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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31119


Mr PROSSER (12:49 PM) — Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 6) 2001 addresses two very important issues: the integrity of our immigration program as it relates to illegal immigrants who manipulate our system; and the Federal Court, which aids them with its out of control interpretations as to what is a refugee. There is no doubt that people smugglers and international criminal gangs are preying on Australia's generosity to refugees. Every time Australia does something like trying to improve processing times, it is another angle that people smugglers use to market and promote their services.

The smuggling operations coach their illegal, queue-jumping cargo on our processes and procedures and how best to manipulate our processes to maximise their chances of gaining a temporary protection visa. This is nothing but exploitation of our generosity and goodwill. My communities have no problem with accepting refugees but, like me, they think of refugees as people who are being persecuted. They think of refugees as people who are forced to flee in fear of their lives—people who are unable to eat and to gain medical supplies and unable to live because of the sustained persecution they suffer. This is our understanding of a refugee, which is why the people and I resent illegal immigrants, who are essentially bypassing legitimate queues of people in desperate need of Australia's protection.

These so-called asylum seekers or illegal immigrants have packed up, sold up, gathered the family together, purchased airline tickets to a transit country such as Malaysia or Singapore to make their way to Indonesia, and paid people smugglers as much as $16,000 per person for a place on a boat to Australia. I bet there are no discounts for women and children! The communities and I cannot understand how people who can afford this sort of money could reasonably be considered as refugees. These are not people fleeing the border on foot, von Trapp family style; these are people making calculated decisions about which country will best give them a chance of protection. If they are in fear to such a degree, why Australia? Why not Indonesia, why not Malaysia, why not an office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees? I will tell you why not. It is because they know perfectly well that what they are doing is illegal—that they are not refugees. We as a government and a parliament should be doing all we can to curtail this.

The figures so often quoted by the minister have astounded the Australian community. When the UNHCR processes Afghans in Indonesia, 14 per cent are approved. In Australia, the same case load has an approval rate of 84 per cent. This has proven to be a people-smuggling gang's dream. We hear a lot about rights in the illegals debate. Here is one more: it is Australia's sovereign right to ensure that the United Nations convention is implemented, as the minister said, both responsibly and consistently. To date, this has just not been the case.

This legislation defines persecution, which, as might reasonably expected, is a key principle in considering refugees' claims. It is not defined in the convention and until now has been undefined in the Migration Act. The result of that is that federal judges have been making decisions about refugees which are well beyond what Australia signed up to in the convention and well beyond what the community accepts as fair. The bill provides that persecution must involve serious harm to the person, and it must involve systematic and discriminatory conduct. It further defines serious harm as a threat to the person's life or liberty; significant physical harassment of the person; significant physical ill-treatment of the person; significant economic hardship that threatens the person's capability to subsist; denial of access to basic services, which threatens the person's capacity to subsist; and denial of capacity to earn a livelihood of any kind, which threatens the person's capacity to subsist. With these clear definitions set out in the legislation, the people that I represent hope that we will see an end to decisions by the Federal Court whereby people who cannot find job satisfaction in their home countries or who have not paid their family debts are deemed to be refugees and given temporary protection visas.

The bill requires that to gain protection there must be an essential and significant reason to fear persecution. The reasons named in the convention include race, religion, nationality and membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Requiring that the reason must be essential or significant to claim protection from persecution will stop the court from interpreting people as being persecuted because they have not paid their debts. Debt collection, as best I know, is not a crime against humanity.

Significantly, the bill also provides that conduct occurring after arrival can be disregarded when considering whether a person has a well-founded fear of persecution. Some illegal immigrants have deliberately engaged in behaviour to persuade the government and the courts to accept their claims for refugee status. Now conduct will be taken into consideration only if it is for a purpose other than to strengthen the refugee's claim, with the burden of proof resting on the applicant seeking refugee status. Perhaps now we will see an end to the violence and sometimes abuse that is perpetrated by illegal immigrants in detention centres to further their claims. These actions are not just deceitful; they put at risk the lives of our fellow Australians who work with illegal immigrants at the detention centres.

The bill also seeks to provide a definition of non-political crime. Under the convention, a person is not recognised as a refugee if they have committed a serious non-political crime outside the country which they seek protection from. The bill defines a non-political crime as being one where the motives for committing the crime were wholly or mainly of a non-political nature. In addition, it spells out that certain offences are deemed to be non-political, no matter what their motive. These include hijacking or endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight, a ship or a fixed offshore platform; genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide; hostage taking; tortures; and murder, kidnapping or other attacks on a foreign head of state, to name just a few. This is particularly important when considering the security implications of protecting our borders, which have been brought into sharp focus in recent days.

We have to face facts. There are currently 11 people in immigration detention centres who have failed to clear the security test or who have been screened out because there are concerns about their previous activities in relation to crimes against humanity. Should they appeal, it is possible that their heinous crimes have been determined as political in motivation, and it is very possible that we would have no choice but to accept them into our community. I again state that we have a sovereign right as a nation to interpret the convention to protect our borders and, importantly, to protect Australian citizens. These measures should give better direction to the Federal Court judges, and bring decisions more into line with the expectations of a refugee in the community and what they are considered to be under the law.

The bill also puts an end to multiple applications by a person applying for a protection visa. Currently, a person who has had their application for a visa refused may not lodge another application. The bill extends this current provision to include when a visa has been cancelled, not just when it has been refused. The bill also ensures that the round robin activity of applying for protection visas by illegal immigrants is cut off. The minister mentioned this never ending application process, where family groups wanting to stay take it in turns to lodge protection applications while the others apply as family members.

The bill also deals with the vexed issue of dealing with illegal immigrants who have no identification papers. Given that the vast majority of illegal immigrants, particularly boat people, do not have any documents, it would seem to be some kind of ploy. When illegal immigrants, particularly those who travel by boat to Indonesia, leave their country of origin, they must have travelled through a number of transit countries to get to their destination. My understanding is that that travel usually involves air travel. I point out to the House that to get that far they must have had identification papers and documentation before they got to Indonesia. So why does it suddenly disappear en masse between Indonesia and Australia, time after time, boat load after boat load? You would think that they would want to bring the papers with them. After all, it would help us to identify them, verify their stories and basically sustain their arguments of persecution. We know they had them. What exactly have they done with them? What have they got to hide?

The bill permits the minister to request an applicant for a protection visa to produce documentary evidence of his or her identity, nationality or citizenship; and if the applicant or illegal immigrant refuses, then the minister may draw reasonable inference unfavourable to the same applicant's identity, nationality or citizenship. In other words, prove who you say you are. That is the very least we should be asking for. We need to be certain that people to whom we grant protection are who they say they are. A refusal to comply with this reasonable request would indicate that the illegal immigrant has something to hide.

The bill also permits the minister to request an oath or affirmation that information that is supplied to the department is true. I have to say that I was shocked that this is not already the case. An illegal immigrant wanting a protection visa will now have to swear an oath or an affirmation that the information in the visa application is true; and when an illegal immigrant is refused clearance they will have to provide a sworn oath or affirmation that the information they gave during the clearance process or after being refused was true. Neither of these is an unreasonable request.

Nothing in this bill is unreasonable. Yet we still have such groups as Amnesty International, the Australian Democrats and the Labor Party criticising parts of it. They ask, `Why are we taking these people there?' What is the problem? We are not exactly taking these people out to flog them. We are merely asking them to affirm that what they are telling us is the truth. If so many of them had not been engaged in deceitful and manipulative actions, this would not have to be the case. As a government and as a people we have a right to say that this behaviour is an abuse of the system and that it has to stop. We are all perfectly prepared to do whatever it takes to clamp down on tax avoiders and on welfare rorters, but when it comes to what needs to be done for illegal immigrants to enter the system and deal with us honestly, I have to say that we have a way to go. What the government is proposing here is not only reasonable but essential.

I heard Minister Ruddock talking the other day about information he had received about people from Pakistan and other countries who had gained protection visas under the guise of being Afghans. Let us call a spade a spade: this is fraud. I want the Australian community to have confidence in our immigration program. I want the program to contain balance and, most of all, I want Australia's immigration program in the hands and under the control of people lawfully entitled to administer it—not in the hands of people smugglers, not in the hands of people who think it is easier to enter the country illegally, to compromise our security and gain protection under false pretences.

I do not think this is unreasonable, nor do the people living in my electorate, and I am convinced that the Australian people basically support what the government is doing one hundred per cent. It is an affront to honest, decent, hardworking Australians that they must fund a never-ending process of appeals and class actions which this year alone will cost some $15 million and next year is expected to rise to some $20 million. That is why the community and I support the judicial review bill—because, quite frankly, I think the money could be better spent on Australians in need. To the Labor Party's shame, they opposed the previous bill. The Australian community will not forget that betrayal in a hurry either, I might add.. By opposing the bill, those on the opposite side indicated that their priorities are in favour of queue jumpers having more rights than the Australian people or the judicial system. I understand that the Labor Party will now be supporting the bill, although obviously the truest test will be in the Senate. I could not help but note comments by an unnamed opposition frontbencher who said that people are sick of being wedged and that the Labor Party would come back and `fix this after we get into government.' Finally, I indicate again that my electorate supports overwhelmingly this bill and all attempts to strengthen our borders and put an end to the abuse of the migration system by queue jumpers.