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Thursday, 13 November 2008
Page: 57

Senator BOYCE (2:48 PM) —My question is for the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans. I refer the minister to the case of the Perth midwife whose family includes a child with Down syndrome and whose family’s application to become permanent residents has been refused by the Migration Review Tribunal. Given Australia’s desperate need for trained and experienced midwives, will the minister now exercise his powers to give the midwife and her family permanent residency?

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, resume your seat. This is completely disorderly. I am trying to call the minister so that he can answer the question that has just been asked by your side, and immediately there is interruption. There has to be an opportunity for me at least to call the minister.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Boyce for her question and I acknowledge her—

Senator Faulkner interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —When Senator Faulkner keeps quiet I will actually have a go at the question. He has very dramatic projection!

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, ignore those around you.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I do acknowledge the senator’s long interest in disability issues, and I appreciated her coverage of those issues in her first speech. I thought it was a very good contribution. What the question goes to is a particular case, and I will come to that in a second. As the senator would know, and as I hope Senator Bernardi now knows, the current migration law and regulations provide that persons seeking migration to Australia under a permanent visa have to get a health assessment. If that health assessment indicates that there would be substantial cost to the Australian community as a result of health costs incurred by that person or the person’s family, there is a set of procedures that have been in place for a very long time that go to an assessment of those circumstances and which require decisions.

In the terms of the decision in Dr Moeller’s case, as I answered a question on the other day, there was no discretion available to the department. He has now appealed to the Migration Review Tribunal. If he fails there, it is competent for him to then appeal to the minister, and I would consider the case in exercising my powers, just as all the previous Liberal ministers did. It is the case that there are a number of current cases which involve applications from families who have a child with a disability, and a number of them involving children with Down syndrome have been made public.

I want to stress, though, that these rules have been in place for many years. They do not particularly relate to disability; they relate to health costs and include people with cancer, people with acquired brain injury, people with potential HIV or other medical costs. The same system applies. My personal view is that it is a bit inflexible. I do not think it gives the department enough discretion. I have actually argued for more discretion for the department and less ministerial intervention more generally. So I will have something to say on the broader issue of the treatment of these matters at some time in the near future.

In terms of the particular case raised by the senator, the application of the Perth midwife—and I assume we are talking about the same person, because her name has not been made public—her second-round approval was approved by me yesterday and she has been granted a visa. I made the initial decision back in August to recommend a visa, subject to the security and health checks of her. The file came up to me this week, and I approved her visa yesterday.

Senator BOYCE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I am pleased to hear that response from the minister, as I understand that has actually taken five months to process. But can I go on to ask the minister: having done that, given that there are dozens of families who are seeking to become Australians and affected by the government’s processes.

Government senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Boyce, resume your seat. Order on my right! Senator Boyce is entitled to be heard in silence.

Government senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Sterle and others, Senator Boyce is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you, Mr President. It appears that a lot of people are not aware that there are in fact dozens of families who are affected by these issues. Given the government’s views that all disability is to be viewed as illness and burden, when will the current guidelines on migrating families to Australia, who have much to offer this community, be reviewed?

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Shouting across the chamber is disorderly, and it should cease immediately.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I am disappointed that the senator has followed Senator Bernardi down the low road. I thought I gave her the answer she sought. What I would say, Senator, is that it did not take five or six months; it took them five or six years, because your government rejected her two previous applications. So, if you want to argue about this, come in any time!

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans, resume your seat! Just resume your seat, Senator Macdonald; I will give you the call.

Government senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Those on my right: silence. Order! I understand that people get excited from time to time. Order, though.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I wonder if you could ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate to control his temper and address his answers through the chair as he is required to do under standing orders.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. Senator Evans, you have 32 seconds to complete your answer.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —As I indicated, this family have been seeking permanent residency for some time. There have been a number of previous applications and court hearings. On this occasion, on the first time I saw the file, back in August, I recommended that they get a visa. Since that time, they have had the requisite checks, and yesterday I approved the visa. I urge the opposition to stop going down the low road and to actually recognise the sensitivities of this case. In this case, I refer you to the press release put out by this woman’s lawyers only a couple of days ago. (Time expired)

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator Chris Evans interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Abetz, your interjections have been disorderly throughout the afternoon. I am just drawing them to your attention. Senator Evans and others, order.