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Wednesday, 5 March 2003
Page: 9204

Senator WONG (9:53 AM) —I would like to speak briefly to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Contributory Parents Migration Scheme) Bill 2002 and the Migration (Visa Application) Charge Amendment Bill 2002 because the legislation is obviously something that some of the communities with whom I have contact have raised with me on a number of occasions, and I refer particularly to the Chinese community. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a piece of legislation that is a cynical play on the very strongly held views and desires of many migrants in Australia to have their parents migrate to join them. The reality is that the Howard government has created a crisis in parent migration, and what we are seeing today is a response to that crisis. The bills may well receive some support from members of the community, people who have been waiting an extraordinarily long time to have their parents join them and who have the prospect of many more years of waiting if the current draconian cap remains in place. So, on that basis, it would not surprise me if some members of the community think, `This is the best that we can get, and we will welcome it.' But the reality is that these communities have been put in this position by the draconian approach that the Howard government has taken to the issue of parent migration and by the cynical way in which the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Mr Ruddock, has manipulated the numbers in this visa class in order to put pressure both on the communities that have this need and on the Senate. I am disappointed that he appears to have been successful in doing so.

I would like to go back over a number of years, but I do not propose to canvass all the information, particularly that which Senator Stephens has already put before the chamber. In 1995-96 under a Labor government, the number of parent visas issued was 8,900. If only those numbers were available today to the people in the Chinese and other communities who are waiting for their parents to join them. However, consistent with its policies in a lot of areas, the Howard government upon coming to office immediately took a very aggressive approach to limiting parent migration. It tightened the balance of family test, successfully introduced a two-year waiting period for social security and introduced a cap on parent visas, from 8,900 in the previous year under Labor, as I said, to 7,600 in 1996-97. This number was slashed to 1,000 in the following year. So, over a period of two years, the number of parent visas dropped from nearly 9,000 to 1,000. It is no wonder that many in the migrant communities, both in South Australia and in other states, who desire to have their parents join them are feeling extremely stressed and upset at the delays, and the prospect of interminable and continuing delays, on the applications of their parents to join them in this country.

We have a situation where the government has created a crisis in parent visas by reducing the issue of parent visas from 8,900— that is, nearly 9,000—to 1,000 in 1997-98. But it gets worse. Similar amendments were put to the parliament subsequently which would have created a second, quicker visa application category for those who could afford to pay it. Labor combined with the minor parties to disallow those regulations, and in response the minister then reduced the number of places available for parents in this ordinary queue to 500. That cap remains in place.

If any of those opposite wish to trumpet their support for the parent migration program and wish to go to migrant communities to assert that they are supportive of parent migration, I would remind them and I would remind these communities that Labor has a record of nearly 9,000 issued visas in this category in 1995-96 and that, until these amendments are passed, if they are, this government has chosen in this recent year to cap the number of parent migrant visas at 500. This is a crisis of the government's own making, and it is not surprising that members of many ethnic communities, and I speak particularly of my contact with the Chinese community, are both fearful and upset about this situation.

It is estimated that there around 22½ thousand applications in the pipeline, with a cap of 500. About 14,800 have been fully processed and have queue dates. Given the ages of most of the people seeking entry in this category, and given this government's aggressive approach to capping the number of parent visas, many of these parents are likely to die before they ever get to the front of the queue. So it is not surprising that their families are pretty desperate, and it is not surprising that many families are so desperate they are prepared to pay any price they can afford, or even that they cannot afford, in order to ensure that their parents join them in this country. I have had quite a number of constituents lobby me about this issue, and it is extraordinarily sad to see people in such distress when they have elderly parents who wish to join them but who are prevented from doing so, not for any reason other than the fact that this government has chosen to slash the number of parent visas issued and to cap the number at 500.

A very cynical approach has been taken by the minister in both the capping of the parent visa category to 500 in response to the Senate's prior disallowance of the regulations and also his subsequent response. In May 2002, Minister Ruddock announced the 2002-03 migration numbers. He made the statement as follows:

... 4,000 places in a full year remain available for parent migration should there be support from opposition parties to allow legislation to ensure a fair share of health and welfare costs is covered by a parent and the Australian sponsor compared to taxpayers in general.

In that statement it is clear that the minister was indicating he would be prepared to add an additional 3½ thousand places on the basis of the new and more expensive visas and an additional 500 places over and above the existing 500 cap in the ordinary queue if the Senate passed the sort of legislation that is before us today. In other words, the Senate has had held before it a stick and carrot. We are told, `If you don't pass it we'll cap it at an inhumane number of 500, which will ensure that the great majority of people who apply for this category will not ever reach Australia, but if you do pass it then we're going to expand the number of visas for those people who can scrounge together sufficient money to pay for this.' It is an objectionable way to deal with the strongly held desires of migrant families who wish for their parents to join them.

I welcome the amendment which has been moved by Senator Stephens on behalf of the opposition. It is a sad day when we have a situation where we have such a small number of visas for ordinary people—for people whose families do not have $25,000—but we are prepared to fast-track parent visa applications for the wealthy. I oppose this. I do not oppose it because I am opposed to an expansion in parent visa numbers—obviously I think that the current government's position on parent visas is appalling—but because it means that many families who are waiting for their parents to join them but cannot afford this sort of money will continue to wait whereas those families who have the money can pay their way in. To my way of thinking, this is an inequitable and unfair piece of legislation that has been brought about by a manufactured crisis in parent visa migration which the community is desperate to have changed.