Dec 13, 1996

Migration Legislation Amendment Bill



Second Reading

13 December 1996

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10.16 p.m.) —I am very pleased to participate in this debate as the member for Grayndler. Grayndler is an electorate in which 47 per cent of people were born outside of Australia; an electorate in which there are a number of very large ethnic communities; and an electorate in which these issues take up a majority of my time. It is a pleasure to be involved with those ethnic communities in my electorate.

Some three weeks ago, I attended a rally which was not in my electorate but was at Sydney Town Hall. That rally marched on the office of the Prime Minister (Mr Howard). The reason why that rally against racism marched on the Prime Minister’s office is that the communities involved saw a direct link between the sorts of policies being pursued by this government, the sort of rhetoric about freedom of speech being given by the Prime Minister and the less subtle comments of the member for Oxley (Ms Hanson).

Mr Ruddock —Do you oppose free speech?

Mr ALBANESE —I am against freedom of speech when it is vilification against ethnic groups. Not only am I against that sort of vilification; but the people I marched with that day are also against that sort of vilification: Henry Tsang, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney, Mr Keith Kwon, from the Korean community, Mr Cuong Vo, the head of the Vietnamese community in Australia, and Jack Beetson, from the Tranby Aboriginal College. I was very proud to be a part of the movement that day.

I understand that last weekend there was a similar rally in Melbourne which was attended by over 30,000 people. I think that what we are seeing is a reaction against the explicit racism of the member for Oxley and against the code being used by those who read the polls over on the other side of the House and choose to change their political rhetoric in [start page 8675] order to appeal in a very crude fashion to those polls.

The thing about this government is that they cannot resist any opportunity to show their true colours when it comes to how they really feel about migrants. This legislation before the House today is no exception. The opposition has been very reasonable with regard to this, and we have cooperated wherever possible, but there are some points where we have chosen to draw the line.

The coalition have repeatedly shown that their agenda is about discouraging migrants, especially migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds, from coming to Australia. This legislation represents more hoops for prospective migrants to have to jump through before they are permitted to emigrate to this country. Never mind that their partners, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers or children are already citizens of this country and are living here. If you happen to pick the wrong time of the year to get married, when the coalition’s quota for spouse visas has been filled, it is just too bad. The first come, first served system can hardly be called fair.

I wonder how the member for Bradfield (Dr Nelson) or the member for North Sydney (Mr Hockey), whom I have just woken up over there, would feel if it were their wife or their elderly mother or father who was not allowed into Australia but were told they had to wait until next year to apply again with no guarantee that they would be successful the following year. Surely you would think that with all their rhetoric about the family, the government’s policy arm, known as the Lyons Forum, would object to the legislation before this House, that the Lyons Forum would make sure that this government was in favour of someone being able to care for their aged parents or look after their dependent children or be reunited with their spouse, or does the Lyons Forum only support families when it applies to white, Anglo-Celtic, fifth generation Australians?

This legislation demonstrates just how hypocritical the coalition is. The Howard government is trying to set up a system in this country where there are two sets of rights for citizens—one for people who were born in Australia and one for people who have immigrated to our country. They are trying to make it harder. It wants to increase the fees for prospective migrants: the visa application fee is up over 200 per cent, the English education charge is up by nearly 250 per cent and the health services charge is now going to be applied to all of the preferential family category. Not only is the coalition increasing the charges to $12,500 per person—that is, up to $50,000 for a family of four—but it then expects migrants to survive in Australia with no financial assistance for the first two years, while they should be using that time to learn English so they can enter the Australian work force adequately prepared.

This bill will also result in exemptions being made under the Sex Discrimination Act to allow the minister to require that de facto spouses and interdependent couples—that is, same sex couples—must live together for two years before they are permitted to migrate. At least this bit of the bill is consistent with the pro family, moral posturing of the Lyons Forum that we have come to expect.

The coalition’s acceptance of marriage as somehow superior and more genuine than a de facto relationship really does hark back to the 1950s. It is apparently not enough for couples to demonstrate their interdependence. The government wants to make it even harder. Since the election I have seen hundreds of constituents in my office seeking assistance with immigration. People applying for visas on the grounds of interdependency, in particular, are an extremely small minority who already have to go to considerable lengths to prove the bona fides of their relationship.

For same sex couples, the requirement to live together for two years may simply be impossible in some countries, and the minister must know that. For gay and lesbian couples, it is often simply not possible for them to live together in safety outside Australia. As members would be aware, unlike in Australia, homosexuality is still illegal in many nations around the world, as much as the Lyons Forum might like it to be here.

Mr Hockey —What about the John Stuart Mill Society?

Mr ALBANESE —This proposed change has already begun to impact on people in Australia. I wish—I must say—the John Stuart Mill faction of the Liberal Party the best of luck in its fight over issues such as this versus the Lyons Forum. But it would appear that you are losing the fight. It would appear that the Lyons Forum have the numbers over there and are setting the agenda in such a conservative, moral judging way.

This proposed change has impacted here already. The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (Mr Ruddock) has already instructed our overseas missions to inform applicants of the capping. I have a letter here from Belgrade dated 5 September 1996. The minister would have been aware of this because I put questions on notice to him about this case. It was sent to the wife of one of my constituents, and states:

I refer to your application to migrate to Australia under subclass 100 . . .

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has decided to limit the maximum number of visas that can be granted during the 1996/97 programme year in the subclass for which you have applied. This is called `capping’. Capping limits the total number of visas that can be granted worldwide in this visa class in a programme year.

The letter goes on:

When the cap has been reached, immigration officers can continue to process applications but new visa places will not become available until at least July 1997 (the start of the next programme year).

As with so many of these proposed changes to the regulations, the minister has not waited for the legislation to actually be carried. Constituents have got letters about the implementation prior to their becoming law. In response to the question on notice which I put, the minister replied that it was an oversight, it was an accident. I wonder how many constituents of members of this House have received similar letters, but because they have not gone through their local member of parliament, we do not know about them and their applications have simply been knocked off on the basis of law being applied before it goes through this House.

This is a very serious situation which goes beyond this issue at stake, the direct issue, because what it says is that the other side is so arrogant that they assume they can implement their thoughts as opposed to their laws.

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has also stated that this bill will help to control sham marriages. I want to make it clear that those in the opposition, myself included, oppose anyone getting into this country on the basis of any sham. The member for Reid (Mr Laurie Ferguson) has already indicated that we support the measures with regard to fraudulent statements being put forward.

The minister is under the impression that sham marriages are rife in Australia. I do not deny that they exist, but I do take exception to the ideologically based rhetoric that they are in plague proportions, that there are all these shams out there. I get to see a bit of the minister; he is very diligent. Next week I think I have got three functions with him—in Ashfield, in Waterloo, in Marrickville; he is everywhere. It is the member for Grayndler shadowing, in my electorate, the minister. To his credit, the minister is often in Grayndler, a safe Labor seat.

But what I see there is that the minister stands up and gives these great speeches. They are terrific. They are about multiculturalism. They are about stopping racism. But it is totally different when it comes to the rhetoric here. Minister, why don’t you go to those meetings, when you open the Inner West Migrant Resource Centre, and talk about sham marriages?

Mr Ruddock —I do.

Mr ALBANESE —Why don’t you talk about the rorts, because you never do? Not once at any of the forums and functions at which I have seen you, have you raised any of those issues.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield) —Order! I remind the honourable member for Grayndler to address his remarks through the chair, and the minister likewise.

Mr ALBANESE —The fact is that those communities know that this is all part of the code, that we are friendly when we go to the Lebanese national day, and we are friendly when we go to the Cyprus Community Club, [start page 8677] but in the other context the government wants to make sure that it holds on to the sort of votes that support the member for Oxley. The government is very careful about its code.

The minister’s crackdown on so-called sham relationships in particular has targeted ethnic groups. In many groups in the community, arranged or partly arranged marriages are culturally appropriate. As a result, people may marry each other in good faith, but without knowing a great deal about one another. It so happens that the ethnic groups where this is most common are from Asia and the Middle East.

It is true that sometimes these couples do not know each other as well as those in an Anglo or Irish relationship in Australia. It is true that there are cultural differences there. This does not mean, however, that their marriages are fake.

This bill also seeks to exempt the Migration Act 1958 from the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 in order to give effect to the government’s policy of requiring a two-year cohabitation period for onshore and offshore applications for de facto spouse and independent visas. As I said, this will make de facto applications very difficult. The two-year cohabitation requirement contained in this bill would mean that the sponsor involved would have to put his or her life in Australia on hold for two years and stay in his or her partner’s country.

However, in countries where divorce is restricted, living in a de facto relationship is not necessarily a possibility anyway; that is, unless a couple is prepared to be marginalised or even vilified by the local community for their actions. It does not take a genius to work out that this measure is just another way of restricting the rights of an Australian to be with their chosen life partners if those partners happen to be non-Australian. As far as interdependent relationships go, the level of difficulty increases exponentially.

I will tell you about a specific situation affecting one of my constituents. He is a constituent whom the minister probably knows, because he is a very persistent case, I can assure you—he has spoken to just about everyone in the minister’s department. He has even supplied me with videos and all sorts of documentary evidence of interviews when he went over to the country where his partner is. My constituent is in a same-sex relationship with a person who lives in a country in which—and the minister recognises the specific case—

Mr Ruddock —The Egyptian one, is it? Cairo?

Mr ALBANESE —This is the most persistent constituent in Australia. In the society where his partner comes from, same sex relationships are not tolerated. As a result, my constituent’s relationship has been fraught not just with difficulties but with outright physical danger. Spending time alone with his partner has not been easy. Under the proposed changes to the regulations, my constituent would have to live with his partner for two years.

Mr Cadman —Why not?

Mr ALBANESE —Because his partner has already been bashed and put in hospital because he is gay. He has already had bones broken and been severely bashed by members of his own family because of the situation in which he finds himself. So it is simply not possible for them to live in that country for another two years without considerable physical risk.

Furthermore, my constituent’s partner is unable to get a visitor’s visa at the moment to travel to Australia because he is considered high risk for overstaying. So it is a catch-22 situation. The only option really open for them is to find a friendly third country where they would have to live and support themselves for two years. These are really insurmountable odds to overcome.

The amendments that the opposition is pursuing before this House show that we have been fair dinkum, and I congratulate the shadow minister on his efforts with regard to this legislation because we are prepared, as an opposition, to be reasonable. We are prepared to crack down on any shams and any rorts because it means that if you have a certain amount of people allowed into Australia, then for every rort that is one legitimate person who cannot get in. So I have no quarrel with people who engage in fraud or who are [start page 8678] inappropriate visitors or applicants seeking to migrate to this country being rejected.

But in so much of this government’s rhetoric we see on the one hand Pauline Hanson being the `softener’ out there pushing a hard line and even today and this week too many people in the government refusing to repudiate that. The Prime Minister had a chance in his state of the nation address—the longwinded humbug we all had to listen to the other day—to actually make a statement against the member for Oxley. I thought he might but he failed again, just like the government has failed in their responsibilities to promote in a genuine fashion—not through code—a multicultural Australia. I look forward to the minister next week, on those three occasions when I will be representing the shadow minister, giving the same sort of rhetoric which you give in here, because I am tired of hearing the contradictions in the government’s position. (Time expired)