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Thursday, 23 June 2005
Page: 70

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) (1:12 PM) —First of all I will indicate that the Prime Minister made the announcement a few weeks after we had started discussing this matter, had had quite lengthy party room discussions on it and, subsequent to that, had had numerous—too numerous to outline—meetings and telephone discussions about where we wanted to go. Then he made the announcement, which I think is a pretty clear indication of where the government want to go. What the government want to do is maintain strong border protection. We are very pleased that we have largely stopped people coming on boats. We hope that no more lives are lost by people taking a chance on those rickety, stinking, unsafe vessels to come in monsoon time, or at other times, and put their lives at risk. But, because we have been successful in that and we now have a smaller case load, we believe we can and should soften the individual impact of that policy, and we will.

One test of the good faith of that is the amendments we have made to the removal pending bridging visa which were announced recently. A few days after that, the announcement was made that a further 50 people would be offered this visa. I can assure you, Senator Bartlett, that that takes quite a vigorous application of not only the minister’s mind but, prior to that, a number of people in the department—to get the files, to go through them and to vigorously relook at things, given the government’s stated intention. I think a further 50, after 17 had been released earlier, is an indication of the degree of strength and commitment behind this decision and this softening of the individual impact.

You asked: what if someone breaches a requirement of the residence arrangements once? I can think of a number of reasons that would be perfectly reasonable. Somebody might hear that one of their kids is unwell or had a sporting accident outside the times they should be wherever they are meant to be. I do not know about you but, if it were somebody I loved and cared for, I doubt that I would be hanging around ringing up and waiting for a departmental officer to give me approval to go to that person’s aid.

We will have to look at this on a case-by-case basis, bearing in mind that these are people who have already had chances. It is not the government’s expectation that people who first came to our attention would be detained. As I said, we will be as flexible as possible. I hope you are not arguing for a situation where we take no notice if someone in detention consistently and flagrantly ignores the agreement that has been made to give them this extra opportunity. I do not think anyone would expect that. I can assure you that it is the government’s and my intention to be very flexible and sensible in this matter. We will try in the first place to get the requirement to give maximum flexibility in the agreement. We will have to look into it. I would not say that, if there was one breach, that would be the end of it, but I certainly would not want to give you the impression that that means people could take no notice of the requirements and expect to get away with it.

As for the guidelines: no, they are not ready at this point. People are working on them at the same time that they are working on a number of other arrangements. We were able to make an announcement of 50 extra people because, as the change we wanted to make became clearer during our discussions, while some people were going on with those discussions and it was not finalised, other people were saying, ‘Okay—on the basis that that may and probably will happen, let’s start work on selecting the cases that we might want to look at.’ That could have been wasted work if the government had not proceeded down that path. We tried to have things running in tandem so that they would be done as quickly as they could be. That is the basis on which we are approaching the remainder of this.

The last part of your question was: what is the matter with the arrangements we have now? The arrangements we have now require someone to be specified for the purposes of the immigration act. There are community groups who find that uncomfortable and do not like it. We have tried on a number of occasions to get arrangements and it has been very difficult. I use the example of the Bakhtiyaris, as the Centacare people were not happy to be immigration officers. They said it was inconsistent with their charter as NGOs. That was awkward and inconvenient. It meant we had to have other people there. Either they did it for a short period of time or would not do it at all, and the state government agreed to take over that aspect.

In the end, the state government wrote to me and indicated that they would not be able to comply with that further. That was not because they did not see it as appropriate for them to be designated in relation to the immigration act; it was because of consistent breaches of the requirements and the health and safety of their officers in relation to the behaviour of one of the Bakhtiyari boys. These things are difficult. The difference in this residence arrangement is that we will not have to have that sort of specification. It may well be that we find NGOs more willing to be participants in this given that it gives better opportunities to families.

I will get some legal advice for you as to the responsibility. I am not quite sure what you are getting at there. People obviously individually retain responsibility for their acts. If someone under one of these orders commits, for example, a criminal offence or an assault, they will still be responsible for that. I presume your question is more likely to go to: what if someone committed an assault on them? We will get some advice on that. It may mean that people will have to agree to make that choice and to have the same responsibility in relation to risks at large in the community.

The Commonwealth would obviously retain responsibility for those things that were clearly the Commonwealth’s responsibility. They would go to, for example, the safety and the amenity of the place of accommodation. If you put someone in a place with floorboards that were no good and they went through the floorboards, clearly the Commonwealth would have responsibility. You could give me some clearer examples, but I think I have highlighted for you the area that might need some further attention.