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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2036

Senator HILL (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —by leave—I wish to make a comment concerning the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1996. This bill that has come about, as I understand it, because of a recent decision in Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission v. the Secretary to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Because of a conflict between section 256 of the Migration Act and paragraph 26B of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act, the government's hands are tied in relation to dealing with a type other than was intended when dealing with illegal entries.

The government's position is that we have a responsibility to enforce the immigration laws pursuant to the Migration Act. As I said, the interpretation of this demonstrates an unintended consequence. Therefore, the government has an obligation to remove as quickly as possible that unintended consequence, thus permitting the continued timely removal of current unauthorised arrivals.

The decision in that case was only very recently handed down, and the government has expeditiously sought the passage of an amending bill to overcome the problem. That bill has been introduced into the Senate, and the Senate wishes the bill to be examined by a Senate committee through our reference of bills to committee process.

Whilst we do not object to that process, as this is the last sitting week and as this unintended consequence is likely to apply to a large number of new cases before the parliament sits again, we would hope that the Senate committee could consider this matter during the course of this week. I would suggest to the committee chairman that Wednesday night might be a good night to listen to the human rights arguments and to put down the government's concerns, with the objective being that the committee would report before the end of the week and the Senate would still have time to consider the bill during this last week of sittings.

Although the committee has as its reference day the first day of the next sitting, I understand that has always been interpreted in the past as being on or before that day. In this instance, the government is anxious that it be interpreted as being before that day, provided the committee can give the matter proper consideration this week and the chamber can still deal with it this week.

These very urgent matters do arise from time to time. Although it may not allow the Senate the length of deliberation that it requires in normal circumstances, the Senate has nevertheless usually accepted that, in exceptional circumstances, the processes should fit the time available. We will ensure that those witnesses who should be heard do get the opportunity to be heard during this week.