House debates

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


Migration Amendment (Repeal of Certain Visa Classes) Regulation 2014; Disallowance

12:49 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Migration Amendment (Repeal of Certain Visa Classes) Regulation 2014 made under subsection 504(1) of the Migration Act 1958 on 29 May 2014 and presented to the House on 2 June 2014, be disallowed.

Australia's migration program has always reflected the values of a diverse multicultural society. We owe a great deal to our migration program in shaping the country we have become today. Equality, respect and understanding are all values which speak to modern Australia. Sadly, they are not the values that are upheld by this government. This government does not believe in respect. This government does not believe in equality. Through the Migration Amendment (Repeal of Certain Visa Classes) Regulation 2014, this government fails to value the contribution of our multicultural communities.

This decision by the Abbott government to axe the non-contributory and other family visa categories shows a reckless disregard for our multicultural communities and, quite clearly, exposes the twisted priorities of this cruel government. Visas that will go under this regulation if it is allowed to stand include the parent visa subclass 103, the aged parent visa subclass 804, the aged dependent relative visas subclasses 114 and 838, the remaining relative visas subclasses 115 and 835, and the carer visas subclasses 116 and 836.

The government made these changes under the cover of darkness. Although the changes appeared in the budget papers, it seems even the minister's department were in the dark when it came to the regulation's implementation. When asked during the Senate budget estimates on 27 May when these changes would take effect, the minister's department meekly answered that they were 'not sure'. Yet, miraculously, a mere week after these comments were made, the Migration Amendment (Repeal of Certain Visa Classes) Regulation was tabled in the House of Representatives, on 2 June. The minister tried to sneak through the repeal of these visa classes, which will hit low-and middle-income earners in multicultural communities and it will hit them hard.

This is a minister who has form when it comes to operating under a thick fog of secrecy. It clearly suits this minister's political objectives to keep the Australian people in the dark about his actions. When we see the cruel impact of a decision by the Abbott government such as this, we know why. It is time that this minister was up-front with the Australian community about his cuts to the visa program. There was no warning. There was no consultation. No-one knew that this was coming. In fact, it appears that even the minister himself is confused by the changes. When Labor asked the Prime Minister in question time on 24 June about why the government is abolishing the carer visa, the minister answered on his behalf:

… current claims for a number of family visas have been suspended until we can work through the backlog.

If these visa classes have only been suspended, why is this government seeking to repeal them by way of this regulation?

It is clear that this minister has no regard for anything outside the border protection part of his portfolio. He loves his slogans so much that he has now decided to turn his focus to 'stopping the parents'. Why does the minister so badly want to stop the parents? In his response to the same question, the minister repeatedly talked about a backlog of claims. While it is true that the popularity of the program led to increased waiting times, the minister's assertion that the government would 'start to work through the backlog of claims' is simply disingenuous. This is demonstrated by the government's own budget papers and was even confirmed during Senate estimates, when the department was asked about the migration program allocations for the 2014-15 financial year.

Like so many other parts of this minister's portfolio, it would seem that his command of the detail around this policy area is in a shambles as well. In fact, the government have reduced the allocation of non-contributory parent visas by 750 places. Likewise, the government have reduced the allocation for the other family category—which is also being abolished by this regulation—with 85 fewer places in the 2013-14 financial year. While these numbers may seem small to some, there is no doubt the reduction will have a severe impact on those who are affected by it.

Anyone who had been hoping to lodge an application for any of these visa classes will now be faced with the ultimate decision of either abandoning any hopes of being permanently reunited with loved ones or paying up to a reported $120,000. Apparently, the minister does not have a problem with this. In fact, he seems proud of the fact that he is deliberately hurting low- and middle-income earners. Why is this minister punishing families that have given so much to this country? Why is this minister punishing families that have worked so hard and given so much to build a life in Australia? Why is this government persisting with a mean-spirited attack on a program that allows families to be reunited with overseas relatives, often elderly parents?

Taking the axe to the non-contributory parent visa is a cruel and heartless attack on our ethnic communities. For tens of thousands of ethnic families spread across our country, including in my electorate of Corio, their hope of being reunited with family will be slammed shut unless they can afford to fork out more than $100,000. One of the main concerns those families that would be affected by this abolition of the parent visa have expressed to me is a feeling of genuine shock and despair as to why the Abbott government would close the door on any hope they have of a reunion with family members. For many in our ethnic communities, there is a strong culture and deep tradition in caring for the elderly. Taking in elderly relatives when they can no longer care for themselves is an ingrained cultural tradition that comes from a place of deep respect.

Under this government, there seems to be no room for these values of caring and compassion. This mean-spirited attack on our ethnic communities says volumes about the cruel and twisted priorities of this minister and the Abbott government. Why is this government turning its back on migrants who have given so much to Australia? Today, Labor puts on the record its absolute opposition to the Abbott government's assault on our ethnic communities. Today, Labor puts on record its absolute opposition to the Abbott government's mean-spirited attack on all those families that have worked so hard to make Australia the wonderful place it is today by cruelly denying them of the ability to share this country with their families.

When I asked the Prime Minister in question time on 24 June why his government was punishing low- and middle-income Australian families, the minister shamelessly responded:

… under our migration program we invite people into the country who are able to come and to pay their way.

The arrogance and the insensitivity from this minister and this government he represents is quite simply breathtaking.

I am sure there are members of the government who represent culturally and linguistically diverse electorates who are, indeed, fearful of the impact the repeal of these visas will have on their future tenure in this place. Labor is extending to you an opportunity to stand up for your electorates and show that you will not allow this minister to summarily dismiss the needs of your communities.

The parent (subclass 103) visa is a permanent visa for people who have children who are Australian citizens, permanent residents or eligible New Zealand citizens who have settled in Australia. This visa requires a sponsor, usually a child or spouse. They must have lived here lawfully for at least two years before the application is made. Applicants have to meet the balance-of-family test, and an assurance of support is also required. Despite the waiting periods, demand in the non-contributory parent category actually increased by more than 50 per cent between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. People understand they have to wait longer if they pay less. But waiting times ought not to be the indication of the success of a program. It is certainly no answer to simply abolish programs either.

Let history show today as the day this government, on a mean-spirited crusade led by the Prime Minister and this minister, abandoned our ethnic families and communities. Let history show today as the day this government cut ethnic communities loose. Any hope of a family reunion is now out of reach for all but those with the means to pay more than $100,000. This is a breathtaking betrayal from those opposite. Cast aside all the chest beating, bluff and bluster and what you are left with is a cruel and heartless government that has today callously closed the door on family visas and, in doing so, slammed the door shut on many families ever being able to look after their loved ones in this country. Today Labor stands for all ethnic families around Australia. Today those opposite have betrayed them, and that is a disgrace.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion for disallowance seconded?

1:02 pm

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. I support this disallowance motion on the Migration Amendment (Repeal of Certain Visa Classes) Regulation 2014 and I congratulate the member for Corio for bringing it to the attention of the House. This disallowance motion has strong community support. I will take just a cursory look at one of the petitions in our community and quote from it. This is from It says:

I have been waiting to finish my studies and get a job so that I can bring my parents to look after them. Just as soon as I was completing my studies, they announce that the visa options are abolished! This is a disaster for me as my whole life plan depended on it. I had much faith in Australia and gave up everything I had to follow this dream. This situation has left me helpless.

This mean and tricky decision by the Abbott government to axe the non-contributory parent visa and other family visa categories—including the aged dependent relative, remaining relative and carer visa categories—is an absolute disgrace. It is now incumbent on those opposite to show where they stand on this. They cannot hide on it now. The minister tried to sneak this through by legislative instrument, but now members opposite have to show their hand. It was a sneaky move.

I quote from Senate estimates on Tuesday, 27 May. The question was asked by Senator Singh of the departmental representative: 'When will these changes take effect?' The answer was, 'I am not sure. That is a matter being sorted out.' These regulations to repeal certain visa classes are dated 29 May, so two days later they had been determined.

Those members of the government who represent culturally and linguistically diverse electorates, including the member for Reid, the member for Banks and the Member for Barton, just to name a few, now have the opportunity to stand up for their communities and support this disallowance motion. Anything less will be a complete and utter betrayal of their communities. These are new members opposite who directly appealed to migrant communities in the lead-up to the 2013 election. I cannot recall them or any other Liberal candidate ever telling their prospective constituents that they would be shutting the door on the non-contributory visa scheme.

The non-contributory parent visa allows a sponsor to apply for their parent to come to Australia. The sponsor is required to have lived in Australia lawfully for two years and must be able to supply a small bond to be refunded after the parent has lived in Australia for two years. This visa category allowed some 2,150 people to be reunited with their immediate family in 2012-13. At very low cost, it gives hardworking migrants the hope and opportunity for their parents to one day join them in Australia.

There can be up to a 13-year wait for this visa to be granted. However, for many low- and middle-income families it is the only way to have their parents join them in Australia. It opens a pathway for these people. Without this visa category the only other option for migrants' parents to come to Australia is through the contributory visa category. The contributory parent visa category can reportedly cost up to $120,000. I can guarantee that the vast majority of people who would be applying for the non-contributory category would not have a spare $120,000 lying around. The government is completely out of touch if they expect these people to pay for this alternative. These sponsors are hardworking people who are already paying their bills and taxes. I know for a fact that many of my constituents whose parents who could have benefited from this visa category will no longer be able to apply for visas for their parents because of this absurd cost. It reflects the unfair nature of this budget.

The benefits of the non-contributory category cannot be discounted by this government. It has already been so beneficial to working and middle-class migrants, including those in my own community. But it is quite clear that this minister and this government do not understand how important these visa categories are for many newly arrived Australians. Indeed, the minister's own performance during question time, as demonstrated by the member for Corio, shows that even he does not appear to understand this decision. In response to a question from the shadow immigration minister on this issue on 24 June, the minister said:

… we have reduced the number of places for the non-contributing scheme. … It has not gone to zero, at all …

This is completely wrong. The minister is either deliberately attempting to hoodwink the public or he is not across his own portfolio.

You even see the minister release an explanatory note that clearly outlines the visa categories that have been savaged:

The effect of these amendments is that persons are no longer able to apply for these visa classes from 2 June 2014.

That certainly sounds like zero to me. This government is betraying ethnic communities through this move, and it is another betrayal to add to their long list since September last year.

It is my strong concern that these measures by the government could be in breach of certain human rights, including the right to protection of the family. This is guaranteed by articles 17 and 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Under these articles, the family is recognised as the natural and fundamental group unit of society and, as such, is entitled to protection.

And I ask the minister this. How is this compatible with our human rights obligations, specifically regarding the right to protection of the family? The opposition, the community and I are appalled at the process that went into producing this amendment. There was very limited community consultation. In fact, most people did not know at all. Those most affected have met this with shock and anger. This government should have made it a primary concern to understand why this category is so important to communities throughout Australia.

One of my constituents, Mandeep Bhatti contacted me regarding this decision. He is one of many impacted in my community. He said:

This all started when the coalition government announced on 13 May 2014 in its budget that new applications for Other Family and Parent (non-contributory) visa categories will be ceased. This announcement was followed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) announcing that the cessation date would be announced shortly.

However suddenly and to most people's complete and utter disbelief, without any further announcement, the Minister for Immigration made the migration amendment on 29 May 2014 which repealed the visa subclasses from June 2nd, 2014, The last day to make a valid application was 30th of May, which effectively gave applicants less than 10 hours to lodge a valid application.

He went on to say:

I think this constitutes as clear abuse of power. When the decision was made on 29 May, why was this not made public by the Department of Immigration on the same day or a day in advance, which would have given a fair go to everyone who had their applications ready and could send applications on time. Making decisions and hiding it from public until the day when the regulation was effective dearly shows the government abused their power.

I personally feel cheated and don't understand the logic of this cancellation in the first place; parents who come on the non-contributory categories are people who have families to care for and provide for them, they don't get or even expect to live on benefits, they are harmless people who just want to join their families.

This is an utter disgrace from a government so out of touch. For the backbenchers opposite there is no flying under the radar now. Your minister cannot save you from voting on this issue. There is no sneaky and underhanded way to get around this any more. All those opposite will get a chance to vote on this issue today and they should know that they will be held accountable in their local communities on how they vote on this disallowance. Their communities will not forget.

I close by quoting from Mary Crock and Kate Bones, who wrote, very validly, in The Sydney Morning Herald under the heading 'Coalition's new visa laws make family reunion a preserve of the rich'. Among other things, they note:

The Immigration Department’s policy manual stated that these visas reflected 'immigration principles relating to reunion of relatives in recognition of kinship ties and the bonds of mutual dependency and support within families'.

This disallowance is about this principle. Is parliament now going to vote against this principle, which we have held so dear for so long in Australia?

I will point out again the very valid issue I mentioned: the immense economic and social benefits in family reunion. Again I quote from the preceding article in The Sydney Morning Herald:

Parents and grandparents can provide childcare, allowing sponsors to go from being one-income to two-income households. They give physical and emotional support. Remittances that would otherwise be sent overseas stay and are spent in Australia. Carers bring huge savings, taking pressure off the welfare and healthcare systems.

I know for a fact that just in my own community, in Blacktown, where the most popular surname is Singh, older migrants shop locally, buy services, contribute to child care, and pick up the kids from school. It is a false economy to suggest that these people are not producing savings and are not contributing to Australian society. This is exactly the kind of Australia we want—one where everyone is contributing. That is why this disallowance is so important here today.

1:12 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

I note the opposition's motion and I note that they have sought to bring much politics to this debate, but they have failed to grasp the reality of the very program they left to the government that succeeded them after the last election. As was flagged in the budget, there was a very clear statement about the policy the government introduced, on 13 May, under which new applications under eight family-stream visa subclasses have ceased. That was the announcement in the budget, and the government then took action to implement the announcement that was in the budget. That is the way these matters are handled every single year when a migration program is announced and is given effect to subsequent to the budget.

What has occurred is that applications have ceased as a result of this regulation, but places under these programs continue to be provided, which is something the opposition refuses to acknowledge. All applications made prior to the change continue to be queued and processed in accordance with existing legislation and policy. The government recognises that these changes will be disappointing to many people, but we are committed to a migration program that meets the needs of modern Australia and that can respond to the applications that are provided. These changes will ensure family migration is focused on the entry of close family member—of parents, of partners, of children.

The repealed visa program simply had become unsustainable, just like the budget. Those opposite seem to take no responsibility for the mess they have left behind, with applications significantly outstripping available places, creating extremely long queues. There are currently over 36,000 applications on hand in the non-contributory parent visa category, and that equates to a waiting list period of 13 years. In the other family category there are 7,600 applications on hand, which equates to around a four-year wait for carers and a 16-year wait in the case of aged dependent relatives and remaining relatives.

The ceased visa classes were ultimately unsustainable and, indeed, given the queues that had developed, it would be inappropriate to accept further applications and give people the false expectation that visas could be granted soon. What those opposite are suggesting is that we should continue to take applications for which people on the parent and aged parent non-contributory visas will pay $4,435 and $5,585, and they will get no result. They will pay that money with an expectation that their visa will be able to be processed and granted, and they will be waiting 13 years. I think that is dishonest—to go and tell people that they have a pathway when the pathway has a waiting time that will see their application either lapse or be unable to be fulfilled. If we are going to create programs and if we are going to run programs then the people who apply for them and who pay thousands of dollars to lodge their application should be able to have an expectation that their visa will be assessed and processed and, if they meet the requirements of the scheme, that they will gain a place. That is simply no longer possible under the way that these schemes have blown out over recent years. It is my sincere hope that I will be in a position to reinstate applications in these places, but once we have been able to get the backlog under control.

The 835 places that have been reduced in the parent and other family program have been increased, I stress, in the partner program, where there are an additional 300 places for partners who are also waiting for visas—partners of those who are seeking those visas; 35 extra children visas; and 500 for the contributory parent scheme. Under the previous government the contributory parent scheme was slashed and the non-contributory parent scheme was increased. This government has restored the arrangement that was in place previously, under the former government. And 1,500 non-contributory parent visas will be provided this year. There will be 500 visas provided for carers and remaining relatives and aged dependent relatives. Those visas will be provided this year. So to suggest that the number of these places is reduced to zero shows a complete lack of understanding by those opposite about how the program works.

We need to work through the backlog of cases to ensure that, for those who have already paid their money, who are already counting on a pathway and have a reasonable expectation that will be considered, we can move through that. But, if you keep adding to the list, then working through the caseload of those cases that are already in the queue becomes more difficult. The implication of what the opposition is putting forward is to make those who have already made those applications, who are already waiting, wait even longer. That would be the consequence.

Once we have been able to work through the backlog in the caseload, I would give priority first to ensuring we can get an increase in the number of carer places that are going into this program and to ensure that that is done. But we currently have a four-year wait on those carer visas. I want to see that cut significantly. I want to be able to ensure that we can recommence the carer program with suitable places to make sure that, when people make an application for a carer visa—and I stress that that visa application costs them $3,515—and pay that money to have a carer come under the program, then they have a reasonable expectation that will be handled expeditiously and that there will be a result to their application.

Parents will still be able to migrate to Australia under the contributory parent visa program, and we support the contributory parent scheme. Those who have worked their entire life in this country and have entitlements to benefits as a result of their living and working and paying taxes their whole life in this country can enjoy those benefits. Under the non-contributory parent scheme, people access those benefits more or less immediately. It is our view that, if we are going to have a balance in these programs, then we have put the balance towards the contributory parent scheme, which enables those who are coming to be reunited with family to be able to make a contribution to the support and entitlements they would receive when coming to Australia.

Those opposite disagree with that position, and they are entitled to do that. When they were in government they reversed this. They cut the numbers of places for contributory parents, which has a much-reduced waiting list time of 12 months to two years, and they decided to decrease those places and increase the places for the non-contributory parents, which places a cost on the taxpayer.

The overall saving to the budget from what has been done in this year's migration program is $31 million, a saving that was necessary to address the budget mess that was left to us by the previous government. What these initiatives do is address the budget mess and also the immigration mess not just on our borders with people smuggling but in the administration of these programs, which has seen these caseloads and queues grew longer and longer and longer.

It is important that we run a program that is fair, that we run a program that is affordable and that we run a program that is efficient, and it is important that people can have a reasonable expectation that they will be able to make an application and actually get an answer. What those opposite are doing is holding out a false hope, a false promise. They are going out into all of the electorates and saying: 'You can make your application, but don't even think about actually getting an answer to it. Hand over your $5,000. We'll take your money. But don't expect to see a parent visa any time soon within the next 13 years.' That is the inconvenient truth that those opposite will not confront. They are going to ask for people's money and then not give them an answer for 13 years. I just think that is dishonest, and I was not prepared to allow that process to continue. I think we need to get on top of the backlog.

We will continue to provide the places year in, year out for all the categories of visas for which applications have now ceased. We will continue to provide those places and we will continue to work through the long queue, which is up to 16 years in some of these visa class cases. We will continue to ensure that we can get the program back on track. But, if the opposition wants to simply whip up fear and play politics and play what is effectively a race card on this issue, then I think that is very disappointing.

We saw it last year when they were in government on the issue of 457 visas. They attacked the 457 program and they refused to acknowledge the incredible contribution made by 457 skilled migrants, particularly by those who go on to become permanent residents. The greatest number, in terms of the growth of that program, are in the Indian population, who the member for Greenway pretends to suggest she has some empathy for. She was not supporting them when it came to 457s last year. She was happy for the previous government to slag and bag the 457 program and skilled migrants then and now she pretends to be in favour of migrants. She is a fraud.

1:22 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the motion to disallow the Migration Amendment (Repeal of Certain Visa Classes) Regulation 2014. The other family category of visa has now been cut by the Abbott government. This category included carer visas for people who need a family member as a carer and who have demonstrated that they cannot access sufficient care in Australia, sole remaining relative visas for someone with no family anywhere in the world but in Australia and aged dependent relative visas, which are for elderly non-parents overseas who are dependent on sponsors in Australia. Parent visas have also been cut, so now the only parent option is for people who can pay $50,000 per parent or $100,000 for two parents, which are the contributory parent visas.

My office has worked with many Melbourne constituents who under these cuts would remain separated from family members. We have spoken with constituents who now will not be able to sponsor family members who are in very difficult circumstances overseas to come to Australia. We have advocated for other constituents who are facing long, long waits to be reunited with loved ones. This comes on the back of actions by the previous government, where the Labor government cut the number of other family visas in 2013-14 from 1,285 to 585. Because of these cuts, already long waiting times got even longer. Carer visas for people to care for Australians in high need went from two years to three years to around five years and sole remaining relative visas and aged dependent relative visas went up to over 15 years.

One thing that the minister did not say in his contribution is that the government says it is still processing applications, but it has cut the number it is processing per year from 585 to 500. It may be that the already long waiting queues take even longer. Ultimately, it is very clear that for people who are here it is much better for them, it is much better for those close to them and it is much better for the Australian community if they are able to have their carers and families here. That is why the Greens will continue to advocate for an expansion of the numbers that are being processed in these categories and for them to be processed much more quickly, so that the waiting times that we have seen under previous governments and under this one are shortened.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be agreed to. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133 the division is deferred until the conclusion of the discussion of the matter of public importance.

Debate adjourned.