House debates

Monday, 14 October 2019

Private Members' Business

Immigration, Citizenship

10:36 am

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | Hansard source

The road to demise started back in 2013 when Mr Morrison became the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and approved the integration of immigration with customs and the creation of the Australian Border Force. Who could forget the brute from Bronte's on-water matters press conferences? This is where he mastered the art of saying nothing loudly. Although immigration staff referred to the integration as the 'takeover', the complete takeover occurred under Minister Dutton's control at the end of 2014. At the time, The Canberra Times wrote that the adoption of the customs culture and militarisation of the organisation was so alarming that it prompted 'the public service's greatest executive brain drain since the 1980s'.

In 2017, after 72 years, the word 'immigration' was dropped from the department's title, and the department was sucked into the vortex of home affairs. Have things improved? The results of a staff survey conducted in May this year showed that thousands of public servants want to quit home affairs. Staff experience low morale, poor engagement and high levels of bullying and harassment. Across all of the 97 APS agencies that were surveyed, home affairs ranked last for engagement, 94th for wellbeing and 91st for innovation. Before you think that the results of this survey are a one-off, they're not. Ever since the takeover, the morale of our professional immigration officers has been consistently low.

How does a global organisation that was once tasked with the mission of nation-building and whose employees had been found to be some of the most resilient in the public sector get to this low point? Surely morale that is so consistently low must affect productivity. But the staff turn up each and every day. They may not love their environment, but they're dedicated to their work and to this nation.

How has this ungrateful government shown their appreciation for the hard work the department does in implementing their policies? The first thing they did was refuse to give staff a wage increase for six years. They also shut down visa processing functions at approximately six overseas offices. They outsourced contact centres in Australia and overseas. They centralised the parliamentary liaison units, diminishing the service to parliamentarians. They gutted client services in each state. In Queensland, they moved their Cairns office to the airport, where the department conduct border force activities.

The visa processing function in Cairns has gone. It was once a vibrant service that processed working holiday maker visas and citizenship applications and provided services to international tourists and humanitarian entrants who were settled in Cairns. You can't get a face-to-face immigration service in Queensland anywhere north of Brisbane apart from the internet—and you can imagine how friendly that is! Today, the department has nearly half the visa-processing staff it had prior to the takeover and yet the number of applications to be lodged and processed has not decreased. In fact, the government claim the projected number of visa applications they expect to receive is an argument for privatisation. So now they have virtually decimated the immigration component of Home Affairs the government want to hand over control of one of our most vital services to the highest bidder, to their Liberal mates, perhaps. They want to privatise Australia's visa processing system. It is disgraceful. They've made the staff miserable and overworked and now they want to actually sell off their jobs. How low can this coalition government go under Prime Minister Morrison?

Under Minister Dutton's scheme, private providers will be given licence to run Australia's visa system as a for-profit business. This will lead to more cuts to services, increased visa fraud and more data security risks, as mentioned in the member for Scullin's speech. Visa processing is an essential part of keeping Australia safe. Visa processing should be owned, managed and operated by the Australian government. It should be run by professional Commonwealth staff who are well resourced. These Commonwealth public servants should be given all of the necessary resources to operate effectively and make Australia safe. Australia has come a long way since the immigration department kicked off in 1945, but sadly we are at a point where we have a coalition government with a Liberal ideology that wants to sell off and compromise our border security. It is also why we've seen 90,000-odd people arriving at airports under this government and under this hopeless minister.

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