Thursday, 25 November 2021
Questions without Notice
My question as to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, Senator Cash. Minister, there are a large number of people in Afghanistan who were issued 449 visas by the immigration minister during the fall of Kabul. These visas were of three months duration and are about to start expiring. DFAT advice during the fall of Kabul and since has been that Afghan nationals in Afghanistan who hold Australian visas should not attempt to leave Afghanistan due to the dangers of such a journey. Many who chose to ignore that advice are now safely in Australia. But those who followed the DFAT advice and stayed in Afghanistan are watching their visas run down, and all your government is doing is advising them to apply for other classes of visa. The 449 visas represent a lifeline for people in danger—a lifeline that you cannot in conscience snatch away. Will the minister do the right thing and extend those 449 visas and preserve the lifeline of safety from the Taliban that was offered three months ago?
I thank Senator McKim for the question. Senator McKim, I hope you would join with me in acknowledging that Australia does have a long and proud history of helping those who are most in need.
In terms of the safety in particular of locally engaged employees in Afghanistan who've supported Australia's mission in Afghanistan, that is, I think you would have to acknowledge—and certainly the Minister for Foreign Affairs has done an outstanding job—
The point of order is relevance. The minister is reading from a pre-prepared brief on locally engaged employees. That was most emphatically not part of the question I asked. I asked specifically about 449 visa holders.
Senator McKim, I am listening carefully to the minister's answer. She has been going for only a very short period of time. Minister, I've given Senator McKim a chance to bring you back to the question, but I am listening carefully.
What I was saying is that it's a high priority of the Morrison government. That is why, on 18 November 2021, the Australian government announced that the subclass 449 visas granted to Afghans who supported Australia's mission in Afghanistan, and their families, who had not yet arrived in Australia, would be extended on an ongoing basis. This includes subclass 449 holders who are certified locally engaged employees of the Department of Defence, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Federal Police, and other persons who have working relationships with the Australian government. It was also announced that those outside the locally engaged employee program who were granted a subclass 449 visa that will expire are to receive priority in Australia's humanitarian and refugee intake.
Very little or no comfort there, Minister. The government has said that it will not return or refoul any Afghan national currently in Australia. But what are you doing to ensure they have durable solutions in their lives—priority access to family reunion and pathways to permanent residency? Will you help these people and their families find permanent safety or will you continue to leave them in limbo with the threat of being returned to Afghanistan hanging over their heads?
Again, Senator McKim, I hope you would acknowledge that, certainly, when it comes to the safety of those who were locally engaged employees, Australia is doing what it can. We have put in place what is a high priority for our government. In that regard, I do commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs for her involvement in this process.
For evacuees who have already applied for a permanent visa, Senator McKim, such as a family, skilled or humanitarian visa, the Department of Home Affairs will continue to process that application—
Again, Mr President, the same point of order as previously—on relevance. This question is not about evacuees, this is about any Afghan nationals who are currently in Australia on temporary visas. That was very clear in the question—very clear. I can't believe that the minister doesn't have a brief on this, by the way.
Senator McKim, you don't need to add commentary. You have brought the minister back to the question. I'm listening very carefully to the minister's answer. Minister I would remind you that there's a requirement to answer the question and I give you the call.
Thank you. Senator McKim, to the extent that I don't have the information you're seeking I will seek to get it. I am trying, however, to provide you with the relevant information that I do have, in particular in terms of the permanent visa pathway for Afghan refugees. As I was actually saying, Australia's migration law changed on 12 November of this year to allow Afghan evacuees in Australia who hold a subclass 449 visa to apply for an offshore humanitarian visa.
Minister, there are just under 7½ thousand Afghan nationals outside Australia who are waiting to have their partner visas processed. These are partners of Australian citizens or permanent residents. Some are in hiding in Afghanistan and at risk of imminent death. That includes, of course, many women and children. Many thousands have been waiting for years for their partner visas to be processed. Will the minister issue them 449 visas so they can come to Australia and be safe while their substantive visas are being processed?
Again, Senator McKim, the government, as you would know, recognises the importance of family reunion for refugees and humanitarian entrants. You would also know that our humanitarian program reunites refugees and people who are in refugee-like situations overseas with their family in Australia.
Once again, on relevance. The question was not about refugees or humanitarian visas, it was about people who are partners of Australian citizens and permanent residents who had applied for partner visas. That is not about refugees or humanitarian entrants. I ask you to draw the minister to the question.
[inaudible] on the point of order before you rule formally. If you haven't, I'll just put it to you that Senator McKim is asking about a completely different class of visa to the class that the minister is speaking about. It is not relevant and I make that submission to you, consistent with our previous submissions over the last few days about your role in calling the minister to the question.
Senator Wong, the minister has only had part of the time to answer the question. I do not believe I have enough information yet to assess whether the minister is being directly relevant. I have allowed Senator McKim to call the minister back to the question and I'm listening carefully. Attorney General, you have the call.
Senator McKim, if I can get any further information for you, I will. You clearly do not want any information in relation to what the Australian government is doing for Afghan locally engaged employees et cetera more generally, but, to the extent that I can get further information from the minister, I'll do that.