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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 365

Dr ALY (Cowan) (19:15): Like my colleagues before me, I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Visa Revalidation and Other Measures) Bill 2016 in its second reading. The bill is, in the words of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, designed to support initiatives 'which seek to promote Australia as an attractive destination'—which indeed it is—and 'facilitate the use of enhanced technology' to improve and streamline the traveller experience. I support the purpose of the bill with regard to the introduction of a revalidation framework for the 10-year visa for Chinese nationals. It makes sense to me—and my colleagues before me have also said—that if we are going to be issuing extended visas then we should also put in place checks and balances to ensure that those visas can be reassessed and revalidated in a manner that upholds our expectations of visa holders, particularly with regard to their identity, health, character and other such criteria. It is also prudent to ensure that provisions are included for this visa so that we are responsive to national security threats or other matters that could have adverse impacts on Australians. These are matters that are in the public interest.

However, this bill in its current form goes beyond that. In its current iteration, the bill specifies little in the way of detail about the nature, conditions and implementation of the visa itself and of the proposed validation checks. More concerning, though, is the fact that the bill includes within it, in schedule 1, under proposed subsection 96E, conferral of power to the minister to subject a 'specified class of persons holding a visa of a prescribed kind' to revalidation checks. In other words, the bill gives the minister the power to require revalidation checks of whole groups of people under a certain visa class beyond and broader than the 10-year visa for which it was originally drafted. Hence it goes beyond the design of the bill that I mentioned earlier.

There is no guarantee within the bill that the revalidation scheme will be limited to holders of the 10-year visa, which means that the checks could be extended to other classes of visa holders in the future based on insufficiently defined 'adverse information', determined by the minister and with no provision for disallowance in the parliament. As my colleague the member for Bruce mentioned, these are extraordinary and unprecedented measures here in Australia.

The issues with this bill, and particularly schedule 1, are quite clear. Firstly, the breadth of the power conferred by schedule 1 of the bill cannot be fully determined. While the bill is designed to apply only to the 10-year visa for Chinese visitors, the powers within the bill could well extend beyond that visa class to any visa class or, indeed, any group of people. Secondly, the definition of 'adverse information' that can be used by the minister to determine revalidation checks is insufficient in the bill. It is actually very broad. Thirdly, the ministerial powers to determine public interest in order to require revalidation checks on entire groups of visa holders are not subject to the kind of scrutiny and accountability that Australians deserve and are used to.

In my previous role—in a life long before this life—as a professor specialising in counterterrorism, radicalisation and national security, I often made the point, whenever I taught courses or gave talks, about the reasoned negotiation of risk. In times of uncertainty and times when we are gripped by fear, policies and strategies that once seemed impossible or irrational can be constructed as quite rational and even prudent. That is why we need to think long and hard and carefully about introducing provisions that could be used in ways for which they were not intended, and why we need to safeguard against that.

To quote from a submission to the inquiry by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee into the bill being debated:

The Bill appears to be neither necessary nor proportionate to its intended objective, in that it has the potential to apply to all classes of visas, not just the proposed longer validity visitor visa.

I do not think it is too much to ask this government—or indeed any government—to ensure that bills that are introduced for intended purposes are drafted in ways which would ensure that they are effective for that intended purpose, for that express design. I might add that I also do not think it unreasonable for the government to read and pay heed to the concerns expressed by reputable individuals and groups through submissions to the Senate committee—and I have outlined concerns earlier. I also note that our own committees have raised concerns about elements of the bill.

As I have said, the expressed purposes of promoting Australia as an attractive destination and facilitating the use of enhanced technology to improve and streamline the traveller experience are welcomed; indeed, we support them. The expressed purpose of ensuring a revalidation measure to ensure that those with 10-year visitor visas—Chinese nationals—continue to be eligible recipients of such visas is welcome; indeed, we support it; we recognise the need for it. But the bill does more than that—it goes beyond that—and that is not welcome. It is not smart, nor is it prudent, nor is it effective, to include a section—namely, section 96E—that grants the minister disproportionate powers to execute what would effectively be travel bans to entirely different groups of visa holders, with no provision for disallowance by the Senate. The minister already has the discretionary power to cancel visas and has extensive cancellation powers in relation to refugee and humanitarian visas under sections 5H(2), 36(1C), 36(2C) and 501 of the Migration Act. Surely these existing powers negate the need for any further discretionary powers, particularly if they are proposed without the protections, limits and oversights that are incorporated in the Migration Act and that are vital to upholding our democratic principles.

This is the crux of it right here: that we should not become a country where the introduction of laws and policies that have the potential to be misused in ways that have some very far-reaching impacts goes unchecked; that we should not become a country where the advice and concerns of reputable agencies with regard to judiciary processes go unheeded; that we should not become a country where the scope of powers under a bill such as this would not be subject to reasonable limits; that we should not become a country that introduces a mechanism where we could foreseeably go back to a time where our immigration policy was based on discriminating against certain groups of people and favouring others—a time we rightly left behind several decades ago.

May I provide a possible scenario where this bill—specifically section 96E—could be used. Given that the specifics around what is considered adverse information are missing, the definition of this phrase includes a wide range of activity, not just committed by the person themselves but also by a person associated with that person. It is quite conceivable that, under this bill, revalidation checks could be required of someone that are not even related to the criteria for the visa in the first place. They could be required on the basis of criteria like a parking fine or a minor traffic infringement. Mr Deputy Speaker, I don't know about you but I am quite okay admitting that I have had parking fines in the past and I am probably likely to get some in the future, though I try to avoid them as much as I can. Would a parking fine make me, or you, should we be holders of permanent residency or temporary visas, unable to stay in this country? In the case of a refugee, would it invalidate his or her claims to protection? Would it make an international student any less likely to finish their studies successfully? I am not saying definitively that this bill would mean that anyone on a temporary visa who gets a parking fine will have to revalidate their visa and may have it cancelled—frankly, that would be quite ridiculous. What I am saying is that this bill gives the potential for such extreme examples to become a reality.

But there is something even more worrying about this bill, and that is the provisions contained in section 96E specifically in relation to the powers for the minister to require revalidation checks of a specified class of persons holding a visa of a prescribed kind. I am going to speak quite frankly here. My parents came to this country in 1969, in the years before the White Australia policy was finally and completely dismantled by the Whitlam government. Back then we were called aliens. Changes in the act meant that my parents could come here on merit, not based on their ethnicity or their country of origin. They arrived in an Australia that was still governed by people who very much believed in many of the discriminatory aspects of Australia's immigration policy and its inherent substantive inequalities. In 1972 the Whitlam government passed the Citizenship Act, which allowed all immigrants, regardless of origin, to quality for citizenship on an equal footing, and for the past 44 years this country has proudly had a bipartisan approach that rejects discrimination in our immigration program. We have embraced our multicultural identity and we stand proud as a nation that does not discriminate.

But sadly these values and ideals are fragile, as we have seen with some past issues and global trends that are happening now. In the face of growing discontent around the world and populist politics that exploits grievances and directs them at entire groups of people, in the face of immigration bans and the exclusion of groups based on race or ethnicity, sadly we have to be ever more vigilant of our commitment. We have to be ever more vigilant of our longstanding bipartisan commitment to an immigration program that does not discriminate. This is why the bill in its current form, and particularly section 96E, is so concerning—because it could potentially be used to do just that: to exclude entire groups of people and visa holders on the basis of ethnicity or country of origin or some other tenuous characteristic, without scrutiny and without accountability. So, yes, we do need a way to revalidate visas that are proposed to be long term—to ensure that visa holders continue to be genuine and to mitigate any risks posed to Australians—but we have to get better, smarter, at ensuring that, in our efforts to mitigate risks, we do not undermine the very values that make us a great nation. (Time expired)

Debate interrupted.