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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9579

Dr Stone asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, in writing, on 18 June 2009:

In respect of Senate Estimates on Thursday 28 May 2009 where, in an answer to questions from Senator Fierravanti-Wells, a departmental officer indicated that the Minister had established an expert panel to review decisions on refugee applications made on Christmas Island —Is it correct that there are interim arrangements in place and a small panel of people whom the Minister calls upon if there is a need to undertake an independent merits review; if so, (a) how were the members of this panel selected; (b) what is the role of the panel; (c) under what instructions does the panel operate; (d) how is this panel funded; (e) what are the names of the panel members; (f) what are the conditions of employment for the panel members; (g) for what length of time is the appointment of panel members; (h) what were the selection criteria for the appointment of panel members; (i) has the Minister made an announcement about the appointment of panel members and their role; (j) how many decisions has this panel made; (k) will all decisions of the panel be made public; if so, when; (l) how is this panel accountable to the Parliament; (m) who is the panel accountable to; and (n) are the decisions of this panel appellable; if so, to whom.

Mr McClelland (Attorney-General) —The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:

Interim arrangements are in place for conducting non-statutory independent merits review of unfavourable refugee status assessments, in the form of a contract between the Commonwealth and a labour hire firm to provide independent reviewers for the immediate caseload.

(a)   Under the current interim arrangements, the reviews are conducted by independent people well qualified in refugee status determination processes.

(b)   The role of the Independent reviewer is to consider afresh all claims for protection as they relate to the Refugees Convention. As the independent review process is non-statutory, the role of the Independent reviewer is advisory and not determinative. I draw on the Independent reviewer’s assessment when considering whether to exercise my public interest powers under section 46A of the Migration Act 1958.

(c)   Independent reviewers conduct reviews in accordance with the services and requirements set out in the contract.

(d)   The Government has provided $0.3 million funding in FY2008-09 for establishment of the panel and $0.13 million each year for associated reviewer costs (this funding is contingent upon fluctuations in the number of unauthorised boat arrivals seeking review of Refugee Status Assessments).

(e)   At present, three people are contracted as Independent reviewers under the interim arrangements: Mr Steve Karas AO, Mr Christopher Keher, and Ms Sue Zelinka.

(f)   Under the interim arrangements, the remuneration and related conditions of independent reviewers is consistent with the rates set by the Remuneration Tribunal for ‘public offices’ performing similar work (ie. part time members of the RRT).

(g)   The current contract in place to provide independent merits review under these interim arrangements was recently extended up to 31 December 2009.

(h)   Under the interim arrangements, the selection of the independent reviewers was based on the criteria that they were people who had sound experience in administrative decision-making and a background in refugee law.

(i)   The Government decision to introduce independent merits review of unfavourable refugee status assessments has been announced.

(j)   Under the interim arrangements, three review assessments have been completed.

(k)   Taking into account the relatively small number of review assessments and privacy and confidentiality considerations, it is not yet practicable to publish the review assessments.

(l)   and (m) Independent reviewers are accountable through the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to Parliament. Only the Minister has power under section 46A to allow an offshore entry person to apply for a Protection visa.

(n)   Assessments may be subject to judicial review in the original jurisdiction of the High Court or in the Federal Court on procedural fairness grounds (but not beyond that).