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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7575

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (12:14): I speak in support of both the Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge Bill 2012 and the Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012. This legislation was in fact referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. The chair of that committee and the deputy chair in presenting our response to the referral to the committee spoke on these bills on Monday. Effectively, the committee recommended passage of the legislation. It did so after a brief inquiry in which information was sought from the department. In fact, some 13 questions that go into the very detail of the contents of this legislation were raised with the department, and the department kindly responded to those questions and enabled the committee to prepare its response. Having listened to the members opposite and in light of the recommendations of the committee, I have no doubt whatsoever that this legislation ought to be supported.

The legislation deals with a couple of critical matters. The visa charge bills amend the Migration Act 1958 to introduce a charge for requests for evidence of a visa issued as validation of noncitizens' immigration status and entitlements in Australia. The Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge Bill 2012 introduces a charge with the maximum limit of $250 for requests for visa evidence and a method for indexation of that charge. The Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012 provides for regulations to implement and calculate charges for different forms of visa evidence and visa classes. The new charge is intended to encourage visa holders to use the department's online visa entitlement verifications system, otherwise known as VEVO, for visa validation. The measure will also support immigration processing during the transition to labels-free travel based on electronic verification. Currently visa evidence is provided without a fee which imposes an administrative and cost burden on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

In his first reading speech, the minister made the point that during 2011 some 1,365,000 requests were made for onshore and offshore visas. That was made up of 455,000 onshore and 910,000 offshore visa requests. That is a lot of applications. Further, the processing of these visa evidence requests is the highest volume service conducted at immigration counters both in Australia and overseas. Their requests may be made at the time of the visa being issued or later, and the visa evidence is issued without cost to the visa holder. It is effectively to address those issues that this legislation is being brought in because once the legislation is brought in I have no doubt that it will discourage the reliance on visa labels, which are being sought right now by people who apply for visas. Whilst I can understand why those visa labels are being sought because in some cases they need to be used as additional proof of people's status, the reality is they do not need them anymore, particularly if they go to the online visa verification system that is being proposed. That is the way of the future, so it makes absolute sense to start saying: 'You have an alternative. If you want to continue to apply for visa labels then because of the cost burdens that are being imposed on the department, it is only fair and reasonable to seek to recoup the costs that are being incurred by government for the provision of that service.' My understanding is that the changes proposed will be implemented over the next 18 months and it is not the case that in all cases fees will rise. I understand that in some cases—perhaps relating to students and other cases that I am aware of—the fees in fact might be either waived or reduced.

I wanted to address one of the matters that was touched in the response to the committee's inquiry by the deputy chair in her remarks to the chamber which related to the cost of the visas. The department's advice to the committee revealed that the $250 limit and the highly differentiated fee structure are in place as a framework for the upward adjustment of the $70 charge. I want to specifically quote a section of the committee's report in respect of this. Section 3.35 says:

It is proposed that the Migration Regulations will be amended to initially set the VEC at $70 for the provision of evidence in the form of labels. The Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012 provides that the Migration Regulations will be able to set different charges for different circumstances and classes of visa, and for a method of calculation to be developed to allow this. This has been included to give flexibility to increase the $70 in some circumstances if it does not succeed in reducing reliance on visa labels. These provisions also enable the charge to be set at a higher rate, if required, to process a label quickly outside of normal processing times.

That is a direct response from the department to a question that was raised by the committee. Section 3.39 of the committee's report says:

The current Visa Application Charge cap is around four times the price of the average migration fee, and this was used as a guide when setting the limit for the VEC, with $250 being just over four times the then proposed VEC of $60. It was not proposed to the Government that the VEC cap be charged - it is a cap on price to prevent arbitrary taxation, not a price itself.

I use those quotes to try and explain how the fees were arrived at, given the comments that were made in the committee's discussions. There was also some questioning of how the $90 million amount was arrived at. My understanding is that the amount is actually $600 million, and perhaps the minister, being here, might like to comment on that. That would in turn explain the difference in the drop that is expected as a result of these new processes coming into effect.

In closing, there is every likelihood that in the future we will see more and more people apply for visas to this country for a whole range of reasons, not least of which is that international travel is becoming easier and easier as the years go by. For those reasons, it makes good sense to have in place a system that is more efficient and recoups the cost that the government will undoubtedly incur as a result of that increased travel. I commend the legislation to the House.