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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 43

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:36 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (Senator Vanstone) to questions without notice asked by Senators Greig and Harradine today relating to the application for permanent residency by the Morris family.

The subject of the question—a young boy with autism whose family had had their application for permanent residency in Australia refused on the grounds of their son's disability—gained some small degree of media coverage towards the end of last week. As I understand it, the grounds of the refusal have subsequently been a matter of request to the minister to use her ministerial intervention power under the Migration Act. Certainly the Democrats hope that that will be successful. But I think the minister's answers were very illuminating as to what she was trying to hide.

We see constantly in this country a blatant demonstration that our migration system is exceptionally discriminatory. We have repeatedly had assertions from the government and the department over many years that we have a non-discriminatory migration system and that the laws apply equally to everybody. The trouble is that the way the law is structured is discriminatory. The simple fact of the minister's answers showed that if you have a disability you are discriminated against on the grounds of that disability or, to use the minister's much nicer sounding phrase, `health issues'. Because that family had a child with a disability their chances of migrating to Australia or becoming permanent residents are diminished. You cannot get a clearer example of something that happens continually, which is families being discriminated against on the grounds of disability—disability of the person or disability affecting their child.

This has only come to light through this individual case but I am aware, and I imagine that many other senators are aware, of a whole range of cases where families, some of them with lots of wealth, skills and a long history in Australia, have been refused permanent residency visas because of a child's disability—in the minister's own words `because there is an undue cost burden on the Australian community'. Could you ever get a clearer example of people with disabilities being assessed purely in terms of being a burden on the community—to use the minister's own words, a `cost burden on the Australian community'?

The reason why the case of this young boy is so blatant in the discriminatory nature and the hypocrisy involved is that his photo was used in a calendar to celebrate and highlight the fact that people with disabilities contribute to the community; they are not a burden on the community. We are trying to turn around this attitude—that we see people with disabilities as being a burden, as being a negative and that we ignore, forget about or undervalue the positive contribution that they make to the community. Yet what we have day after day—this is not just a one-off; it is just highlighted in this one case—in our immigration system is that that is exactly how people are assessed. Their disability, if they have one, is assessed as a burden on the Australian community. That is how they are considered.

It does not matter if the family have wealth and say they will cover all the costs. People would remember the tragic case of the man who was so despairing at his inability to reunite with his family that he set himself on fire at the front of Parliament House. That is what that was about: he had a family overseas, one of his children had a disability and his visa application for his family to join him—he was a refugee—was knocked back because of that child's disability and the fact that it might mean an undue cost burden on the Australian community, despite the fact that they had repeatedly said they would cover the cost of all the health and medical treatment themselves. That is what our migration system does day after day with family after family. The minister's answers were a nice way of trying to dodge that but the fact is that he highlighted that that is a reality. Anyone who calls our migration system non-discriminatory simply is not aware of the facts. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.