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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 6520

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services) (11:08 AM) —in reply—I thank members for their contributions to the debate on the Migration Amendment (Protection of Identifying Information) Bill 2009. The bill provides the appropriate framework for handling personal identifiers in the future. The Migration Legislation Amendment (Information and Other Measures) Act 2007 made an amendment to the definition of identifying information in paragraph 336A so that identifying information became any personal identifier provided under sections 40, 46, 166, 170, 175, 188, 192 or 261AA of the act. However, these amendments to the definition in 2007 made these provisions more limited than the original policy intended.

Recent legal advice suggests that personal identifiers belonging to the department’s clients that are not currently protected by part 4A include those collected from other agencies, domestic or international, unsolicited external sources and law enforcement agencies, often shared with the department as part of an investigation. In relation to these personal identifiers, DIAC has been adhering to part 4A of the Migration Act 1958 and the Privacy Act 1988 where applicable so there is no question of either act being breached. In order to ensure that the rights and privacy of persons whose personal identifiers are provided by international external sources are protected under the act, and to assure our Australian and international partners that the data they provide will be given this protection, this bill will subject all personal identifiers collected by DIAC for immigration purposes to the same statutory regime, that being part 4A of the act.

I now turn to some of the contributions by members. The member for Fadden might be quite knowledgeable about how Logan City and Redcliffe went in the Queensland Rugby League results last weekend, but I do not think he has the same level of knowledge about immigration or international events. He made the outrageous comment that there were no push factors in immigration at the moment. He would also probably be telling us that there were no elections in Iran last week and that there was no swing to the Right in the European elections. With such a perfunctory lack of knowledge in this area, he would not be able to comment on any of these matters. Most of the Australian population has picked up that the civil strife in Sri Lanka has come to a bloody conclusion. Most people are aware that for weeks on end there were massive attacks in the north of Sri Lanka on the remaining Tamil Tiger heartlands and that large numbers of civilians were killed in the process. But, according to the member for Fadden, there is no big push, there is no big change in Sri Lanka and there will be no Tamils wanting to come to Australia. It has not happened!

Seemingly, the member for Fadden does not think that NATO and other international bodies know anything about Afghanistan. He seems to think that it is all quite calm and peaceful there and that there were no controversies recently about changes made by the Karzai government on women’s rights. Apparently, I did not see an interview with an Afghan women’s representative on TV this week—it did not happen! According to the member for Fadden, it is very peaceful, there are no measures disturbing anyone in the world and we will pull out next week. It is all over and there are no problems! That is a major insult to a delegation of Hazaras I met here the last time we were in parliament. They came to indicate the very serious pressures on their community. Hazaras have historically been persecuted by whatever regime is in power in Afghanistan, whether it is the former royal family, the current administration or the Taleban. The Hazaras have been a minority subject to pressures for quite some time. The delegation I met raised very clear problems confronting their community, and this is before we start talking about all of the other regional and tribal issues that confront Afghanistan. They raised issues such as the increased pressures the Iranian regime has brought to bear on the Shi’ite confreres of the Iranians—the Hazaras and other Shi’ites who have fled to Iran—to make them leave the country.

According to the member for Fadden, all the Iraqi Christians can just walk back to Baghdad tomorrow afternoon with no problems. I think the Assyrian community in Western Sydney would be very surprised by the analysis by the member for Fadden that there are no push factors leading to refugees wanting to come to this country. According to the member for Fadden, it is all very nice out there and there are no problems. This is preposterous. It was a major embarrassment to the opposition spokesperson in this area. I do not think she would have the effrontery to go anywhere near the kinds of suggestions that the member for Fadden has made.

The UNHCR global trends report showed 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2008, a figure which included 15.2 million refugees. A staggering 44 per cent of all refugees and asylum seekers were children under the age of 18. I also note a very significant presence of people in our part of the world. Roughly one-third of refugees at the end of 2007 were residing in the Asia Pacific region, with 80 per cent of these being Afghans, yet the number of boat arrivals in Australia remained low by world standards. We have the comfort of being where we are in the world. The member for Fadden talks about the lack of signatories in this region. That is very true. One thing on which I agree with him is the need for international pressure to increase the number of signatories to UN conventions in our region—there is no doubt about that. But, compared to the Europeans, we have the comfort of being very distant when it comes to boat arrivals. You only have to look at the measures that Italy has been forced to undertake in the last few years with Libya to try to negotiate some reduction. This has led to xenophobia and racism in northern Europe. Countries such as the Scandinavian nations, which never had these problems before, are swinging towards political conservatism, racism and even neo-Nazism because of the huge pressures.

I think we should get these things in a bit of perspective. We should get rid of this rhetoric that there are no problems out there and the boats are just a reflection of some change in government policy. This is preposterous; it is ridiculous. It manipulates the Australian people. It gives them a false sense of confidence that, if there are few hardline laws, then we will not have a problem. We do have a problem, and that is why in the budget this year $1.3 billion has been devoted to strengthening Australia’s border protection and national security regime, and $654 million of that is specifically dedicated to a whole-of-government—that is, interdepartmental—strategy to combat people-smuggling. Even when we are bringing in laws in regard to detention debts this week, we single out people-smugglers as a group of people to which we will not be showing the same consideration in regard to those detention debts as we will be showing to other people who have been detained. The member for Fadden’s contribution was disturbing and ill-informed—he really should stick to Rugby League and Aussie Rules commentary.

I want to now turn to some comments made by the shadow minister for immigration. She referred to a National Audit Office report in regard to my handling of settlement grants. I think we should put that kind of comment in the context of the momentary, perfunctory interest in this matter by the opposition in estimates. The senator who handled this matter, Senator Fierravanti-Wells, asked a few perfunctory questions, made a few snide comments and left it there. It solicited one bit of interest in the media.

I want to make the point that my electorate just happens to be an electorate that has heavy migration. It is an electorate where half the population were born overseas. As the member for Fadden noted, the Australian average is about 25 per cent. Half of the people that live with me in Reid were born outside this country, and 75 per cent of those are from non-English-speaking countries. My electorate is either the first or the second in regard to Arabic speakers, Muslim Australians and Chinese Australians. It is heavily characterised by new arrival communities, the suburb of Auburn particularly being characterised by a high Iraqi Shia population. Afghans are spread throughout suburbs such as Harris Park. This might surprise the shadow minister, but there are significant settlement grants in my electorate. I should also advise her that this year the electorate lost three of those longstanding grants. I note that the audit report singled out the department for criticism in regard to paperwork. As I said, the opposition showed its disdain and disinterest in these matters during the estimates process.

I note that one of the four grants that were questioned by the national audit report was questioned after the very persuasive intervention of the member for McMillan, who directed to my attention the secondary movement of Sudanese to the Gippsland region. This is a very dangerous area for the opposition to tread on. Probably the biggest scandal in Australian immigration in regard to visas was the Kisrwani case. I would advise the shadow minister to take a bit more interest in that history.

We have the rhetoric that accompanies this of her family’s Chinese connections and the Congolese council candidate, and I have seen her make some very impressive speeches. I praise the multiculturalism and the Chinese events in Sydney. However, this rhetoric, these speeches, in home-ground venues where it is good to mouth these kinds of slogans, must be accompanied by the reality of policy. I know that the shadow minister did go to the opposition ministry with a proposal to support the government on detention debt and was rolled. We must give her some credit for waging that fight. But to come in here and try to connect the very necessary changes in regard to detention with apprehension, scaring people and the waves of people that the member for Fadden accompanied her speech with is really disturbing.

I want to say again, for the member for Fadden, who seems to be styling himself as some sort of expert in this field, that the second report does nothing about the question of unlawful noncitizens. It does not say that they should be released from detention before health, security and identity checks. This is why we do detain people for a period of time—so we can have these checks. We do not detain them as a punishment. We do not detain them for criminal purposes. We detain them to take these checks. I am contacted every day of my week by people in my electorate who are waiting for six months for their spouses to enter this country because of security checks by ASIO. If anything, they are taking too long in regard to this processing. So there is nothing that says we have an open door, that we are not checking people—of course we are. Where we differ is on the question of whether children should be detained and whether people should be shown compassion or basically be condemned to very long periods of detention for no real public policy purpose—just to assure people with some subliminal message that we are protecting them from terrorism, implying at least some of these people who have come by boat are terrorists. This is, as I say, a false premise. It is aimed at alarming people. It really gives no practical support. It simply creates an illusion.

As I said, we have seen today an opposition that is floundering to in some way justify the Howard legacy in this area after having repudiated it to some degree. They basically see some opportunities because we have a very strong push factor in regard to refugee claims throughout the world at the moment. We face very grave difficulties in a lot of regions of the world in regard to refugee claims. Indisputably, people are going to seek protection around the world. To try and tie the number of boats in with changes in government policy in this country is absolutely ridiculous.

We have seen also of course that, despite all the rhetoric of the government, somebody sitting around Indonesia for a large number of years with nothing being done to return him to Australia. It is this government that is effectively prosecuting him and driving home against that individual allegations in regards to people-smuggling. I want to again commend this bill to the House. The member for Melbourne Ports, who takes a deep interest in immigration matters, has very adequately covered the provisions of this bill.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.