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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20485

Mrs HULL (12:44 PM) —Today I rise to support the Migration Legislation Amendment (Identification and Authentication) Bill 2003 because I believe that it will strengthen and clarify the existing powers currently legislated under the Migration Act 1958. The changes proposed by this bill will enable the Commonwealth government to deal with identity and immigration fraud, while making the immigration process far more efficient for the many people who enter Australia each year. Many of those people who enter Australia under an immigration process end up in my electorate of Riverina, particularly around the very richly multicultural areas of Griffith and Leeton and even further out around Hay and other communities. So it is indeed of concern to me that we ensure that the integrity of this process is always retained.

Currently, the act allows certain personal identifiers to be collected from noncitizens to enable identification and verification. Importantly, through the introduction of this bill the government is acting now to put in place a framework that will enable future developments in identification technology to be adopted quickly, ensuring Australia continues to keep pace with developments in the international community. Safeguards will be included in the legislation to protect noncitizens and their personal identifiers, particularly in relation to the access, storage, use and disclosure of this sensitive information. While we all wish we could return to the comfort and innocence of pre- September 11, the reality is that the world has changed. In order to protect our borders, our infrastructure and, most importantly, our citizens and those people who would live in Australia, we must continue to keep pace with the rest of the world and adopt identification measures to ensure that those people who enter our country are who they say they are.

The recent terrorist attacks that changed our view of the world and heightened our awareness of our security have elevated issues of terrorism and the international movement of terrorists to a new level of importance. Allowing terrorists to continue participating in identity fraud, document fraud and irregular migration greatly affects Australia's ability to protect its borders. Therefore, improved border security and proof of identity requirements, including biometric identification, are absolutely critical. The introduction of biometric testing measures will enable Australia to fall in line with similar developments in many other countries, which I will come to later. Like many countries throughout the world, Australia faces the challenge of being able to quickly and efficiently identify the people who seek to enter and stay in Australia. It is imperative that we know who enters this country.

While this bill recognises the importance of protecting Australia and its citizens from illegal and terrorist access, it also establishes measures to protect noncitizens who provide personal identifiers. For example, the bill prohibits collecting personal identifiers that involve the use of an intimate forensic procedure, such as blood tests or hair or saliva samples. The types of personal identifiers that we are talking about here are fingerprints—as the member for Petrie indicated—handprints, photographs or other images of the face and shoulders, weight and height measurements, audio or video recordings, signatures and iris scans. They are all perfectly acceptable and non-invasive procedures. In addition to security issues, the accurate identification of noncitizens is essential to ensure the integrity of migration programs. By combating document and identity fraud in immigration matters, we will accurately identify noncitizens who have a criminal history or who are of national security concern, we will detect forum shopping by visa applicants, and Australia will remain at the fore in border security and migration.

We are a country that has a very rich history of migration. I am a very lucky member in that in my electorate I have that beneficial, rich history in the cultural and dynamic communities of Griffith, Leeton and others. Those communities have primarily been established in and border the fastest and most prosperous growth areas in the nation, which has been due to the rich cultural diversity that has come into this country through migration, through people choosing to leave their mother countries and come to Australia to start new lives. It is a very important process, it is a great history and it delivers great cultural benefits to the Australian people.

It would be preferable for our migration program to continue as it has done for many years—to allow people to be reunited with their family or to make a fresh start in a new country. In order for our migration program to continue to be a success, it needs to be strong on security and ensure that people entering Australia are genuine in their intentions. This bill also protects those same people in the event of future arrivals who may threaten their own lives and wellbeing. What we are doing is putting in place a process. This is not discriminatory. This is not to ensure that we are able to screen people through a selective process. It offers a very secure future for those people who want to come into this country and start a new life, who have no criminal conviction and who have no reason why they should not be living in Australia and being a family in Australia. In the future, those same citizens who have settled here will be protected by this very bill. Their livelihoods, children, loved ones and families will be protected by this very bill that we are putting in place now.

As I said, I am very supportive of the process that we are undertaking now. While it may be very tempting to simply close our doors in fear, out of a desire to protect ourselves, this is not the way to stop identity fraud or people who are a security concern. The implementation of systems to accurately identify people is a much better way not only to ensure that those who enter Australia are doing so with good intentions but to ensure that those people who are living here have protection. The noncitizens who will be required to provide personal identifiers include noncitizens in immigration detention, noncitizens who apply for visas or who are to be granted visas, noncitizens who enter and depart Australia, noncitizens in questioning detention and persons in Australia who are known to be or are reasonably suspected of being noncitizens.

In this international environment, Australia—we as a nation—cannot afford to be seen as a soft target by terrorists, people smugglers, forum shoppers and other noncitizens of concern. By adopting these measures, identification powers here will come into line with similar measures already in place in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union. This will enable opportunities to exchange information in relation to counter-terrorism and forum shopping. Not only will it allow Australia to contribute to global terrorism issues but it will enable our intelligence and security agencies to receive information that may assist in our own border security. By sharing this information with other nations, Australia will have a much greater pool of resources by which to identify people seeking to enter Australia, whether it is those applying for visas, those seeking refuge or those associated with terrorist organisations. By assisting the government to more accurately identify noncitizens in immigration detention, it will also assist to minimise the amount of time that detainees spend in detention.

For those seeking to come into this country legally, the adoption of such measures will allow for more efficient visa application processing and legitimate access to rights and entitlements for visa holders. The measures we are introducing with this legislation will protect all Australian citizens and all people on Australian shores. As I have indicated, those people who will have to undertake this regime will be the very people who will also receive the protection in future years. Our world has changed: the events of September 11 and the dramatic Bali bombing have brought changes by which Australians feel that they need to look at security for themselves and their loved ones.

The aim of this bill is not to increase fear or reduce individual rights and privacy but simply to enable us to ensure the identity of people arriving in our country, and that certainly is not too much to ask and is a very responsible measure indeed. There is a change in our lives that many Australians accept after all of the things that have happened in the last two years, such as the incident in Sydney where commuters were searched before entering railway stations and boarding trains. People have come to accept that, in this post September 11 world, increased security and means of identification are part of our lives—a part of our lives, unfortunately, that needs to be put in place and is here to stay. I know entering through metal detectors and X-ray machines before boarding a plane provides me with a greater sense of wellbeing. It provides a sense of security, knowing that the people sharing a flight with you or working in the same building as you are as secure as possible and are correctly identified.

Not passing this legislation would present a risk to the government in that various levels of government and private sector administrative and financial systems rely on the identities established by DIMIA to confer various benefits and entitlements. What this bill before us today will do is strike a balance between the need for effective identification and testing measures and the protection of individual rights. The Migration Act already allows for the collection of some personal identifiers from noncitizens in certain circumstances. These collection measures include that photographs and signatures are required to make a valid visa application for some classes of visa, identity documents are required on entry to Australia in order to obtain immigration clearance, and an authorised officer can photograph or measure an immigration detainee for identification purposes.

Also included in the legislation before the House are special provisions for minors and incapable persons. This includes minors aged less than 15 years. Incapable persons are only required to provide photographs of their face and shoulders and measurements of their height and weight. They do not have to provide any other type of personal identifier. There are six generic types of biometric data in use today: face, iris, fingerprint, hand, signature and voice. This legislation provides the framework for the collection of biometric data by Immigration officials. Current Australian and overseas immigration regimes routinely require photographs and signatures. The bill expands the powers available to collect other biometric information, including fingerprints, iris scans, facial scans and body measurements from noncitizens, and sets out a regulatory framework for the databases to be established. The current act does not contain safeguards for retention and disclosure.

In contrast to the current regime, the Migration Legislation Amendment (Identification and Authentication) Bill sets out a definition of a personal identifier, the number of circumstances in which it may be required, how it is to be provided, stored and used, and the circumstances in which it must be destroyed. It lifts the departmental instructions into primary legislation.

Identity fraud not only impacts on the integrity of the immigration program; at an organised level it may be linked to future terrorism and organised crime, including money laundering and credit card skimming. At an individual level, identity fraud could include taxation and social security fraud. I remember being part of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration when we looked at the abundance of tax file numbers and the ability to perpetrate fraud with respect to those numbers. How many times have we seen tax file numbers on display at various outlets across the nation with regard to work rights? So I think this bill is a very sound and sure bill, and one that really does need to be supported. The Australian government estimates the total cost of identity fraud to be about $4 billion each year. In Australia there were 143 cases of fraudulent travel documentation, including nonexistent travel documentation, in 2000-01.

I cannot commend this bill to the House highly enough. I think the majority of people within Australia, and those who are yet to travel to Australia to make this country their home, would be willing to accept the introduction of these measures before the House due to this changing world. For the better protection of our nation we should be willing to accept increased measures of identification, which will be used by security agencies to prevent all of those things that could go wrong and in future could jeopardise the safety of Australian people. I support the bill.