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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17283

Mrs MOYLAN (2:28 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Would the minister advise the House if litigation before the courts on immigration matters is growing? What are the implications of any increase in the growth of immigration litigation?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank the member for Pearce for her question. Litigation before the courts in immigration issues has been growing exponentially. In fact, the growth in immigration matters is alarming, particularly to the Attorney-General. I mentioned to him that it is anticipated that during this financial year approximately 5,000 immigration cases will be filed before the courts. I think the implications of that for Australians who expect to have access to the court system are particularly germane.

The number of cases has doubled those filed last year, and there are 12 times the number filed during the year to 30 June 1995. The costs have also increased very significantly. This year of the order of $23 million is expected to be spent, as against $6.5 million in June 1996. I suspect the litigation costs will be even higher if the numbers increase as we have outlined. There are currently 3,100 cases before the courts and the AAT. That number will increase to almost 4,000 when the individual cases from the class actions have been processed by the courts. Despite the extension of the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court and the case management initiatives of the Federal Court, the sheer magnitude of the number of cases will put very considerable pressure on the court system.

If applicants were being successful in this litigation, one might think that it had some justification. But, of the 1,904 cases resolved by the courts during the year ended June 2002, applicants won only 111 cases or six per cent of the matters brought before the courts. The reason people bring these matters to the court is that they expect to obtain delay. They pursue unmeritorious litigation because they believe it will assist them, particularly if they are able to gain employment in the Australian community. It is in this context that the proposal of the opposition to establish an asylum seeker referral panel ought to be looked at.

I alerted the House yesterday to the Ozmanian litigation before the Federal Court. I think it is important to expand on the implications of that. That was a test case that dealt with of the order of 40 applications before the Federal Court in relation to access to ministerial intervention. At that time the procedure in place for screening requests for ministerial intervention was that only those matters which fell within certain guidelines were to be referred to the minister. The Federal Court held that the conduct of departmental officers in conducting inquiries, making recommendations and doing preparatory work could be challenged and was subject to judicial review. That decision was appealed and, because of the potential for continued disruption to the administration of the intervention powers and because of the success of that case, I sought advice as to the way in which I should deal with those matters in the future. Senior counsel's advice was that all requests for intervention should be placed before the minister.

The important point that needs to be made in relation to this is that the Labor Party, when they get around to thinking about policy, say: `We believe you should put between the minister and an intervention request a further body to advise as to whether that is appropriate.' Of course, the very outcome that would be achieved is that there would be another opportunity for every party that wanted to use the courts to further delay matters to challenge the decisions about what matters would be put before the minister. That is what the outcome would be in relation to the course of policy that you want to suggest. We have some 5,000 cases in prospect before the courts and further delay occasioned in relation to those matters. And what is the opposition's approach? The opposition's approach is to say, `Let's put another opportunity in the system for people to be able to go before the court.'

Government members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! I point out to those easily amused on my right that what we have on my left is in fact question time as it ought to operate. I recognise the member for Lyons.