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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 947


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (2:22 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Attorney-General, Senator Ludwig. Last week the Department of Immigration and Citizenship during the Senate estimates hearing confirmed that there are 900 asylum seekers who have been assessed as genuine refugees by the immigration department, yet they are still awaiting their ASIO security clearances. This has been an increase of 570 since October last year. What action is the Attorney-General taking to address these delays?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) —I thank Senator Hanson-Young for her question. I will start by indicating that it is important to Australia’s national security that security assessment processes are thoroughly conducted and they are appropriately conducted. In terms of addressing the need to reduce the processing time, in some cases it can unfortunately take an extended period of time, which is dependent on the circumstances of each individual case. However, ASIO and DIAC are implementing changes to refine this processing. ASIO regularly reviews and revises the allocation of resources to security assessments. This includes diverting resources from some caseloads to manage current priorities. In setting priorities ASIO consults closely with DIAC. ASIO provides regular information to the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security on the status of security assessments for the different visa caseloads. And of course the security assessment process continues to be an important element of Australia’s robust border security regime. In some instances conducting security assessments, as I have said, does take time to work through those cases because each individual case must be assessed carefully and critically with all the relevant information. That does mean that the information flows have to occur and there are time lags in that. The process is not as simple or straightforward as some may argue. ASIO draws on classified and unclassified information to evaluate activities, associated attitudes, background and character and taking into account credibility and reliability. So all of that does in some cases mean that the time that it takes is extended. However, both ASIO and DIAC do recognise that it is important to work together— (Time expired)


Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware of advice that was provided from the immigration department to ASIO some 15 months ago warning of a potential serious backlog in the time taken to conduct security assessments of asylum seekers? Can the minister confirm whether ASIO took on this advice and increased their overall staff capacity?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) —In terms of the specific issue on handling the matters themselves, I provide this response to Senator Hanson-Young. I have been able to explain the times it has taken for these matters to be proceeded with. Specifically in relation to the period that you have outlined, which is some 19 months earlier, I do not have any specific advice from the Attorney-General in response to that question. In that case it would be wise for me to check with the Attorney-General and provide a response in relation to this specific matter. I will ask the Attorney-General to see what information he can provide in respect of that matter.


Senator HANSON-YOUNG —I thank the minister. If you could take that question on notice that would be greatly appreciated. The final supplementary question I have is that with no time frame or limits by which ASIO are required to conduct their security assessments, 900 genuine refugees are continuing to be detained indefinitely. What will the government do to ensure that innocent and vulnerable refugees are not subjected to further detention?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) —I thank Senator Hanson-Young for her second supplementary question. As I have indicated in the earlier answer, there are, as you have indicated, some 900, which is about 15 per cent of the total eligible to apply for a visa, awaiting the outcome of ASIO’s advice to DIAC as to whether the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship will agree to allow them to apply for a visa. They have not got a visa at this stage, so they still have not completed the process. However, what I indicated is that, in terms of ensuring that we can reduce the processing time, it is clear that ASIO and DIAC are implementing changes to refine the process. There is no time limit, as I am advised, and I will check with the Attorney-General to ensure that this still remains the case. But clearly the difficulty always is that, because of the time lag sometimes for ASIO to get the information— (Time expired)