Monday, 20 August 2018
Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018. The bill makes a number of amendments to the Migration Act, the Customs Act and the Passenger Movement Charge Collection Act. The bill is quite a broad-ranging bill. It is a miscellaneous bill that covers a whole range of aspects of the department, and I'm going to take the opportunity to talk about various aspects of the department and the administration of it.
The bill clarifies when a noncitizen is in the migration zone and ensures a bar on applying for further visas remains in place if the process of being removed is interrupted. It allows the department to provide information to visa applicants via their online ImmiAccount, reduces the risk of breaching the Constitution where refunds are mistakenly made from consolidated revenue, and establishes an ability to recover merchant fees for services.
Labor will support the passage of this legislation because it clarifies a number of minor issues across the vast range of the Home Affairs portfolio—which used to be called, of course, Immigration and Border Protection. The bill, however, does not explain or account for the Minister for Home Affairs' ongoing mismanagement of his own department.
Schedule 1 of the bill outlines amendments relating to the removal of a noncitizen from the migration zone and ensures a bar on applying for further visas remains in place if the process of being removed is interrupted. Section 198 of the Migration Act allows for the removal from Australia of unlawful noncitizens. Unlawful noncitizens can include those who have breached the conditions of their visa or have overstayed their visa. The removal of unlawful noncitizens is important for the safety and security of all Australians. At times, the removal of an unlawful noncitizen can be aborted or the removal can be complete but the person is not permitted entry into the receiving country. Some examples could be: an aircraft being forced mid-flight to return to Australia, or the government deciding to cancel the removal in response to an interim-measures request from the United Nations. If a situation such as this occurs and the person is required to return to Australia as a direct result, these amendments will allow for that person to have a lawful basis to return to Australia without a visa and ensure that, when such a person does return to Australia without a visa, there's a bar on the person from actually making a visa application for certain visas. In fact, it protects the integrity of the immigration system.
The Department of Home Affairs can already communicate with individuals applying for visas in a number of ways. This includes giving documents by hand, post, email, fax or other electronic means. Schedule 2 of the bill amends certain sections of the Migration Act to allow the department to provide visa applicants information and documents via their online ImmiAccount. The department describes this account as the front door to their online services. I hope these amendments improve the department's ability to process visa applications in a timely manner—something which is becoming increasingly problematic under the current minister, as I will allude to later in this speech.
Schedule 3 reduces the risk of breaching the Constitution where refunds are mistakenly made from consolidated revenue. Section 83 of the Constitution provides that no amount may be paid out of consolidated revenue, except under an appropriation made by law. The department currently operates mainly on a client self-assessment basis for the collection, refund and drawback of duty in an integrated cargo system. Due to this system, there's a chance refunds and drawbacks which aren't allowed are still being made and are currently in breach of the Constitution, particularly section 83. The amendment reduces the risk of breaching the Constitution and also implementing a requirement for the secretary of the department to report in the annual report any payments APS employees are aware of that are made for that financial year.
The amendments in schedule 4 apply to the Passenger Movement Charge Collection Act. Persons seeking to depart Australia are liable to pay a charge known as a passenger movement charge. Currently, the Department of Home Affairs incurs a merchant fee if the passenger pays the movement charge with a credit card. This cost is incurred by the department and, in turn, the Australian taxpayer. The amendments before the House allow the department to add a new paragraph to section 15 of the Passenger Movement Charge Collection Act allowing for regulations to recover this cost incurred by the department. This move is consistent with the fee-for-service that the department recovers for other current statutory portfolio charges, fees and duties which are paid by credit card or by PayPal.
Finally, there are a number of additional minor amendments outlined in schedule 5 of the bill which apply to the Customs Act. These amendments include some wording clarification, such as adding the words 'to an external place' to two paragraphs in section 58A of the act. The purpose of section 58A of the Customs Act is to control the movement of persons and goods between sea installations installed in an adjacent area and the coastal area of Australia or a resources installation attached to the Australian seabed or an external place. The words 'to an external place' were inadvertently omitted by the Customs Legislation Amendment Act. (No. 1) 1999. Of course, I welcome the current coalition government's attempts to fix the drafting errors of a previous coalition government.
The Minister for Home Affairs has been woefully incompetent in managing portfolio responsibilities. As I said, this bill deals with visas. I want to go into visa issues here. One of the consistent complaints I hear, along with many of my colleagues, is how visa processing times at the Department of Home Affairs have blown out under the minister and the Turnbull government. I'm sure that even members on the other side would have received numerous complaints about visa processing times, which their own government has control of. For the month ended 30 April 2017, the processing of 90 per cent of applications for partner visas, subclass 820, took 19 months. For the month ended 30 June 2018, a year later, the processing of 90 per cent of applications for partner visas, subclass 820, took 30 months. That's a blowout. That's an increase of 11 months in the processing time for partner visas. That's shocking and shameful. This means that there are Australians who now have to wait 2½ years and put their lives on hold while their partner's visa is being approved. Partner visas are just one of the many types of visas available in Australia. The minister must explain why visa processing times have slowed down on his watch and what his department's going to do to fix this growing backlog.
Recently, the minister has been beating his chest about cutting Australia's total migration program—the number of permanent migrants settling in Australia pursuant to visas. In the 2017-18 financial year there were 162,000 people granted permanent visas in Australia, including those on skilled visas who want to call this country home or people who've been granted family reunion visas, such as partner visas. This figure was a reduction of 21,000 compared to the previous financial year. It was splashed across newspapers and in the media as a 'cut' to Australia's permanent migration levels.
At the very same time, as of 30 June 2018, there were over 176,000 people on bridging visas in Australia—over 38,000 more people compared to the year before. Bridging visas are temporary visas that allow people to stay in Australia after their current visa ceases, while they're waiting for their next visa application to be processed or whilst they're making arrangements to leave the country. Since the member for Dickson became the responsible minister in 2014, the number of people on bridging visas in Australia has increased, if you compare each quarter, year on year.
Why has the number of people on bridging visas blown out of control under the minister's watch? How many of the 176,000 people currently on bridging visas are waiting for the Department of Home Affairs to process their visa applications? How many people on bridging visas are still in Australia as they wait to become permanent residents? The minister claims to have cut permanent migration, but it seems as though he's playing a game of smoke and mirrors with Australia's permanent migration level and visas in particular.
This bill deals with multiple aspects of the Department of Home Affairs. There have been multiple reports from the ANAO giving scathing indictments of the way the minister has failed to manage his department, the most recent of which was the report The integration of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, delivered on 6 June 2018. The Auditor-General's report found that, of the 33 consultant contracts—more than $1 million in total that were used as part of the department's integration only two were ever evaluated for efficiency. The department even then ended a two-year project worth $17.6 million one year early because it wasn't satisfied with the performance of the firm it hired. Despite being so unsatisfied with the performance of these consultants, the department has already paid 97 per cent of the value of the contract when it was cut short halfway through. This is really an out-of-touch and disgraceful act by the government, spending $17.1 million of taxpayers' money without considering where the money might have been better spent. The same Auditor-General's report found the department's record keeping in a critically poor state, and almost half of the senior executive service officers in the department in July 2015 were no longer there in July 2017.
Bear in mind that the member for Dickson became the responsible minister in December 2014. If the minister can't keep track of his pennies or retain senior executives in the department, how can he be trusted with Australia's domestic security agencies? Of course, in the short time since the minister took the reins of his megadepartment, we've seen political infighting, interference with national security policy, highly sensitive security documents being leaked, departmental jobs outsourced to multinational companies and the termination of the Australian Border Force Commissioner.
As part of the 2018-19 budget, the Treasurer announced that the government was going to spend $7 million to review the Department of Home Affairs. When the review was announced, the department—the pride of the minister and the secretary—was less than five months old. The strategic review of the minister's megadepartment is particularly telling given that there was no review that actually recommended the establishment of the Department of Home Affairs in the first place. The $7 million review was handed down in the same budget as the government stripped $250 million in administration costs from the same department.
The question remains: why did the Prime Minister grant this particular minister, the member for Dickson, such unprecedented powers in the first place, only to put him on notice nine months later? Is the Prime Minister so fearful of losing his job, as we've seen in the media today, that he had to appease at that particular time and continue to appease the member for Dickson? There's not even speculation—
Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I note you've pulled me up in relation to that, and in fact you've got me right to the end of my speech. We're going to support this bill and the minor amendments it implements across various parts of the Home Affairs portfolio. However, the bill does not and will not account for what I think is—and it is quite clear from the reports that I've referred to—a tick-and-flick attitude by the Minister for Home Affairs. We'll always hold the minister to account in his ever-growing list of failures relating to the mismanagement of his department. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to make a few brief remarks on the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018. I will speak to this in more detail when it proceeds to the Senate, because it seems that yet another home affairs bill is passing this House with the opposition's support. As is well known, the Greens did not support the creation of the home affairs department and the concentration of such a significant amount of power under a minister who, frankly, sends a shiver down the spine of most people in this country. The idea of having him having ever more power, including by this bill, is something that most people would find extraordinarily frightening.
Whilst there might be a number of items in this bill that are so-called technical and miscellaneous, as has been suggested by the government and the opposition, one of the things that I didn't hear examined in the contribution from the Labor Party was the provisions in schedule 1 and, in particular, what the Joint Committee on Human Rights had to say about them. As we know, in Australia, because we have this bipartisan approach to offshore detention, which is breaking people and killing people, someone who comes into Australia seeking our help isn't met with an open hand; they're met with a closed fist. We send them into, effectively, prisons. In those prisons, where they are indefinitely detained—some of those prisons were opened by the Labor Party, but the government is continuing to run them—we know it breaks those people. At the moment we're seeing children, some of whom have known no other life than a life in detention, increasingly reaching breaking point and being unable to function, and sometimes their parents are unable to look after them because they're spending their lives locked up as well.
One of the things that this bill does is deal with the situation of people who've come here seeking our help and who are then sent back—because that's what we do now in this country; we don't look after them and process their claims; we try and send them back—they're sent back and then, when they're sent back, they're refused entry and then potentially returned back to Australia again. This bill attempts to deal with some of the situations that might arise there. You've come to Australia seeking help; you get turned away, put on a plane and sent back; the place that they send you back to doesn't want to take you. What happens to you then? What this bill says is: if the plane turns around and brings you back to Australia, you still have no rights.
Think about this for a moment. In the situation where, if you're leaving country A and coming to Australia, and Australia sends you back to country A, and country A then says, 'No, we don't want this person—turn the plane around and send them back to Australia'—you would think that would be a very good indication that they are not safe in country A, if country does not want them. But no: what will happen under this bill is that it's made clear, by reference to the changes to the Migration Act, that when they come back here it's as if we maintain the legal fiction that they were never entitled to anything in the first place and—this is of great concern—they remain barred from coming back and seeking assistance again.
This is why the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights raised the red flag about this bill. You would think that if you come to Australia and get knocked back, and part of the reason for getting knocked back might be that Australia says, 'We think you could actually be safe in your country of origin', if Australia tries to send them back to the country of origin and the country of origin says, 'No' and they come back to Australia, you would think the officials in the Australian department might say, 'Maybe we need to reassess this application. They're not welcome in that third country, after all. That third country does not want to take them, so perhaps we ought to, at a minimum, re-assess their application.' What this bill does is say, 'No, in that situation, you have absolutely no right to put in a further application.' The fact that your country of origin—it might be your country of origin or it might be a completely different country—has said, 'We don't want you,' means nothing to Australia now. That's what this bill says.
On any sensible reading, you would think that that's a relevant factor that should be taken into account when someone makes the decision again. You would think that that person, at the very least, ought to have the right to come back to the Australian government and say: 'Look, you've just tried to send me over to this other country'—perhaps it was the country they came from or perhaps it was somewhere else—'and they've turned the plane around. You ought to reassess my application on the basis of that new information and take it into account, because this is one of the things I've told you. It is the reason I fear for my safety. It's relevant to my circumstances. Take it into account. They've just turned the plane around on me. In the last 24 hours you've tried to deport me, and now I'm back here because there's nowhere for me to go.' You would think that, in that instance, at the very least, you could put in a new application and it would be considered on its merits. You would think that that is probably proof of or evidence towards what that person has been saying in the first place—but, no, under this, there is a statutory bar on applying.
The parliamentary joint committee raised concerns about this. It requested advice from the minister about it and said, 'This potentially does not comply with some of our obligations but, in any event, it's probably not a fair thing to do under Australian law and so we shouldn't do it.' You would think that, in that instance, that's something that the government would consider seriously. Even if you want to keep up the hardline border policy—which we know that Labor and the Liberals do—or even if you want to do it as a stepping stone to trying to become Prime Minister, you would think that, as a basic principle, you would say, 'If there's new information, it should be taken into account.' It's not even necessarily automatically opening the door; it's just saying 'take it into account'. But that's not where we're at. This bill can't be described as simply a technical bill or simply only about miscellaneous matters. The Greens will be giving this matter further examination when it comes to the Senate. At the moment, we can't support this bill.
I want to thank members for their contributions to the second reading debate on the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018. The bill will amend several provisions in the Migration Act 1958, the Customs Act 1901 and the Passenger Movement Charge Collection Act 1978. Amendments to the Migration Act 1958 in the bill will ensure that, when an unlawful noncitizen is in the process of being removed to another country under section 198 of this act and the removal is aborted, or completed but the person is not permitted entry into the destination country and, as a direct result, is returned to Australia, that person has a lawful basis to return to Australia without a visa. It will also allow the Department of Home Affairs to use an online account, such as an ImmiAccount, to provide clients with certain legally required communications and ensure that documents provided in this way are taken to be received at the end of the day on which they are made available through their ImmiAccount.
The bill also amends the Customs Act 1901 to insert a new provision similar to section 15C of the Taxation Administration Act 1953 to allow the Department of Home Affairs to make a recoverable payment to a person to whom it is entitled under the law of customs. It will also ensure that section 58A operates as originally intended to control the movement of persons and goods between sea installations installed in an adjacent area and coastal area of Australia or a resources installation attached to the Australian seabed and an external place. It will also ensure that section 208DA operates as originally intended in relation to the disposal of narcotic-related goods other than narcotic goods.
The bill will also amend the Passenger Movement Charge Collection Act 1978 to insert a new head of power so that regulations can prescribe the charging and recovery of fees for and in relation to the payment of the passenger movement charge or an amount equal to the charge. These amendments will improve systems and processes to benefit the Department of Home Affairs and its clients. I trust this bill will have the support of members, and I commend it to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.