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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7577

Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (12:21): I also rise to make a brief contribution to the Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge Bill 2012 and Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge (Consequential Amendment) Bill 2012. As indicated by my colleague the shadow minister for immigration and citizenship, the coalition do not oppose the bills. As explained by the explanatory memorandum, the intent of the bill is to amend the Migration Act 1958 to introduce a charge for request for evidence of a visa issued has validation of a non-citizen's immigration status and entitlement in Australia. The Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge Bill 2012 introduces a charge with a maximum limit of $250 for a request for visa evidence and a method for indexation of that charge, and the Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge (Consequential Amendment) Bill 2012 also provides for regulations to implement and calculate charges for different forms of visa evidence and visa classes. The reasoning behind these changes is to encourage visa holders to use the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's Visa Entitlement Verification Online, VEVO.

The current situation is that visa evidence is provided without a fee, which imposes a huge administrative and cost burden on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. The idea is that if a visa holder has to pay a fee to get a hardcopy of the visa evidence, they will be far more likely to use VEVO than request the hardcopy evidence. In the second reading speech for the Migration (Visa Evidence) Charge Bill 2012, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon. Chris Bowen MP, advised that one-third of visa holders request hardcopy evidence of their visa and during 2011 this amounted to a staggering 1.365 million requests, broken down into 455,000 onshore and 910,000 offshore. The coalition are supportive of the concept of ensuring greater efficiency within the department through the promotion of an online mechanism. The Joint Standing Committee on Migration conducted a brief inquiry into the particular bill. One of the aspects the committee sought advice on was the consultation undertaken by the department to assess all the negative impacts on particular sectors. It was particularly interested in the transition to a visa label free travel. As the committee report states:

In addition to the request made at the time of issuing a visa, visa labels may also be requested at a later time. Resident non-citizens may make these requests for a range of reasons such as the perceived need for evidence for work entitlement, Medicare Centrelink benefits, for proof to third parties or foreign embassies of the right to return to Australia, or simply as a souvenir.

Additionally, offshore visa applicants may require hardcopy visa evidence to comply with local laws to exit or transit to another country. In these circumstances a migration officer may make the request on their behalf or if there are special requirements, such as for processing humanitarian visas.

The Department noted that while the number of visa requests seems high, requests for hard copy evidence accounts for only one third of the total visa caseload. The remaining two thirds of the visa caseload are processed without a hardcopy visa label electronically.

So essentially the rationale is that if two-thirds of the visa holders can use the VEVO then surely a large percentage of the other third can also be encouraged to by introducing a charge. The department also advised that the pricing model introduced under visa pricing transformation is consistent with international benchmarks for visa and associated services. I did have concerns about how these charges might affect adversely or disproportionately certain categories of visa holders or those from different countries where they have to have a hard-copy visa. But, as the committee report said, in evidence the department gave reassurances that a growing number of countries are now allowing nationals to exit or transit their country without a visa label. DIAC is also actively promoting the message that Australia does not require a person to have a visa label in their passport to travel to, enter or remain in Australia. I am really pleased to see, however, that it is proposed that the charge be waived for humanitarian entrants, among other specified groups.

The other aspect of the bill that I have a concern with was the modelling, particularly the modelling the department used to predict the revenue that would be generated and the subsequent decrease in the use of hard-copy visa evidence. The department told the committee that the initial decline of 40 per cent was modelled, increasing to a 55 per cent drop over four years. I was really pleased that the department was able to come back to us with those figures. The committee and the coalition accept the department's explanation, and I commend the bill to the House.