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Wednesday, 15 December 1993
Page: 4740

Senator SHORT (8.36 p.m.) —I wish to comment briefly tonight on a matter relating to the extraordinary story of Mrs Magda Bardy, who, by an ironic twist of fate, found that she was living very near a person in Sydney whom she believed to have been responsible for the imprisonment, which led to the death, of her first husband in Hungary in 1951. I first raised this matter in the Senate on 20 May this year. Since then a number of developments have occurred which I want to bring to the attention of the Senate.

  Mrs Bardy, who has an OAM and who for many years has contributed a great deal of time and energy to sheltered workshops in Sydney, and her son, Ivan Somers, have been seeking from the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Senator Bolkus, information concerning the processes that led to the approval of Mr Vajda as a migrant to Australia in the 1950s. Mrs Bardy and her son have also sought documents under freedom of information. These have now been received. They show that a Mr Vajda, a dentist, who arrived here under the assisted passage scheme in 1957, made no mention of a job that he had in Hungary as an officer with the AVH, the Hungarian secret police, or that he had served two years of a six-year gaol sentence imposed by the Military Court of Budapest.

  On 30 May 1993, on the 60 Minutes program, Mr Tibor Vajda, a retired Sydney dentist, acknowledged that he had been the deputy head of Department 6 of the AVH—or as he described it, a `political police force'—under the head of which department he had questioned prisoners. He had also said on this program that it was not impossible that it was his signature at the bottom of the page of the secret police document concerning Mrs Bardy's husband's imprisonment, although he also said that he had only very occasionally signed such documents when his superior officer was away.

  He has also said that this document was an administrative document which came into existence after a person had been arrested and interrogated so as to record the decision of the head of the State Defence Authority, or AVH, as to what should be done with the person. He believed that it did not show that he had a major role to play in the imprisonment of Mrs Bardy's first husband, despite acknowledging the signature `Tibor Vajda' as possibly being his own.

  It is difficult for any of us here in the Senate to assess the facts relating to this case and to respond appropriately. My purpose in drawing attention to the matter again, following my raising of it in May, is to highlight the very complex issues that arise from it. If Mrs Bardy's claims are correct, then clearly it is possible that someone obtained firstly, permanent residence, and, secondly, Australian citizenship by withholding information which would have resulted in a rejection of both applications; that is, to settle, and that of citizenship.

  Mr Vajda entered Australia when the Immigration Act 1901-1949 was in operation. That act provided that any person convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment for one year or more was deemed to be a prohibited immigrant. Prohibited immigrants entering or found within the Commonwealth were guilty of an offence under section 7 of that act. If convicted, a person would be liable for up to six months imprisonment or deportation from Australia. However, there was a 12-month time limit for commencing criminal proceedings under section 7. The current Migration Act 1958 does provide the minister with powers to cancel any valid visa at his or her discretion. The Australian Citizenship Act, however, does not allow a minister to revoke citizenship if fraudulent information was provided to obtain citizenship more than 10 years prior to the fraudulent information being presented. I think that is section 50(2) of that act.

  The 10-year provision is longstanding and has been in the act since 1958. I believe, however, that this particular case shows that it is possible to discover new information many years later relevant to whether or not the government of the day would or would not have bestowed citizenship on a foreign national. I raise the question of whether there should be some grounds on which it can be revoked, no matter how long ago the fraud—as it would be—took place. I acknowledge that the reason for the 10-year provision was to give certainty to the status of Australian citizenship, and that is a very important consideration.

  I would hope, therefore, that this case and the issues that arise from it may come forward in the context of the current review by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration Regulations of the Australian Citizenship Act, as it is relevant to section 50 of the act. That will depend, of course, on whether the submissions on these matters are received by the committee in the course of its inquiry.

  The other point that I raise in conclusion is that this matter, in this particular case, highlights the importance of our immigration checking procedures. It is a matter that has concerned me for some considerable time, as I think you would be aware, Mr Acting Deputy President. There are a lot of questions being asked and concerns being expressed in this area. The case I have referred to tonight goes back almost 40 years. We do need to be confident of the integrity and quality—particularly the quality—of our checking procedures in the 1990s. This case highlights the critical importance of the government ensuring that full character checks are undertaken in assessing all new settler arrivals and that there is, to the extent possible, the information necessary to enable those checking procedures to be carried out in a way that makes us all feel confident about the integrity of the process.

  The case of Mrs Bardy and Mr Vajda is a very interesting one. It is a very sad case in many ways. I do not know how it is all going to end, but it is one of those cases that captures the imagination from time to time and—more than the imagination—captures the heart. It is a matter that should certainly be of interest to the Senate, although I do not pretend to suggest that the Senate ought to have a role in its solution.