Immigration Bill First Reading

The Green Party, of course, appreciates that the Government has put a lot of effort into rewriting New Zealand’s immigration policy — and a lot of the rewriting is overdue in terms of updating procedures. But the Green Party will be voting against this Immigration Bill, because it has very serious flaws in it. It gives more powers to the State and takes away due process and justice in the system.

In the discussion on this bill since it was tabled in this House, we have concentrated on two areas. One of those areas is privacy and the intention to bring in the use of more biometric procedures at airports. Of course, the Government sort of plays it two ways. Often it says, when under criticism, that it is just future-proofing the legislation and that it has no plans, yet, to introduce biometrics. But if we look at the explanatory note of the bill we can see that there is a clear intention to bring in biometrics and to compete with other nations in seeing which one can have the most biometric procedures at its border. I think that at the moment countries like America are in the lead with their fingerprinting. Under this bill New Zealand can get into that action by having not only fingerprinting and facial recognition systems but by having iris scans.

From the reaction I have had since the bill was tabled, I do not think that New Zealanders want to go down the track towards being a surveillance society. There is a huge feeling amongst New Zealanders that people should not go through all that checking unless they really need to. The obvious point is that we are not, at the moment, being overrun by terrorists, and the security danger can be exaggerated. If Air New Zealand keeps flying troops to Kuwait and Iraq, we might have more problems, but at the present time and in the foreseeable future, New Zealand, if it presents itself as a peaceful country, will not have the sorts of security situations where we could even think about bringing in those levels of surveillance measures. Generally, when these types of measures are brought in they make people more frustrated and angry at the Government and are more likely to produce terrorists than to stop them.

The other thing we were worried about in terms of due process is the trend in legislation, not only in New Zealand but around the world, to increase the power of the State to determine people’s futures, particularly in relation to new migrants or refugees, and take away their right to due process. I think that the bill’s provisions for the use of classified information fall into that category. Usually, when people think about classified information, they say: “Oh, that’s the stuff that the intelligence agencies like the Security and Intelligence Service, or the Government Communications Security Bureau have.” If one asks the average person, that is what he or she will say. In fact, under this bill, anything that comes from overseas, such as from the American post office, immigration, customs, or dog pound people — as long as it comes from overseas — that the overseas agency thinks should be kept confidential, will all be defined as classified information. That overseas agency, whatever it is, can stop it from being made public under this legislation.

Of course, most of the determination of immigration, of refugee, cases is done on the basis of information from overseas — from countries that people have visited or lived in. All of that information can be kept away not only from the person being affected — the immigrant or refugee — but from the person’s lawyer. The Government has a bit of a guilty conscience on this, so it has suggested the use of the special advocate procedure that has been tried a bit overseas and is currently being tried on the initiative of the Inspector-General in the Ahmed Zaoui case that is going on right now. We can see the problem with that special advocate situation, in that the special advocates in the Zaoui case, or overseas, or under this bill are not appointed by the person affected; they are appointed either by the judge who is running the case — as in the Ahmed Zaoui hearing — or by the Government, or by a tribunal. But they are not appointed by the person.

In this bill the key point is that once the special advocate sees any of this classified information, and, as I said, it can include any information from overseas, the advocate is not allowed to talk to the person affected, about that information, at all. The advocate cannot get hints of what line of defence to run on the basis of these accusations. It is a little bit easier in the Zaoui case, because a lot of the stuff has been in the public domain and the two special advocates probably know a bit about the background. The special advocate in this case will come along, look at this classified information, and will not really know what the counter-points might be and what questions to push. So it is a very unfair justice system.

The bill gives extended powers of search and entry, and although arguments could be made for increasing powers in certain circumstances, I do not think the case has been made strongly enough. The bill extends the initial detention time from 72 hours to 96 hours — 4 days — in prison, for someone like that coming into the country. It extends the powers of the Immigration Service to detain a person for up to 4 hours. Auckland International Airport is the gateway to this country, and I would have thought we would want our immigration officers to be the friendly face of New Zealand. Sure, the police and customs officers are there and have certain powers, but I think immigration officers should be welcoming. If we give them the power to detain someone for 4 hours, without customs officers or police being around, that will colour the whole situation. So immigration officers will be objects of fear for new migrants, to a certain extent. We do not want that; we want them to be the friendly face.

The bill streamlines the residence, removals, deportations, and refugee tribunals into one body. The Government says that is good, because it streamlines everything. The Refugee Status Appeals Authority, which has a very good record, is based on a whole raft of refugee law — for example, the 1951 refugee convention is a very specialist area — so why dissolve all of that into one appeal body? There is no requirement for this combined body to have much specialisation in it. At least overseas, in some of the tribunals, they have certain requirements for expertise whereas we require a judge and perhaps some other judges, but have no requirement of them to know anything specific about immigration law. Hopefully, they will be chosen on the basis of that knowledge, but there is nothing to bring into that tribunal and appeal system the expertise that we have seen in the Refugee Status Appeals Authority.

Another part of the process is the delegation of ministerial power to officials in terms of a final determination in exceptional circumstances. Of course, Clayton Cosgrove, who is doing that job as Associate Minister of Immigration at the moment, would welcome any delegation, I suppose, because he comes into this House with huge piles of appeals he has to go through. I think we have to keep very much in our system the fact there are a whole lot of exceptional and humanitarian systems, and the Minister’s discretion has been very important in allowing that discretion to be exercised properly.

I am a bit worried that the whole thing is an official’s wish-list. Officials are given more power, more cases, etc. It is all so unnecessary, too, because why can we not give people a fair go? There is not a super-security situation whereby all this information has to be kept “classified”. New Zealand First may say otherwise, but there is not a great flow of refugees pouring in. No boat people get here, because we are too far away, unless they have a really big boat, in which case if they can afford one they will probably not want to come here. The only people who come here arrive on a plane, but with the Advance Passenger Processing system, with America, Australia, Singapore, and so on, it is very hard for anyone who does not have the full rights, papers, permission to come here, and everything else, to arrive here. So we get very few asylum seekers, compared with European countries, etc., where they have land borders and easy access. There is just a dribble of refugees at the moment, so I do not think we should get all upset about security and classified information.

Yesterday in question time in the House Peter Brown of New Zealand First asked how many people currently detained have been detained for over 3 months, and was surprised to hear it was only four. New Zealand First may have the image of all these people pouring in. I must say that what is happening to the detained Iranians at the moment is a shame, because they have not committed any crimes. One of the four detained is in Auckland hospital and in his 35th day of a hunger strike. I went to see him on Monday and he was lying on his bed and could not even get up to greet me. The next day, when his lawyer and main supporter went in, they found him handcuffed. How humiliating and inhumane! There has been no real apology for that, and I will be following that matter up. It is not directly the responsibility of the Minister of Immigration, in the sense it is the Department of Corrections that puts the handcuffs on and has the two guards on the door of the hospital bedroom when obviously the man is not going anywhere. This is bureaucracy gone mad, humiliation gone mad. I will be following it up. The Immigration Service’s view is relevant in that case because it is in control of the destiny of the person, and it should ask the Department of Corrections why the heck it put that guy in handcuffs.