House debates

Monday, 30 November 2020


Migration Amendment (Common Sense Partner Visa) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:16 am

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

To be honest, Mr Speaker, I never wanted to have to introduce this bill.

The minister has had the power to fix these issues and should have done so months ago with the stroke of his pen, by amending the Migration Regulations.

But, mysteriously, on Saturday night—just before I introduce this bill, a Deidre Chambers style coincidence and after a week of negative media stories—Minister Tudge panicked and sneakily updated the Home Affairs website to say he would do something in "early 2021".

This is just more spin! Typical of this hopeless government. Make an announcement with no action, and hope the problem goes away.

This is too little, too late. Parliament could take action today, by passing this very simple bill.

All it does is allow people, who are already in Australia, to stay here with their partners and loved ones and have their offshore partner visa granted in Australia, instead of having to fly overseas and back again in the middle of a pandemic.

Literally, that's it. That's all this bill does.

The minister's current regulations contain what could be called the FOFI rule—fly out, fly in.

The rule requires applicants for partner visas who originally applied offshore, who are ALREADY in Australia, to leave Australia for their visa to be granted.

Traditionally people took a quick trip to New Zealand or Bali for the weekend and come back when their visa was ready to be granted.

Yet we are now in the middle of a global pandemic! We don't want people taking risky trips overseas if they don't have to.

Transiting through international airports and hotels, then flying back to Australia to quarantine.

Right now, over 36,000 Australians are still stranded overseas, desperate to come home.

The Prime Minister keeps making announcements about them—he promised they'd be home by Christmas—but it's all spin. The queue just gets longer.

The marketing department over there that masquerades as a government blames the states and quarantine capacity.

Nothing is ever the Prime Minister's responsibility. He's just a powerless and impotent little man, a daggy dad in a baseball cap—until there's credit to be snatched then he pops up on TV and wraps himself in the flag.

Yet, the Morrison government is itself wasting precious quarantine places, by forcing the partners of Australian citizens—people who are already safe here in Australia—to make risky and expensive return trips overseas just so the computer will spit out their partner visa.

This bill will stop this madness immediately, today.

Preserving quarantine spots for those Aussies still stranded overseas who are desperate to come home for Christmas.

And saving people from risking their health and exposure to COVID-19 overseas, and trashing their savings on an expensive, pointless trip.

The government has known about this problem for months and I honestly don't know why the minister has failed to fix it. Seriously. It's not rocket science even for this mob.

But after a year of failure all we get now is a vague announcement on a Saturday night that he might start thinking about it next year. It's government by spin.

Instead of providing certainty to the thousands of Australians and their loved ones who have waited years for their visas, Saturday's announcement raises more questions than it answers. Who will be eligible? When will they be eligible? What happens in the meantime? Do they renew their visitor visa? Who's going to pay for their renewed health and character checks?

Goodness only knows what Minister Tudge has been up to, but it certainly isn't fixing the basic problems in his portfolio.

The minister should know that not everyone finds love on the dance floor or in their office or in the city or region they grew up in. Not everyone finds love in Australia.

It is quintessentially Australian to fall in love with someone from overseas and bring them here to build a life.

This bill seeks to stop other couples from having to go through what Amelia and Bowie went through.

They met in 2016, they got married and, effectively, have lived together in Australia for a year now while they've waited and waited and waited and waited for Bowie's visa to be granted.

They finally heard a few months ago that Bowie's visa was ready and they could formally start their life here in Australia. Bowie would have work rights and be able to contribute fully to the community and to their family, but he had to go outside Australia to get his visa.

So, a bit over a week ago, Amelia and Bowie wasted over $6,000 on a return trip to Singapore for Bowie, just so the government would grant his visa. The plane had literally been in the air for less than 40 minutes when the email notifying approval of Bowie's visa came through to Amelia, but he still had to go on to Singapore because of this government's failure to act.

Right now, as I speak, Bowie is hanging out, by himself, in quarantine in Perth. That's one less quarantine place for a stranded Australian.

Aside from the risk of contracting COVID, travelling internationally is too expensive for most couples now.

Amelia actually sold her flat, her only asset, to fund Bowie's partner visa application, his visitor visa fees, the migration fees, the legal fees and now this trip. They've spent over $37,000. They have literally trashed their savings, and start their lives together in debt.

But finally with this visa Bowie will have work rights and be able to fully contribute.

I ask the minister: will couples like Bowie and Amelia be compensated for your failure to act for an entire year?

Will the minister have the courage to come in here and stand up in parliament and apologise to untold hundreds or thousands of couples who've been in exactly that situation?

Many couples can't afford to spend thousands of dollars to get their partner visa granted; they've already spent over 20 grand on the visa and legal fees alone.

There are numerous people in my electorate in this situation.

I've heard from couples where the partner is from the UK, being forced to fly out on a round trip to the UK, risking COVID and wasting $15,000 on a business class airfare, which are the only seats available that you have any hope of getting home on—while thousands of Aussies are stranded in the UK, wanting to come home and use that quarantine place.

I've written to the minister for months. I've spoken to the assistant minister. I've spoken to many government ministers about this for months. They knew about this problem, yet they did nothing until Saturday night when they got a negative media story and knew this debate was coming on.

Some of the most common and worrying cases are for couples where the partner's from India.

One couple, let's call them Jatinder and Amrit, are in an impossible situation. Jatinder's pregnant and their first child is actually due in two days, this Wednesday. She was told on 9 March that her visa was ready to be granted, but she's been unable to leave Australia.

Initially, the COVID border restrictions prevented her flying out, then they couldn't get flights and now she's too pregnant to leave. Jatinder's about to give birth to an Australian child. She's on a bridging visa she doesn't need to be on.

To date this couple have spent $12,000 on visa related expenses. Unless the rule is changed, Jatinder and their newborn baby will be flying to a country which recently recorded over nine million COVID-19 cases, before flying back to Australia to spend two weeks alone with her baby in quarantine. It's ridiculous.

Others have no options to leave Australia.

Either their passports don't let them travel to the few places you can fly to at the moment, there are no flights, they can't afford it or they have commitments—normal life stuff that prevents them from going overseas.

These couples are stuck in an ongoing nightmare of uncertainty, trapped in this endless loop of applying for visitor visa after visitor visa, coughing up more money to the Department of Home Affairs just to ensure they remain in Australia lawfully.

As time passes, they have to keep forking out more money: not just for more visas but to ensure their documents are up to date, because if you get a police check or a medical clearance it only lasts for a few months. So while the governments goes round in circles making announcements, there are thousands of people in Australia having to fork out more and more money.

I ask the minister: will you compensate the many Australians who've wasted an extra $7,700 to lodge a second partner visa application onshore to be confident that, eventually, in a few years from now, they'll get the visa?

This has been a money-making scam by the government.

The minister's announcement is too little, too late for thousands of Australians and their loved ones. It's all announcement and no delivery.

Unless the minister acts this week, precious quarantine places will still be wasted, punishing the 36,000 Australians stranded overseas.

The minister may well claim this bill is now redundant and that I and the Labor Party can declare victory for our months-long campaign for pushing him to finally take action.

But an announcement is not taking action. It's just more spin and marketing.

The bill, of course, only deals with one small part of the problem: this huge mess that the government has made of the partner visa program through its illegal delays in processing applications.

There are nearly 100,000 Australians who've been affected, and tens of thousands are still separated right now from their loved ones with no hope in sight. Their application has been swallowed by the black hole that is the Department of Home Affairs. What about the 300 people on prospective marriage visas? When are they going to be with the person that they love? I've been deluged by cases of women in their late 30s and early 40s, literally telling me their biological clock is ticking and they will never be able to come to Australia and start their family. If government members want to smirk about that, I will show them the emails. These are real people with real lives. It's not just an academic question.

Where's the announcement from the minister that he'll fix those issues?

The Prime Minister should have sacked this minister months ago and found someone to do the job. So, on behalf of couples like Amelia and Bowie, Jatinder and Amrit and thousands more, I commend this bill to the House and call on the minister to act this week. (Time expired)

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

An opposition member: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Debate adjourned.