Additional comments from the Australian Democrats

Additional comments from the Australian Democrats

1.1      The majority report contains many positive suggestions and recommendations which we support. However, before more piecemeal changes are made to the administration of the Migration Act in response to ongoing problems that have been identified through this Inquiry, I believe there is an urgent need for a complete review of the entire Migration Act.

1.2      More piecemeal actions attempting to patch up a flawed system runs the risk of more complexities and inconsistencies. The evidence to this Inquiry has been valuable, but it has not been able to fully canvas the operation of many sections of the Migration Act.

1.3      The 'culture problems' within the Department of Immigration have now been widely acknowledged, but efforts to address it can not fully succeed just through administrative restructuring. This Inquiry has again demonstrated that the migration law itself inevitably impacts on the culture of how it is administered and enforced, and without significant changes to that law, some of the same problems that have been identified in inquiry after inquiry will inevitably continue to occur.

1.4      Following the introduction of the Migration Legislation Amendment Act 1989, the complexity and harshness of the legislation has been continually increasing, with the Executive and the Senate regularly adopting a wide range of changes. Whilst most of these amendments to the Migration Act have been aimed particularly at asylum seekers and refugees, it has impacted on the fairness, adequacy and administration of the entire Migration Act, with more and more power being placed in the hands of the Minister and the Department, more restrictions placed on the powers of the Courts and a continual reduction in the rights of those who are subjected to the Migration Act and its Regulations.

1.5      It is my view that the widely acknowledged problems with the culture of the Immigration Department stems in significant part from the innate unfairness and restrictions on due process, as well as the complexity, built into much of the Migration Act.

1.6      There have been many harmful changes made to the Migration Act and Regulations since 1989. A good starting pointing for improving the law would be to examine these changes with an eye to whether reversing them would help undo the negative impacts on the culture of how our migration laws are administered. Attention should especially be paid (but not limited) to assessing the consequences and impacts of the following measures:

1.7      Numerous submitters to the inquiry also expressed concern at the unnecessary complexity of the legislation for migration agents and lawyers, let alone unrepresented asylum seekers and other visa applicants to navigate through.

1.8      There are currently 88 visa classes set up under the Migration Act 1958, [1122] and contained within this are 147 Visa subclasses.

Complementary Protection

1.9      I strongly support the recommendation made by the Committee that a system of complementary protection be introduced into the Migration Act. I believe that it is essential that additional safeguards ensuring the protection of fundamental human rights are reflected in the Migration Act.

1.10         However, in absence of this I recommend the following:

Recommendation 1

1.11         That the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) be enshrined into domestic law to give legally enforceable protection to asylum seekers and others at risk of being deported or returned to unsafe situations.

Differences from the majority report

1.12         I have a divergence in views with the following Committee recommendations:

Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs)

1.13         The Democrats moved in the Senate in 1999 to prevent the introduction of TPVs, but did not get support from others. I believe the concerns we expressed then have clearly been vindicated. The TPV has been shown to be unjust to refugees, prolonging the state of limbo they are subjected to and significantly affecting their ability to settle and rebuild their lives.

1.14         The lack of access to family reunion is particularly harsh and harmful to refugees, and also is against the interest of the wider Australian community, as it makes it far more difficult for refugees to be able to settle, adapt and contribute effectively to their new country.

1.15         Once asylum seekers have been granted refugee status, they should have permanent protection rather than having to present their cases again. This is especially cruel and unjust for those caught under the 7 day rule, who have to live with the prospect of potentially never being eligible for permanent protection.

Bridging Visa E (BVEs)

1.16         People on this visa face conditions that force them to rely solely on private charity, with NGOs, churches or ad-hoc community groups often providing the basic needs such as food and shelter.

1.17         The committee has recommended that work rights be given to those on BVEs. I support this, but are concerned that there is no mention of provisions for Medicare. Numerous submitters have noted that those on BVEs are often in urgent need of medical attention and medication. This applies particularly for those who have been released from detention, as many have been heavily reliant on medication while in detention in order to cope in the environment. To then be denied Medicare assistance when they are released on BVEs is a counter-productive and irrational policy.

1.18         It is reprehensible that the system which caused their dependence on medication does not provide for continuing medical entitlements, which is often enough very expensive and needed on a regular basis.

Recommendation 2

1.19         Abolish Temporary Protection Visas, the 7-day rule, the 45-day rule and the prevention of access to assistance which currently applies for Bridging Visa Es.

Humanitarian settlement

1.20         I support the committee's recommendations in regards to resettlement issues particularly with respect to the increasing numbers of refugees from Africa and acknowledge the Government's increased uptake and funding in this area.

1.21         However, I believe the following should also be noted:

Recommendation 3

1.22         There must be uniformity in information given as part of pre-embarkation orientation, as well as a proper system of ensuring that migrants fully understand the terms involved in their settlement.

Recommendation 4

1.23         That the initial settlement services provided under IHSS be extended to 12 months.

Recommendation 5

1.24         That service providers are given regular and updated cultural training session and briefings in order to cope with the divergence of cultures that they are servicing. Appropriate interpreters should also be available.

Recommendation 6

1.25         That current services for women arriving under the Women at Risk be reviewed immediately to ensure an adequate delivery of services.

Other assistance to migrants

1.26         An aspect of Australia's modern migration program is the huge increase in people arriving on temporary residency visas. Some of these visas apply for prolonged periods and can involve migrants whose level of English is not of a high level. [1123]

Recommendation 7

1.27         Consideration be given by federal, state and territory governments to the long-term benefits of ensuring appropriate assistance is available to all people who are residing in Australian on long-term temporary visas, as well as those on permanent visas.

Senator Andrew Bartlett

Australian Democrats

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