Senate debates

Monday, 27 March 2023

Auditor-General's Reports

Report No. 16 of 2022-2023

5:19 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to speak about the report by the Auditor-General on the management of migration to Australia, specifically the family reunion program. This is an important report on the family reunion program, which was tabled in the Senate this morning.

The Australian Greens welcome any analysis of Australia's very dysfunctional family reunion visa system. We note that the Auditor-General made six recommendations in this report, all of which the Department of Home Affairs has agreed to. Critically, this was more of a technical report that focused on performance and impact measurement, policy and program design and governance and risk management. What the report didn't address was the elephant in the room, which is quotas and the backlogs and waiting times they create.

What Australia needs is a family reunion visa system that is faster, that is fairer and that is more affordable. In February this year, the Greens welcomed the government's decision to scrap ministerial directions 80 and 83. That will provide for the processing of applications for family reunion visas from refugees who arrived in Australia by boat, or at least the more timely processing of those applications. What that means in real terms is that, instead of being kept at the bottom of the family reunion visa queues, people who arrived in Australia by boat to seek asylum now get to move in those queues at the same glacial pace that everyone else gets to move.

It is beyond shameful that in some classes of family reunion visas, people are waiting literally for decades to have their visas approved. The current waiting time for, for example, a remaining relative visa is about 50 years. That's 50 years, colleagues—five decades—to wait for a remaining relative visa. Parent visas currently take about 30 years, on average, to process. Or, if you're wealthy and you can afford the $100,000 for two parents to jump the queue, by payment of $50,000 each, you're waiting about five years for a parent visa. These are extraordinary waiting times. Even partner visas can now take over two years to process.

In the previous parliament, the Greens initiated a Senate inquiry into Australia's family reunion system. The Labor chair of that committee, in the report drafted by the chair and adopted by the committee, acknowledged the problems inherent in the system and called for a review of Australia's family reunion system to improve efficiencies, to reduce complexities, to substantially reduce waiting times and to provide greater transparency for applicants. The Greens, in our additional comments to the report, made a further 11 practical recommendations that the department could implement to achieve those objectives, but to date, we have not seen the action necessary from the current government.

Our family reunion visa system causes social and economic exclusion. It disproportionately impacts women, it disproportionately impacts low-income families and it disproportionately impacts families with children living across multiple countries. We need a family reunion visa system that is faster, fairer and more affordable—one that actually reunites family rather than one that keeps families apart. The question is: what's Labor going to do? The most recent budget provided no comfort at all for people who are waiting for significant reform in this area, and with all signs pointing to an austerity budget looming, the Greens have no confidence that we are going to see the action necessary in this budget.

While I'm at it, we should remove discriminatory tests in Australia's visa system, including tests that leave so many people who are disabled at risk of exclusion from our country along with their families. It's time for change. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.