In June 2005, Malcolm Turnbull rose to speak in parliament on the Migration Amendment (Detention Arrangements) Bill 2005.
Hundreds of my constituents, since I announced my candidacy for parliament, have contacted me on the streets, by letter, by email and by telephone about this matter. Their overwhelming concerns have been focused on two issues. The first is the detention of families and children in detention centres. I have shared that concern and have expressed it to the minister and other members of the government. The second focus of their concerns has been the inordinate time it takes to process applications.
Those delays wreak great injustice and great hardship. The hardship they wreak is obvious for people who are in detention. Plainly, if someone is in detention pending the outcome of an application, the longer that application is pending the more hardship they suffer.
These long delays—some of them of almost Dickensian proportions—also wreak great injustice and hardship on people who are living in the community who are not under any form of detention, because the longer they live in Australia the more connections they make with the community. They have children and their children go to school. They make friends and connections. If, at the end of the process, it is concluded that their application should be rejected then the hardship of them being removed from Australia is even greater. So there is an enormous interest, both in terms of efficiency and humanity, to have applications dealt with expeditiously. That is why a feature of this package that was announced by the Prime Minister last week is to have the first review, the consideration of the application by the department, concluded within 90 days and then the review by the tribunal, if a review is sought, completed within a further 90 days. Those timetables are important. It would be desirable if they could be even shorter. The complexity of the process that we currently have is not required by any concept of natural justice. It is certainly not required under international obligations and, as I said, it wreaks great hardship.
The most important change for most Australians will be the statement that a minor shall only be detained as a measure of last resort and a provision that enables the minister to arrange that families be allowed—or any person in fact but it is intended to be applied particularly to families—to reside in a place in the community which could be anywhere in the community as opposed to being in a detention centre or a residential housing project. This added flexibility is designed to enable families with children to live within the community with some reporting requirements and, as the explanatory memorandum says, with ‘minimal direct supervision’.
One of the defects of the legislation to date has been a lack of flexibility for the minister to administer the department in a more responsive and humane fashion. Discretion can obviously create concerns if it is misused, but discretion which is accountable is a very valuable combination. There are provisions for reporting by the Ombudsman both to the minister and to parliament. The Ombudsman of course has considerable powers to investigate, to compel witnesses and to compel the production of documents, and his oversight of this program will ensure that the discretions are exercised in a way which is accountable and transparent. If honourable members consider that these discretions have been exercised in a way that is unsatisfactory they will have all of the information before them to challenge the minister and call for those discretions to be exercised in a different way. I am delighted that this legislation has been presented to the House. It is a great step forward, as is the rest of the package announced by the Prime Minister. It will make our immigration system more efficient, more compassionate and more accountable. I know that the overwhelming majority of my constituents in Wentworth are as delighted as I am by these reforms.
Who would have thought that a Turnbull government would be more conservative, more callous, more vengeful, than a Howard government.
But that is what happens when you have a spineless hypocrite in charge whose main concern is his own survival.