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Monday, 11 May 1987
Page: 2916


Mr MAHER(4.24) —As the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) said, many of the items covered in the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (No. 1) 1987 are minor but there is quite an incredible range of changes. Some are almost of a cosmetic nature but some are quite significant. One certainly touches a lot on the people I represent in an inner metropolitan seat in Sydney, and that is the ethnic people, the people who, for one reason or another, have not taken out Australian citizenship but who nevertheless are residents of Australia and have this fact stamped in their passport.

The legislation proposes amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act 1948, which will delete all reference to return endorsement in the Migration Act 1958 and will instead substitute the phrase `resident return visa'. From inquiries which I made this afternoon it appears that there will still be a three-or five-year limit on return visas. Many members of parliament who have tried to help their ethnic constituents and residents know that sometimes members of a family, who are meaning to become Australian citizens, who have settled in this nation, have to leave because there is a sudden illness in the family, and they have to go back to Italy, Spain, Greece or somewhere else. Perhaps a parent is dying or a father or mother becomes ill and, to cut a long story short, those members find that they want to come back to Australia. Those people have never abandoned their intention to return but perhaps five years have elapsed before they get themselves organised to make the break and come back here. Then of course they find that their return visas have lapsed. I have had a number of such cases, of people who regard themselves as Australians and who perhaps had applied for citizenship before they left, only to find themselves, due to a technicality, unable to return and who have to go through all the rigmarole of applying to migrate but find that they are perhaps no longer qualified because their skills are no longer needed, they are too old or because of all sorts of other problems.

It is very sad when we have such cases referred to us as we can do very little to help those people except perhaps to say: `Go home and try to come back and I will try to help you'. One case that was referred to me by the late Paul Landa was that of a Spanish family. The wife had worked for him and his wife as a housekeeper, and they had of course known the family. The members of that family had meant to become Australians and they did exactly what I have just said. They went home as the father was dying, and after being away for five years they found it was too late to come back. I have had many other cases of Italian, Argentinian or Chilean families who, because of an illness, have gone back to their country to care for a parent who needed care. I feel that there should perhaps be more effort made by the Government to tell people: `Do not travel if you are not an Australian citizen. If you can become an Australian citizen and have no reason for not taking out citizenship, pay your $35 fee, take out citizenship and then travel on an Australian passport'. I have heard that Australian embassies and high commissions, while they do great work, are not over anxious to get involved in cases of people who may be Australian residents but who have passports of other nations. If people are travelling the world on passports that state that they are issued by the Italian, French or United States of America governments but are Australian residents, they really should look to their own country for help. If they get into trouble they cannot expect Australian embassies to help them as they are busy, and the staff are totally occupied. Members of parliament visit those places and see how busy the staff are.

I say to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Young) that I think there should be a bigger campaign amongst communities, such as mine, to encourage people to become citizens. In the 1970s the Greek community in Marrickville launched a campaign by giving out citizenship forms in shopping centres. It did great work by encouraging people to take out citizenship. There is now a processing fee-but it is still a very reasonable fee-to become an Australian and to have the opportunity to carry an Australian passport, which is an honour. The procedure for obtaining passports has been tightened up.

Today we are essentially dealing with the return resident visa. If a citizen of another nation, who had Australian residency, finds that he or she is overseas and cannot come back, perhaps he or she will have some appeal to the Immigration Review Panel, but that is not very much of an appeal right because that is a very slow and tedious procedure. I feel that what we need here is something like the Canadian system, more of a judicial appeal to some sort of tribunal, where the applicant can appear in person if necessary. But of course it is not possible to do that if such a panel sits only in Australia. Justice must be seen to be done in these cases as well as be done, and I believe that justice is being done in the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I think no one in this House would have more immigration cases and representations than go through my office. I have found that in all cases there is fairness and an attempt to try to weigh up the various points put in favour of each case.

Some of the other elements of this legislation are of interest. There are amendments to the Quarantine Act 1908 to authorise a search of luggage and cargo entering mainland Australia from the Torres Strait. The Torres Strait is part of Australia. At low tide one can walk from the Torres Strait-the Australian islands-into Papua New Guinea, yet if we ring up the Department of Health it says: `If you are going to Papua New Guinea we advise that you take malaria tablets'. But if we are going to the Torres Strait no one tells us to take malaria tablets. I do not know if the anopheles mosquito stops at the border or has any evidence as to where Papua New Guinea ends and the old border of Queensland starts. But I can see a good reason why there should be searches of luggage and cargo entering Australia from the Torres Strait. That is one of the loopholes that this legislation is proposing to close.

There is an amendment to the Trade Practices Act to eliminate the overlap and possible conflict of the provisions of the Act with certain terms of the Vienna 1980 United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods. That Convention is to be implemented in each State and Territory and, once it is in place, the proposed amendment will be made and Australia can accede to the Convention. The Convention is long and obviously is aimed towards somehow unifying and codifying the laws relating to the international sale of goods. It does not apply to goods bought for personal, family or household use, goods bought by auction, or the sale of electricity-that relates to European countries where, for example, France sells electricity to its neighbours. Nor does it apply to ships, vessels, hovercraft or aircraft-large, one-off purchases in most cases. The Convention sets out all the laws on sale of goods, performance and contract. Those laws vary from state to state-and from State to State in Australia-throughout the world. One interesting section relates to the passing of risk, which must be of great significance when goods are damaged, lost or stolen. The Convention will be brought into legislation when all the States agree.

The Bill has provisions dealing with the National Crime Authority that will extend the scope of the secrecy provisions of the Act to include people engaged in the operational work of the Authority. A new provision is to be inserted to enable the issue of warrants for the arrest of absconding witnesses, and to enable the execution of such warrants even if not in the possession of the relevant officer when making the arrest. Everyone knows that a citizen has the right of arrest if he believes that someone has committed an offence. The proposed amendment is a novel extension by covering the arrest of absconding witnesses.

There are other minor items in the Bill. For example, there is an amendment to the Honey Industry Act to extend the terms of the current members of the Australian Honey Board in order to allow time for a poll of producers. I have visited Tasmania and greatly admire its leatherwood honey. I know that the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Price) has a great interest in leatherwood honey. When he and I were in Tasmania I inveigled him into buying a large container of leatherwood honey, but he never quite knew what to do with it as none of his family particularly liked it. However, I and my family have a great fondness for leatherwood honey.

The First Home Owners Act is also to be amended. More discretion will be placed in the hands of the secretary of the administering department regarding the dating of applicants' contracts. Often, an applicant may not know the date of a contract; it may be left undated, in which case the applicant is then in the hands of the agent or the solicitor. There is also an amendment to enable an intending spouse to join in the application, thus putting the applicant on the same basis as a married or de facto couple. Currently, a young man or young woman who is buying a property and who is proposing marriage has no basis for joining the intended partner in the application. As honourable members know, the first home owners scheme has been enormously successful in encouraging young Australians to obtain homes of their own. The Government subsidy has often been just enough to allow people to purchase homes-perhaps not in my electorate, but in the newer suburbs where housing is cheaper. Many thousands of people from my area have qualified for funding under the scheme.

The other proposed amendments are varied. They deal with the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, the Customs Act, the Dairy Produce Act and the Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Act. I wish the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) good luck with that legislation. I do not doubt that other speakers will deal with various other aspects of the legislation.

I wish to mention one last item-the National Museum of Australia Act. The Council of the Museum, which will be set up on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, does not have the authority to sell or dispose of historical material which it owns or which is in its possession and which does not form part of the national historical collection. Much material is given and bequeathed to such museums. We all know of community museums or museums in the big cities, such as the Power House Museum and the Australian Museum in Sydney. They have the power to sell, lend or give certain material to other authorities. That is a serious deficiency for the National Museum. It will be rectified by this legislation. I shall not delay the House further, but I encourage it to support the Bill.