Jun 26, 2000

Migration Legislation Amendment (Parents and Other Measures) Bill 2000


26 June 2000

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (9.42 p.m.)—Because of the inherent injustice contained in the Migration Legislation Amendment (Parents and Other Measures) Bill 2000, I am happy to support the amendment to the motion for the second reading as moved by the shadow minister for immigration. The aim of the amendment is to ensure that an increase in the quota for parent visas does not automatically exclude people on the basis of economic position. This bill as it stands is indicative of the mean-spirited nature of this government. It encapsulates the `us and them’ mentality that pervades all this government’s policy. As in the government’s health and education policy, this bill moves immigration towards a two-tiered system, between the haves with economic means and the have-nots.

It is interesting to note too that, while the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has been quick to condemn onshore asylum seekers as queuejumpers, he is happy to institutionalise a form of queue jumping based upon economic means. The minister for immigration, while hiding behind the principle of user pays, has made migrating to Australia far more expensive—so much so that it is a burden that would-be migrants from poorer backgrounds cannot bear. Furthermore, while publicly welcoming skilled migrants regardless of their cultural background, the minister has made English language proficiency a prerequisite. People from countries where English is rarely taught in schools are automatically excluded from the process. If passed, this bill will entrench in our immigration policy a principle that, if you are wealthy, you are welcome, and, if not, you are welcome to apply but do not expect to have your application processed. The result of such discriminatory legislation is that people from wealthier, often predominantly white, countries will be able to access our immigration program more readily than people from poorer, often non-white, countries. This is a disgrace. It shows this government’s hidden agenda to limit the diversity of the people migrating to Australia.

This is the government’s second attempt to entrench discrimination into the preferential family program. Some 18 months ago, the minister sought to introduce a new parent visa category that gave applicants an opportunity to jump the already lengthy queue. In March 1999, Labor moved to disallow these changes on equity grounds. It was unfair that some applicants would be given preferential treatment simply because they were wealthier. The minister’s anger at the time was palpable. In retaliation, he slashed the already reduced parent visa intake to just 500 a year. At this level, given the queue was 20,000, it would have taken people up to 40 years before their parents could join them in Australia—a ludicrous situation. Applicants will either die of old age in the queue or, by the time there is a place for them, they will be too frail to meet the rigorous medical requirements.

The government was only too happy to accept some $10 million in application fees, but it is not prepared to process the applications, let alone issue a reasonable number of visas. This government talks big about accountability. But where is the accountability here—10 million hard-earned dollars and nothing to show for them? Even if the government increased the existing quota 10 times over, there are still people waiting in the queue that will never get here because, with every year that passes, their age is against them when it comes to meeting the health criteria.

Therefore, as a matter of decency, I call on the government to allow existing applicants the choice of whether they want to stay in line or whether they want a refund of the application fee which has been gained on the basis of fraud. If you are told that your parents are eligible to apply for a parent visa and the department of immigration happily takes your $1,075 application fee, it is reasonable to expect that the department will actually follow through and process the application. The reality is, however, that in the majority of cases a departmental officer would have barely looked at the application. So what does the minister do to address this? Does he offer to refund application fees? No. Does he increase the allocation of parent visa subclass 103? No. Instead, he tries once more to introduce a new discriminatory visa that automatically excludes those who have few financial resources at their disposal.

On the whole, the families in my electorate who have parents waiting to migrate to Australia cannot afford to pay such a huge sum of money to bring out their parents. However, they will do everything in their power to get the money together to pay the increased visa costs. What this government has never understood has been the vital importance of parents and elderly relatives to most migrant families. The Liberal Party pretended to understand this basic issue before the 1996 election when it promised, and I quote:

Family reunion and refugee/humanitarian immigration will remain central parts of the immigration program. The family unit is the foundation of our society and must be at the core of immigration policy.

It has abandoned that policy. Clearly, the Howard government has no understanding of the importance of family reunion to migrant families. Labor, on the other hand, recognises the cultural importance that many migrant communities place on caring for their elders. We also acknowledge that a united family is an economically productive family. They play an important role in the diverse fabric of our society and they should not be treated like parasites whose only aim is to drain the health system dry. It is a nonsense. My office deals with a large volume of immigration related inquiries, most of them relating to the family reunion program. My electorate is full of families who are heartbroken as they realise that the chances of being reunited with their parents get slimmer and slimmer by the day—families who originally migrated from China, Vietnam, Lebanon, Greece, Russia, Poland, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Thailand and the Philippines; families for whom $64,000 is an unbelievable sum of money.

The $25,000 figure the government has come up with as the new health service charge is also of great concern to the opposition, because there has been no basis for this figure. This really is policy on the run. The program is less accessible to people from non-English-speaking backgrounds and from poorer countries. But the minister’s actions have not taken place in a vacuum. They should be placed in the context of a Prime Minister who has difficulty even saying the word `multiculturalism’. It ranks close to `sorry’ in his top 10 of taboo words. This is a government that is not short on glossy brochures promoting multiculturalism and tolerance but, when it comes to actual commitment, the story is quite different. The people of my electorate have come to know this the hard way, through years of waiting for their parents to arrive. It is a bit like waiting for Godot. The characters in Beckett’s play want to believe Godot will eventually arrive but, as the curtain closes, they are still waiting.