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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 12

Senator XENOPHON (1:52 PM) —This is not the first time that I have spoken in this place in relation to my concerns surrounding immigration law in Australia. Those who listened to my previous comments will recall that I emphasised that one of the pillars of Australia’s international reputation is our belief in the right to a fair go for everyone. I also noted that it is the responsibility of all parliamentarians as elected representatives to keep faith with the fair go, irrespective of where a person was born or how long they have been here. It is a belief that the Labor Party in opposition claimed to hold, and I quote from chapter 13 of the ALP’s 2007 election platform document, entitled ‘Respecting Human Rights and a Fair Go for All’. Paragraph 140 states:

Labor’s multicultural and integration services policy agenda aims to ensure social cohesion through maintaining Australia as a tolerant, fair and united nation. Our policy agenda is based upon the following principles—

of which I will name but two; firstly:

  • Recognition that we all have an interest in and obligation to foster respect for:
  • …                   …                   …
  • the rule of law including the right to be treated equally before the law and the rights to due process and a fair trial;

and, secondly:

  • Strong integration services to assist migrants to settle into the Australian community. Helping people move into the workforce and become self-sufficient.

It is through Labor’s own words that I judge this bill.

The Migration Amendment (Notification Review) Bill 2008 seeks to make what would be seen to be logical and practical administrative changes in relation to notifying applicants of visa decisions. However, these changes allegedly provide flexibility with the time frames and conditions by which the government can inform applicants about decisions, while, at the same time, the time frames and conditions whereby applicants can appeal these decisions are rigidly inflexible. What I refer to is an inconsistency where time extensions can be granted for appeals by any department through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal but cannot be granted by the Refugee Review Tribunal, which handles refugee visas, or the Migration Review Tribunal, which handles migrant visas. As I noted in my previous contribution, this is not about special treatment; this is about fair treatment.

I remind the minister of his commitment to address the issues around time frames for appeals and other matters that I have raised with his office. I have operated in good faith, trusting the minister’s word that he and his department are addressing these things, and I look forward to the government’s next raft of amendments to deal with these issues, which I believe are overdue. However, I must express two reasons for disappointment. The first is in relation to the way that this bill has been rushed before the Senate. Last week one of my staff members flew to Canberra, having requested a day of government briefings including a briefing on this bill. That briefing was provided last Wednesday, but, when my staff member requested information on the notification bill—as distinct from the migrant worker protection bill—he was told that this information was not available. There are in place proper procedures for governments to move bills through quickly, and there are a number of protocols in place, including the parliamentary liaison officer and the very useful role that that officer plays, but there is an established procedure whereby standing orders can be suspended and a bill exempted from the cut-off. The opposition used this procedure with the $30 pension increase bill, by giving due notice in the chamber as well as contacting my office in advance. It is a pity that the government did not follow such procedure.

Yesterday the government wanted to deal with this bill, offering a briefing less than six hours before it wanted to proceed with the bill, and that caused us some considerable concern. While due process and standing orders may seem like an encumbrance to governments, I believe that they are the safeguards of a democracy. On a practical level, they allow my office to duly prepare, in terms of looking at bills. This was not my idea of a government demonstrating open, consultative and due process. There was a real concern that there was not an open communication from the government to my office in relation to this bill. Whilst I acknowledge that the government has said that it was something that should not have happened and it will not happen again, it was something that caused my office some consternation. I look forward to the government’s commitment in dealing with the issue of time frames more generally, and I was reassured again last night that this will be the case. I look forward to regular and extensive briefings on these matters as the government seeks to respond to them by the end of the spring sitting.

My second concern is in relation to the case of a young Afghan man whose family was killed by the Taliban. He is seeking to sponsor his brother, who was captured by the Taliban, out of Afghanistan. I raised this in my previous speech and referred it to the minister’s office. I must admit that I have been underwhelmed by the response, which just referred the family and the Circle of Friends group supporting the family to another appeal process. Given the urgency of the situation and the risk posed to this young man’s life by the Taliban, I would have hoped for more. I am fully aware that this bill will now be dealt with. However, I want to put on the record again the importance of a fair go for all.

In closing, I cannot help but note the irony of a bill that seeks greater time flexibility for governments and departments but condones inflexible timelines for potential Australians. I support the second reading of this bill.