Thursday, 12 November 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail
This is terrific. This is the one time of the year that we get the minister to sit here for an hour and actually answer some questions about what's going on. It's a chance, Minister, for you to apologise, to explain and to actually answer some questions of the almost 100,000 Australians who are stuck in your black hole of a department waiting for their partner visa to be processed.
When Labor left office it took about six to 12 months, if you fell in love with someone from overseas, to get a visa. Under this government and this acting minister—God knows what he's up to most days—it now takes two to three years. Unbelievably, in the last two weeks he has taken the waiting times off the website, so nearly 100,000 Australians have no idea how long it's going to take them to be reunited with their loved one. There he is over there having a chat. Minister, you can answer the question: why did you remove the waiting times from the website? What have you got to hide? For every one of those 100,000 Australians desperate to be with the person that they love, how long are they going to have to wait?
This is literally destroying the relationships of Australians. That's not hyperbole. Every week in my electorate office we get calls and we get people knocking on the door to bring their paperwork in who are wanting to know what's happening. People are crying in the foyer and on the phone. It's part of being Australian, to fall in love with someone from overseas. People love who they love. We've got parents who've never met their children, who only know their children on Zoom and WhatsApp. We've got a woman right now, this week, who's 42 and wants to start a family. Her biological clock is ticking. She has no idea now whether she'll ever be able to have children. Nothing from the department.
Since you've been in office you've cut the number of partner visas issued each year. We believe you've used an illegal method. Section 87 of the Migration Act, as you well know, Minister, says that you have no power to cap the number of partner visas issued every year. The parliament did not give you that power, yet you use this administrative mechanism. I ask the minister: have you got legal advice that what you're doing is legal? If so, what does that advice say? Prove to the parliament that what you are doing is even legal. Of course, the government suffered enormous backlash, with nearly 100,000 people furious at this never-ending delay.
The spin sounds good in the budget but the devil is in the detail. The government said—and this is a good step, a small step, but not sufficient—they'll finally clear out some of the mess that's in this black hole of a Department of Home Affairs. That's a good thing, Minister. You've said you'll process about 70,000 visas this year that are overdue, and that's welcome. But what about the thousands of people who applied for a visa offshore who are currently here in Australia waiting? I've got constituents who are now literally booking flights to go to Singapore and then come back, and taking a quarantine space that should be used for a stranded Australian. The minister could fix this now. He could grant these offshore visas onshore by changing the migration regulations, but the government refuses to do so. We've got hundreds if not thousands of Australians taking the quarantine spots of people who should be able to come home.
But I believe the nastiest impact of these budget measures that you've put in place is blatant discrimination. The government said that they might process a few of the offshore visa applications if these people live in a regional area. Minister, why are you discriminating against people who live in cities who fall in love with someone from overseas? Why is the love of someone who lives in a regional area worth more than the love of someone who lives in a city? Minister, could you please tell Australians—he has his back turned! He's not listening to anything. I don't know how he's going to answer a question, but I'll keep going. Minister, could you please tell Australians: what is a regional area? Which cities are not going to be able to have their partners come to Australia if they fall in love?
The other aspect—and this is really nasty discrimination, and the government knows it—is that if you happen to fall in love with someone from a nice, white, Western country you're going to get a visitor visa to come here and wait, but if you happen to fall in love with someone from Africa or the Middle East or South-East Asia or India or parts of China you're in a black hole; you'll never have any hope of being reunited with the person you love. The practical impact is discrimination. With regard to prospective marriage visas, Minister, you said, 'You might get a refund, but you might not.' Can you give a clear commitment to people on when you're going to change the regulations, which you need to do to implement the budget measure, so that these prospective marriage visas can be extended? Are people guaranteed of getting a refund? If so, in what circumstance? The core question for people there is: how long are they going to have to wait?
I'll put another few questions on the record to the Minister for Home Affairs: how many stranded Australians is the minister going to abandon overseas this Christmas? How many stranded Australians abandoned by the minister are medically or financial vulnerable? Why isn't the minister and the Morrison government doing more to help stranded Australians get home, and what is the minister's advice for stranded Australians and their families who are still unable to get home during this deadly pandemic?