments moved in the Senate, by way of the undertakings given by the minister in his second reading speech and by the administrative arrangements which the minister has undertaken to adopt, one of which he indicated in the House now—the deferral for some time of the commencement of this legislation to allow the final resolution of the cases of the East Timorese who have yet to lodge applications.

In short, there is a common agreement about the objective. Might I thank the minister and his officers who put in an enormous amount of time. Each of us was asserting common agreement but each of us was finding difficulties, for various reasons, with the solutions pressed by the other. However, through the goodwill of those processes, we were able to come to an outcome which did add up to a conclusion that this legislation achieves the objectives. At the same time this legislation, as I believe now, does not in any way cause this parliament to need to reflect that it has perhaps trod a path which it might regret later, which might have been the case, notwithstanding the good intentions of the minister, had the legislation stood as originally drafted.

We have spoken extensively on the principal provisions of the bill. Given the time and the need to deal with other legislation, I do not intend to protract this debate. I merely indicate that the outcome will mean that Australia does have a greater capacity to seek a person's removal. It would obviously require cooperation with other countries because the return of people without papers in the circumstances that often arise is difficult at best. But at least there is a system now that the minister can pursue to avail himself of where there is a person who may be able to seek the protection of a third country, who has not sought that protection or who has sought that protection and had previously availed himself or herself of it but then came to Australia. Those are outcomes that are sound but the protections that are now built in to the legislation prevent the possibility of us abusing the provisions of this legislation and keep us within the terms of the convention regarding the protection of refugees.