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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15465

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (2:24 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. I refer to the minister's answers to my questions yesterday regarding an application for a protection visa. Did the minister twice indicate in writing to the member for Parramatta that he did not wish to exercise his ministerial discretion in the matter? Does the minister recall saying in his 31 August 2001 letter to the member for Parramatta:

I do not wish it to be brought to my attention again unless additional information is provided.

Can the minister now indicate how the matter was subsequently brought to his attention and just what specific additional information not previously available to him or his department he received on the case after 31 August 2001? Will the minister table this documentation?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I regret very much the nature of the questioning from the member for Reid, which has impugned my integrity and which has, I might say, served its purpose—

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —I am not being assisted by the member for Eden-Monaro, as must be awfully obvious to him. The minister has the call. He is entitled to be heard in silence.

Mr RUDDOCK —It has served its purpose. The nature of that story—which was quite wrong in suggesting that there was any link between donations and the grant of a visa—was totally and absolutely untrue. I have never exercised my personal discretion in return for a donation.

Ms Macklin —That's not the question.

Mr RUDDOCK —That was the insinuation. That was the smear and, let me say, it has served its purpose, because some people saw fit to report it as if it might have some credibility—

Mr Latham —He's shaking like a leaf.

Mr RUDDOCK —Yes, I do not like these sorts of points being raised, I must say.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr RUDDOCK —If it were a genuine question seeking information, I might well have wanted to respond in a way which would be cooperative and generous, as I usually am to you. But let me make it abundantly clear the way in which this issue was dealt with, because it ought to be put beyond absolute doubt. Yesterday I made clear what the new information was—

Mr Laurie Ferguson —You did not.

Mr RUDDOCK —Yes, I did.

Mr Laurie Ferguson —You did not.

Mr RUDDOCK —Yes, I did.

Mr Laurie Ferguson —What is it?

Mr RUDDOCK —Yes, I did, and you saw fit to ignore it—

The SPEAKER —Minister!

Mr RUDDOCK —and you have been on radio today suggesting that there was no new information.

The SPEAKER —Minister!

Mr RUDDOCK —Let me just take you through the issue as I understand it. There was a request, initially by some lawyers in Parramatta by the name of Harrisons, involving this matter. I have seen the initial request again, and it made clear to me that the only issue that was being raised by the lawyer on behalf of this gentleman was the handling of the matter before the RRT. That was the only issue raised.

I received further correspondence from the member for Parramatta. That correspondence was referred to my department, and the member for Parramatta raised the same issues. He did not raise the issue that ultimately influenced me in relation to this matter. My department referred to me a standard form letter that many of you may have seen from time to time which said that, having already entertained an intervention request and as there was no further new information provided, I would not be considering it. That is the letter he received. It was not a fresh consideration of the matter; it was not a second intervention or consideration by me.

It is the case that after, and not before, the relevant function, I saw—and I would not mention his name normally, because I do not put information I receive about individual cases into the public arena—the Melchite bishop Issam Darwish. The bishop then wrote some correspondence in relation to this matter, as requested by me, to enable me to have a fresh look at the matter. I have made it clear over a period of time that one of the factors that I do look at when considering interventions where I might not otherwise intervene is the presence of substantial Australian connections.

Ms Gillard —It worked for the East Timorese!

The SPEAKER —The member for Lalor!

Mr RUDDOCK —You might see in a few months whether you want to comment further about the East Timorese.

The SPEAKER —The minister will address his remarks through the chair.

The SPEAKER —The member for Blair!

Mr RUDDOCK —Let me just say that I have made things clear to members who are looking for the way in which I deal with these issues. It is not intended to cover the field, but I have indicated that, where people may have an application that is marginal but where in another area there are issues which could also have a marginal impact—

Mr Latham —Like what?

Mr RUDDOCK —I will look at those issues cumulatively—

Mr Latham —Like what?

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa! The minister is under no obligation to respond to interjections.

Mr RUDDOCK —The substantial issue that is always considered in relation to intervention requests and is most prominent in relation to when I do intervene is substantial Australian connections. I am referring to the cases of spouses of Australians, particularly where they have children. One of the reasons why we have so many interventions today in that particular area is the provisions in the act that put in place a bar to further applications. They have been seen as appropriate provisions to remain in the system to discourage people from coming to Australia in expectation that they will have a hunting licence to go out and find a spouse, enter into a relationship and expect to be accommodated onshore. That is the reason for the bar, which was put in by a former government. We have not taken it out but where there are other issues, such as substantial family linkages, those matters are considered.

After the approach, which included community representations from people known to both the member for Parramatta and myself—including the bishop, a prominent doctor and community representatives—

Mr Laurie Ferguson —Who were the community representatives?

Mr RUDDOCK —You know that it was Mr Kisrwani; you know that.

Ms Gillard —What date was that?

Mr RUDDOCK —The advice from the bishop was on 27 September 2001. The member for Reid was out there suggesting that he knew when I was approached. He was suggesting that it was before the member for Parramatta wrote to me. In fact, it was afterwards, and it was after the function that was adverted to. The fact is that I asked for a brief to be prepared for me, and I dealt with it in January 2002. The interesting aspect about this matter is that there has been a lot of interest in it. I was first approached on this matter by the member for Kingsford-Smith. He supported the first intervention.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Blair! The member for Petrie!

Mr RUDDOCK —I outlined the information that I initially considered fully yesterday, but I will take you through it again. The issue was in relation to the claims, which were accepted by the Refugee Review Tribunal, that the young man had rescued a Christian girl who had been sexually assaulted by two Syrian workers in Lebanon. He claims that he was accused of causing civil unrest and conducting anti-Syrian activities. He claims that following the incident he was arrested, his house was damaged and his car was burnt by Syrian forces. He claims that he was held in captivity for 45 days without trial, interrogated and badly mistreated. The RRT accepted that he had been detained and mistreated by the Syrians in 1993 but further found that that was not a convention reason.

Mr Laurie Ferguson —What did the Federal Court say about it?

Mr RUDDOCK —The substantial difference when this matter came forward again, which had never been raised before, was that this man had three Australian citizen sisters.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr RUDDOCK —He did. It was a substantial Australian link which I thought warranted me looking at this issue again—

The SPEAKER —The member for Fowler!

Mr Crean —When did you first get told that?

The SPEAKER —The minister is entitled to be heard in silence, and I expect the example to be set by the Leader of the Opposition.

Ms Roxon —What about the other side?

The SPEAKER —The member for Gellibrand might care to come and accompany me in the chair before she makes that sort of assessment.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Not only is there a constant barrage of interjections from, amongst others, the Leader of the Opposition, but there have also been a number of interjections across the table from the member for Reid clearly suggesting that a bribe has taken place. This is grossly offensive. The member for Reid ought to be instructed to withdraw and to apologise and not to repeat this grossly offensive smear against the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs.

Mr Sawford —Thanks for putting that on the record.

The SPEAKER —As is adequately illustrated by the member for Blair and, in this case, the member for Boothby, the interjections have, in fact, occurred on both sides of the chamber. I have been listening closely to the minister's reply, and for much of the time he has been appropriately heard in silence. I did not hear any interjection from the member for Reid. I had, in fact, been closely watching the member for Reid, because he had asked the question. I will continue to monitor the debate. The member for Griffith sought a point of order, and I will hear him.

Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, in your ruling just then you dealt with the matter I was about to raise. Mr Speaker, on the point of order—

The SPEAKER —Member for Griffith, the point of order is clear. If the member for Griffith wishes to make any other comment, there are other forms of the House. I have accepted what he has said and invite him to resume his seat.

Mr Rudd —On the point of order, Mr Speaker. The member for Reid made no such statement of the type alleged by the Leader—

The SPEAKER —The member for Griffith will resume his seat. I have indicated precisely what I witnessed. I stand by my view.

Mr RUDDOCK —Mr Speaker, I do not wish to add a great deal more. It was clear that there was new material that was put before me. Let me just say that I have asked for some advice to be prepared for me on a number of occasions on which, in the last while, the issues in relation to my intervention have been addressed. This program year I have had something of the order of 4,000 fresh requests and something of the order of 900 repeat requests. I have intervened on a number of occasions—approximately 80, I think—where repeat requests have been made and additional information has been provided. I have done so for the Leader of the Opposition.

Ms Gillard —How many on the third time?

Mr RUDDOCK —It was the second time. But the Leader of the Opposition would be aware that he has approached me on some 30 occasions—I have intervened on two—and one of those involved a repeat request. The member for Reid has written to me seeking intervention on 62 occasions—I do not complain about that. I have considered intervening on 25 occasions. I might say that that is an exceptional record.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr RUDDOCK —There was no reflection in the remarks I made; there have been in others. Let me just say that, of the 25 cases, five of those cases involved matters where Mr Ferguson subsequently approached me where initial consideration had been declined. So what has happened is not unusual, not different, and the intervention power that I use I use sparingly and with a great deal of care, and I will continue to do that. I will not allow the approach that you have taken to influence me in relation to the way in which I consider these matters.

Mr Howard —On indulgence, Mr Speaker. What has happened here is that the member for Reid has asked a question which could only be construed as implying corrupt behaviour by the minister. The minister has repudiated that in a very convincing manner. I find, and everybody on this side of the House finds, the behaviour of the member for Reid quite reprehensible, without foundation, and what I am asking you to do, Mr Speaker, is to invite—

The SPEAKER —Clearly the member for Banks understands only one language—that is, he is warned!

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I might ask you to invite the member for Reid to apologise to the minister.

Mr Swan —Mr Speaker, the remarks of the Prime Minister were—

The SPEAKER —Is the member for Lilley seeking indulgence or a point of order?

Mr Swan —Mr Speaker, I am seeking indulgence, like the Prime Minister. I am entitled to indulgence like he was. The Prime Minister's remarks were clearly a reflection on your last ruling.

The SPEAKER —I will deal with the matter which was raised. I sat here yesterday very uncomfortable with the member for Reid's question and in fact required the latter paragraphs of it to be ignored. Today, when he came to the dispatch box, I was clearly very anxious to make sure that there was no repeat of what happened yesterday. There has, in my view, been no repeat of what happened yesterday. I heard nothing in the member for Reid's question today that caused me alarm as the occupier of the chair, and I was anxious to ensure that the minister had every opportunity to be heard in relative silence. I do not believe that the member for Reid's question yesterday was entirely appropriate, though I allowed it to stand. I could not, in the light of today's performance, call for him to apologise.

Mr Laurie Ferguson —Mr Speaker, I sought the tabling of the documentation of this case, but I seek to table the Federal Court decision with regard to this case, described as marginal.

The SPEAKER —The member for Reid has, I believe, sought to table a document. Is leave granted for the tabling of the document?

Mr RUDDOCK —I do not know that there was a Federal Court case; it may be the RRT's.

Mr Laurie Ferguson —It says `Federal Court of Australia'.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Reid and the minister will resume their seats. We cannot have a debate across the chamber. Leave has been granted for the tabling of the document.

Mr Swan —On indulgence, Mr Speaker. I would like to request that the minister table the documents from which he was quoting and the advice from which he was quoting in the previous answer.

The SPEAKER —Was the minister quoting from a document?

Mr RUDDOCK —Mr Speaker, I have no intention of tabling documents that are private documents relating to people's personal affairs.

The SPEAKER —The minister is simply required under the standing orders to answer two questions from the chair, one of which he has largely responded to. Was he quoting from a document?

Mr RUDDOCK —Selectively.

The SPEAKER —And are the documents confidential?

Mr RUDDOCK —They are confidential.