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Wednesday, 21 June 2017
Page: 7202


Mr HAWKE (MitchellAssistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) (12:06): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2017is an omnibus package of amendments to the Migration Act 1958, targeted at deregulating the migration advice industry.

The bill contains six measures, which I will discuss in greater detail.

Schedule 1: Australian legal practitioners providing immigration assistance (OMARA Review recommendation 1)

Schedule 1 to the bill will give effect to recommendation 1 of the 2014 Independent Review of the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (the OMARA review).

This will see lawyers who hold practising certificates removed from regulation by the Migration Agents Registration Authority, so that they are regulated entirely by their relevant state or territory legal professional body, thus removing unnecessary red tape across the industry.

This recommendation has long been supported by this government; indeed, it was an election commitment the coalition took to the 2013 election as part of our deregulation agenda, so I am very pleased to be able to deliver on that commitment today.

The government recognises that the dual regulation of lawyers with practising certificates can pose an unnecessary administrative burden on such lawyer agents who are already subject to a strict professional regulatory regime.

The government further recognises that deregulation should not be prioritised over the maintenance of important consumer protections. Mechanisms will be put into place to ensure that vulnerable consumers will continue to be protected from receiving incompetent migration advice, particularly from unscrupulous individuals holding themselves out to be experts.

Lawyers with practising certificates intending to practice in the migration advice field will be able to access educational offerings to increase their knowledge, as they already do with other complex aspects of the legal profession.

The relevant legal professional bodies and statutory schemes underpinning them have a broader range of powers to resolve consumer-related issues than the scheme governing migration agents. This includes penalties outside of the OMARA's existing jurisdiction, including financial penalties for improper conduct and recommending compensation for affected clients.

The government has consulted broadly on this schedule. We even took the relatively uncommon step of circulating an exposure draft of schedule 1 to key stakeholders. This included the Law Council of Australia, the Migration Institute of Australia and the state and territory legal professional bodies.

The feedback received in response to this exposure draft will assist in ensuring the transition of lawyers with practising certificates from the OMARA regulatory scheme is as smooth as possible with regulators, industry and consumers all clear on their roles and responsibilities under the new arrangements.

Schedule 2: Registration periods (OMARA Review recommendation 12)

The legislative changes put forward by schedule 2 will ensure that the period that an individual has to apply for repeat registration as a migration agent, following their completion of the required qualifications, is set out in delegated legislation rather than on the face of the act.

These changes will complement the introduction of a Graduate Diploma in Australian Migration Law and Practice to replace the current graduate certificate. Once an individual possesses this qualification, it will never lapse, as is the case with most other tertiary qualifications. A capstone exam will be developed, that an individual must sit and pass within a certain period, in order to be accepted into the profession.

This group of changes will significantly enhance the current educational requirements and will continue to improve the level of professionalism within the industry.

Schedule 3: Redundant provisions

The third schedule to the bill is aimed at amending or repealing various redundant provisions of the Migration Act.

This will reflect the consolidation of the OMARA into the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and that the OMARA powers can only be exercised by the minister or a delegate. To this effect, this schedule will repeal:

powers of the minister to refer agents to the MARA for disciplinary action

powers authorising the sharing of personal information between the department and the MARA

the requirement for the OMARA to produce an annual report independent to the department.

Schedule 3 of the bill also removes redundant references to the Migration Institute of Australia, which is no longer appointed as the MARA and will not be so appointed in the future.

Schedule 4: Requirement for applicants to provide further information

Schedule 4 seeks to close an existing loophole that prevents the OMARA from refusing an application for registration as a migration agent, where the applicant does not respond to requests for further information. Presently, this means such incomplete applications remain unfinalised for an indefinite period.

Schedule 5: Registration application charges

Schedule 5 to the bill will amend the Migration Act to require a migration agent, who has been registered on a non-commercial basis, to notify the OMARA if there is a change in circumstances that has led to their providing immigration assistance on a commercial basis. This complements amendments made by the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment (Rates of Charge) Bill 2017, and amendments that are proposed to be made to the regulations under the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Act 1997. Those amendments make the higher, commercial charge the default charge, and require a migration agent to pay an adjusted charge if they paid the non-commercial charge but then give immigration assistance for fee or reward.

Schedule 6: Other amendments

Schedule 6 to the bill amends the definitions of 'immigration assistance' and 'immigration representations' so that they include assisting a person to make a representation to the minister in relation to revocation of a visa refusal or cancellation decision under section 501C or 501CA of the Migration Act. This reflects the intention that a person must be a registered migration agent, or be exempt for the requirements under the law to be a registered migration agent, in order to give such assistance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this bill makes a number of important amendments that will streamline the operation of the migration advice industry. It importantly delivers on a coalition election commitment as part of our deregulation strategy to remove unnecessary red tape across industry sectors.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.