Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (6.53 p.m.)—I move:
That the Senate take note of the document.
This document, the report pursuant to section 440A of the Migration Act on the conduct of the Refugee Review Tribunal Reviews not completed within 90 days, for the period 1 July 2007 to 31 October 2007, is a report from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on protection visa applications, as is required under subsection 91(Y) of the Migration Act. It is similar to the previous document on the Order of Business, which I chose not to speak to, with regard to Refugee Review Tribunal decisions that took more than 90 days. It is worth noting that the requirement to table this report goes back to amendments made to the Migration Act in 2005. It was part of some agreements that the then government made, in part in response to pressure from some of their backbenchers, Mr Georgiou and Mr Broadbent in particular, amongst a few others. It related to the extreme level of public concern, certainly amongst a significant proportion of the public, about the very long period of time that people were in immigration detention.
One of the reasons why people were in immigration detention for prolonged periods was the long period of time it took for decisions to be made, whether they were review decisions or initial visa decisions. There are a couple more documents on this list that I will speak to in a moment which go further on the detention issue, but the simple fact is that it would not matter so much if these initial decisions on protection visa applications—which are refugee applications—took more than 90 days if, in many cases, the people who were putting in the applications were not locked up during the decision-making process and while the administrative wheels turned. To me that is the key problem.
If you remove mandatory detention, if you remove the requirement for people to be locked up until their visa applications are determined and if you have a normal, sensible, rational and far cheaper approach of enabling people who are not health, security or flight risks to be out in the community whilst their application is determined, then it would be less of a problem when you have delays. It should be emphasised that a number of people who apply for protection visas are out in the community, which gives the lie to the suggestion that there is some sort of inherently unsafe thing in having people who have made refugee claims being out in the community. We have many of them out in the community now, all the time. They are already here on some other form of visa. It is only people who have either had their visa cancelled for various reasons or arrived without a valid visa who are left locked up—and locked up for some periods of time. That is why it is of particular importance that the decisions sometimes take longer than 90 days.
The simple response of removing the requirement for mandatory detention is the obvious action, and that certainly needs to happen. But we do need to look at why the applications listed here took more than 90 days, and the reasons are given in this report. One reason that comes up frequently—it is certainly not the majority, but it is quite frequent—is the delay because of an external agency, namely a security assessment from a relevant agency, usually ASIO. This is an issue I have raised at Senate estimates a number of times, as well as in the Senate chamber. It is outside the control of the immigration department a lot of the time. They can make their assessment quite quickly, but the security assessment can take quite a long period of time, particularly when you are talking about the initial decision.
A few of the applications here took over two years, for example, and that was due to an external agency security assessment clearance. That highlights to me that we need to be focusing more on ensuring that ASIO does its task as quickly as possible. I know it is something they are looking at—or they have said they are looking at it, because that is what they told me at estimates—but I would urge the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Minister Evans, in examining some of the problems with people being in detention for prolonged periods of time, to also look at this aspect and what he can do, perhaps in conjunction with the new Attorney-General, to ensure that that process is sped up so that security assessments are done more promptly. It should be noted that, according to ASIO’s own figures, not a single refugee applicant in Australia has been rejected on security grounds. So any suggestion that this group is a significant security risk is not borne out by the facts. (Time expired)
Question agreed to.