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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20456

Mr DUTTON (10:39 AM) —I rise today to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Identification and Authentication) Bill 2003. The measures contained in this bill are important and necessary to strengthen Australia's ability to protect our borders, thwart the illegal entry of terrorists and prevent identity fraud. This bill is about advancing what is a balanced approach to migration policy by this government. I read an article in the Australian newspaper yesterday concerning the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Last financial year, I am very proud to say, this country had 108,070 people migrate here—a 46 per cent increase on 1996-97 when, under the ALP government, only 74,000 people came to this country by proper means.

This government takes nothing more seriously than its responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the Australian people against potential threats. That is why we have a balanced approach. We take our concerns in relation to border protection very seriously and we balance it with appropriate levels of immigration into this country. We have repeatedly seen, over the past 10 years, that Australia has been a frequent target for illegal immigrants. We have seen, in the terrible atrocities of September 11 and the Bali attacks, that we are not immune to the horrors of terrorism.

The bill we are debating today is about protecting Australians in a world where terrorists use false identities to enter countries and wage a terrible, brutal war against innocent civilians. The government have already responded to these new threats with a comprehensive package of strong counter-terrorism legislation, the bulk of which was passed by the parliament in July last year. We have dealt with the listing of terrorist organisations and the ability of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to question people with information about terrorism.

When the terrible terrorist attacks of the past two years occurred, the government acted quickly and decisively to introduce a package of antiterrorism legislation designed to ensure Australian law enforcement and intelligence agencies had the right tools to combat terrorism. Today we are introducing the migration legislation amendment bill to provide Australia with the ability to collect certain identifying information on noncitizens. The bill will clarify and enhance the government's ability to accurately identify and authenticate the identity of noncitizens at key points in the immigration process. Make no mistake about it: this ability is important to combat identity fraud, prevent the entry of terrorists into Australia and further protect our borders. At the same time, these new measures will be implemented in a way that is consistent with the current requirements of the act for proof of identity.

This bill also provides a series of safeguards to provide protection for noncitizens who are required to provide their personal identifiers. By way of background, this bill amends the Migration Act 1958 to strengthen and clarify existing statutory powers to identify noncitizens. Events over recent years have highlighted the increased importance of ensuring that we accurately identify persons who seek to enter and stay in Australia. We know that identity and document fraud facilitates the movement of terrorists and transnational crime to Australia. There are also risks if these fraud issues are not combated upfront. Various levels of government and financial systems rely upon the identities established by DIMIA to confer various benefits and entitlements. Strong border security and enhanced proof of identity requirements are therefore critical to Australia's national security and to the integrity of its services and programs.

This bill is part of a whole-of-government approach to tackling the growing incidence of identity fraud worldwide. It seems to strike a balance between the need for robust identification-testing measures in an immigration context and the protection of individual rights. The bill amends the Migration Act to provide a framework for the collection of personal identifiers—such as photographs, signatures and fingerprints—from certain noncitizens at key points in the immigration process. The Migration Act already enables the collection of some personal identifiers from noncitizens in certain circumstances. Firstly, photographs and signatures are required in order to make a valid visa application for some classes of visa. Secondly, prescribed identity documents are required to be provided on entry to Australia in order to obtain immigration clearance. Thirdly, an authorised officer can photograph or measure an immigration detainee for identification purposes.

However, the act as it stands does not define a personal identifier, the circumstances in which a personal identifier may be required or how it is to be provided—nor does it contain safeguards for retention and disclosure. So this bill sets out the following types of personal identifiers that can be collected from certain noncitizens: fingerprints and handprints; photographs or other images of the face and shoulders; measurements of height and weight; audio or video recordings; signatures; iris scans, very importantly; and, finally, other identifiers as prescribed in the regulations.

Allowing new types of identifiers in the regulations will permit us to keep pace with new technologies in an environment that is developing rapidly. It will also allow the government to respond to new risks or concerns as they arise. Under the bill, the following noncitizens may be required by regulation to provide specified types of personal identifiers where appropriate and necessary: immigration detainees, visa applicants and persons to be granted visas, noncitizens who enter and depart Australia or travel on an overseas vessel from port to port in Australia, noncitizens in questioning detention and persons in Australia who are known or reasonably suspected to be noncitizens.

I heard part of the member for Gellibrand's argument earlier, where she spoke about the possibility of putting one of these categories aside because it may be inconvenient for people coming into this country. That really sums up Labor's approach to border protection: it wants the best of both worlds. We know the Labor Party likes to walk both sides of the street and we know that when it comes to decision time the Labor Party finds it very hard to come down on the side of the Australian people. The member for Gellibrand has demonstrated how split Labor is again on border protection. What the Australian people want from this bill, what they want from this government and what would appeal to them from the ALP is some sort of definite process—some sort of an opinion—instead of this equivocal nonsense that is constantly put up by the ALP. Border protection is a classic example, because the ALP remains completely driven in two directions in this debate. We heard the member for Gellibrand saying before that it is a case that—

Ms Roxon —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order on relevance. I do think that it is necessary for the member for Dickson to somehow vaguely relate his comments to what is proposed in the bill or what is even being discussed by Labor on these issues. He knows what he is saying is actually—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lindsay)—The member for Dickson will come back to the substance of the bill.

Mr DUTTON —What I was saying was directly related to the bill that is before the House because it relates to the argument that the member for Gellibrand put in her speech only minutes ago in this parliament. It summed up for me the view of the Australian Labor Party and, I think, the view that the Australian public has of the ALP on the issue of border protection and migration policy. Very simply, the ALP's view, as the member for Gellibrand put it, is: `We would like to accept and support the government's bill in this case but with some equivocation.' Why can't the ALP listen to what the Australian people want? The Australian people want strong border protection. They want border protection not just from this government but also from the opposition. They believe that this is a time when the opposition should be supporting the government in protecting our borders and providing a balanced approach to migration policy.

In my opening remarks I spoke about the fact that this government has increased by 46 per cent the number of people legally coming to this country. It is important that in this bill we provide the proper identifiers so that we can rule out people of undesirable character who apply to come to this country. The ALP have been hamstrung for many months now—in fact, for a couple of years—on this issue and they are going off in separate directions without any guidance or leadership from the Leader of the Opposition. It really does send another message to the Australian people that Labor are completely at sea again on the issue of border protection. It is embarrassing, I am sure, for the member for Gellibrand that, even under her guidance in recent months, there has not been the presentation of a consolidated and forward-looking view on border protection and balance in this very important area of public policy. Can I say it is envisaged that photographs—

Ms Roxon —Once a copper, always a copper.

Mr DUTTON —`Once a copper, always a copper,' the member for Gellibrand says.

Mr DUTTON —What have you got against the police of this country? What are you trying to say? I do not understand what your argument is.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member for Gellibrand will observe standing order 55.

Mr DUTTON —The interjections from the member for Gellibrand really do go to the substance of the opposition's argument, which is that there is no balance and no understanding of the complexity of this issue. If the member for Gellibrand had any understanding of identity fraud, which is a big problem not just in this nation but right across the world, then she would see her way clear to trying to bring the Labor Party caucus on board to back the government's policy in this direction. It is very important to understand how serious the issue of identity fraud is and how it provides an opening for terrorists to enter countries such as Australia, as they certainly enter the UK, the US and other ports of call right around the world.

Under this bill it is envisaged that photographs and signatures will continue to be required for most visa applications, including applications for visitor visas and most permanent visas, and rightly so. In these cases, a noncitizen will be able to provide those personal identifiers to an officer of the department by attaching their photograph to the visa application and signing and submitting it to the department. In the case of protection visa applications, it is likely—likely—that fingerprints, photographs and signatures will be required. There will be some visa applications for which it is unlikely that any personal identifiers will be prescribed—for example, electronic travel authority visas. I hope the member for Gellibrand is listening, because this is about a balanced approach.

As I mentioned previously, this bill will provide a range of safeguards to noncitizens who are required to provide these personal identifiers. Firstly, the bill specifically excludes the use of intimate test procedures. The equivocal position of the ALP on this matter and their raising the issue of personal identifiers as being dangerous is a load of nonsense. The regulations cannot prescribe a new type of personal identifier if it involves an intimate test procedure. This provision is essential because of technological advances, which is a basic concept that escapes not just the member for Gellibrand but the ALP on this issue. The inclusion of personal identifiers and the safeguards surrounding them that we have provided on a balanced approach in this bill really do take into consideration the technological advances which are occurring on a day-to-day basis.

As the member for Gellibrand said, we have seen the rapid advancement of iris identification. We cannot envisage today what sort of advances in technology in a couple of years time will be of assistance in this important area. So why should we be providing a bill and legislation in this country which is proscriptive and does not provide for any understanding or facilitation of future advances in technology? That is why this bill is important and why it provides safeguards. That is why it goes to the extent of not providing for intimate test procedures. We are not talking about DNA testing or the taking of blood. We are talking about non-intimate test procedures that could provide positive proof of identity one way or the other.

The bulk of Australians, whom the member for Gellibrand and the Australian Labor Party do not understand, hold the basic philosophy that if you come to this country and you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear. So what is wrong with trying to provide some sort of flexibility in this bill? It will exclude, for example, the taking of blood and saliva samples—again, it is about the issue of not providing for intimate test procedures. Also, a noncitizen in immigration detention will always be offered the opportunity to have an independent person present during the conduct of an identification test. If requested, the test must be conducted by an authorised officer of the same sex as the noncitizen. If a noncitizen in immigration detention who is required to provide their personal identifier refuses to do so and all reasonable measures to carry out the test without the use of force have been exhausted, reasonable force may be used to collect the personal identifier. But reasonable force will only be used as a measure of last resort and only if authorised by a senior authorising officer. It cannot be used on a minor or an incapable person. If reasonable force is to be used to obtain the personal identifier from an immigration detainee, an independent person must be present at the test. All identification tests will be conducted in circumstances that afford reasonable privacy to the noncitizen, and identifying information will be treated in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988.

The bill gives special provisions for minors and incapable persons. For example, minors younger than 15 and incapable persons can only be required to provide photographs of their face and shoulders and measurements of their height and weight. They cannot be required to provide any other type of personal identifier. In certain circumstances, minors and incapable persons who are not in immigration detention centres cannot be tested without the consent of their parent or guardian or an independent person. No minor or incapable person can be tested unless their parent or guardian or an independent person is present. Importantly, the bill will protect the privacy of noncitizens by placing limits on the access to and disclosure of identifying information, as provided under the act.

We need this bill to strengthen our ability to combat the global problems of terrorism, illegal immigration and identity fraud. No example illustrates the importance of this more than the September 11 terrorist hijackings. According to testimony by the Inspector General of the United States Social Security Administration, at least five of the September 11 terrorist hijackers used false identifying documents to obtain entry to that country. Also, in citizenship cases this bill will allow us to ask applicants to provide their personal identifiers. These identifiers will be crossmatched with information held by the department. This will reduce the incidence of identity fraud related to activities in citizenship processing. This is an important protection for this government to provide, as it is anticipated that identity fraud will become an escalating global problem as technology enables individuals to produce increasingly sophisticated forgeries. Identity fraud has massive financial implications, particularly because of its ability to facilitate illegal work and social security abuse. In the first five months of this year alone, 14,000 Australian passports were reported lost or stolen; their potential to be used in identity fraud will be diminished by the measures contained in this bill.

In conclusion, this bill will enhance Australia's ability to combat identity fraud and improve the integrity of migration processes. Other countries have already responded to the growing incidence of fraud in the immigration context by enhancing their identification and client registration powers. Problems with fraudulent documentation and the need to track histories of identities in client processing has led many countries to introduce identification-testing measures similar to those proposed in this bill. It is crucial that Australia have the opportunity and ability to participate internationally in combating immigration fraud using current and evolving technologies. In this international environment, Australia cannot afford to be seen as a soft target by terrorists, people smugglers, forum shoppers and other noncitizens of concern, as would be the case under a Labor government in this country. This bill will contribute to a system which affords protection for our national security while still upholding the rights of the noncitizens to which it applies. The ALP need to support this bill in the Senate. They do not need to continue on their path of obstructionism. They need to support strong border protection for the benefit of the Australian people. (Time expired)