House debates

Tuesday, 27 February 2024



7:35 pm

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

If you, Deputy Speaker, are one of those people who have followed my late-night adjournment speeches over the years, you would know that more than once I have excoriated the Department of Home Affairs and the previous government for the shocking mess in visa and citizenship processing. More than one million applications were left in that black hole of a department when the Liberals were booted from office. Before they all get hot and bothered and try another little scare campaign on migration, to be clear, a significant proportion of these were people who had already been in Australia for years, hanging around on bridging visas or waiting for their partner visa or another visa to come through to build their lives here. They included husbands, wives or children of Australians, here or stuck overseas, coming to live in the family home. There were hundreds of thousands of people hanging around waiting for months on visitor visas when those opposite left office. There were 300,000 people or more hanging around on bridging visas.

Why? Because the Liberals cut 1,000 staff from visa processing over their wasted decade of dysfunction and decay when they were in office. That's what the budget papers show: 1,000 staff. There were also deliberate policies of discrimination against people from some parts of the world, including partners and children. The number of conversations that those of us in multicultural electorates had to have during the time in government of those opposite! These included conversations with women who were turning 46 and losing their chance to ever have children in this life, because they'd maxed out from IVF. The previous government didn't care. People spent three or four years waiting for a partner visa—just inhuman. People missed funerals, weddings or other family events. Some missed the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones because the previous government cut 1,000 staff from visa processing. This is not an optional extra in a multicultural community. The member for Reid knows this well. We've spoken about it. This is an essential service. It is as essential as Centrelink or any other Commonwealth government service when you need to stay in touch with family, friends and loved ones or you're just an Australian who falls in love with someone from overseas.

I want to now praise the Department of Home Affairs for the terrific work that they've done in clearing these backlogs. Who knew? The government's employed 500 to 600 new staff in visa processing, and guess what? They processed visas and cleared the backlog. Take partner visas. Between 1 July and 31 December last year, there were enormous improvements in partner visa processing: a 54 per cent increase in temporary partner visa finalisations compared to the equivalent period in 2022, and the biggest increase in at least 17 years in permanent partner visa finalisations—a 158 per cent increase compared to the equivalent period. These are people already in the country, so the opposition can't run a migration scare campaign. They're the husbands and wives of Australians and have been here for years, just waiting for the permanent visa to come through so they can get on with their lives with certainty.

Additional resources have also been allocated to the complex onshore team, which is so important to my electorate, particularly the Afghan nationals. Since 1 July 2022, this dedicated team has reduced the oldest part of the caseload—that is, applications lodged before 2016. Imagine that. Seriously reflect on it, I say to those opposite—2016. We've reduced that by 89 per cent, from 3,280 down to 342 applications. So, when we came to government, there were 3,300 people who, under that mob, had been waiting for their partner visas since 2016—disgraceful.

The TPV or SHEV holders have a pathway to permanency, and the vast majority of those have now been granted. Again, these are people who had been in the country for a decade or more—permanent temporary migrants, an underclass in Australian society who were excluded, were never able to see their families and were never able build a life here. It didn't just harm them; it did our country and our society no good to have this permanent shadow underclass. They've been fixed. The majority of them have been granted.

We've made progress on the humanitarian program. For the first time since 2018-19, the humanitarian program was delivered in full. The government has increased the number of places—doing the right thing, given global demand. It's not easy, it costs money, it's not popular in every part of the country, but it's the right thing to do, particularly to bring to safety those people who risked their lives working for Defence and Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan. They risked their lives and their family and loved ones.

I want to compliment the Department of Home Affairs on the progress that they've made and on the difference they're making to people's lives.