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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6462

Dr STONE (5:50 PM) —The coalition is very concerned about this budget, which was brought down a few weeks ago now, particularly with respect to our ongoing problems of border security—the fact that this government has slashed resources, in particular staff and financial resources, and the fact that it is not addressing the pull factors that are putting people smugglers back into business and, therefore, exposing people to huge danger at sea. We are concerned that there is now a real contraction of new settlement services. It seems so ironic that, on the one hand, this government has made it possible for another 800 or so to come to our shores via people smugglers, while, at the same time, it is contracting resources for those in the country to learn English. For example, the AMEP budget has been severely slashed. It is also contracting the access to citizenship test training. We cannot understand why that would be the case. This budget seems to be a knee-jerk reaction; it is how Labor is trying to address its ballooning billions of dollars of debt. It has thrashed about and plucked savings out of areas, which, quite frankly, puts Australia at risk.

Let me give some more detail of this. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has been asked to provide an efficiency saving of $120.6 million over four years. They have also been asked to cut a further 416 staff from the department in 2009-10. This is on top of the 210 staff cut in the last budget. We are also told that there is to be a contraction of resources for contractors. In particular, when you start to slash staff from overseas posts and replace them with cheaper in-country staff, unfortunately you expose applicants for visas to Australia to the cultural, sectional interests and prejudices that often are typical of countries who have deeply divided communities. It is not right that, in some countries in particular, a visa applicant has to deal with a local—with all of the expectations of money under the counter and expectations of being told to go to the back of the queue if the in-country employee does not share the same values and objectivity of an Australian employed in that same post. We know that is increasingly what is going to happen, given that we are looking at staff slashes of over 600 combined over these last two budgets.

We are very concerned that the queues, particularly in the parent and spouse reunion area, are already years long—in some cases, 10 years long. How much longer are these queues going to be with this slashing of staff and contracting of resources? I am afraid we are, therefore, seeing an increase in the pull factors of jumping queues and trying alternative means to get into Australia. People in those circumstances are lining up now, particularly in Indonesia, to use people smugglers. The Rudd Labor government must urgently look at these pull factors, not simply slash resources and staff numbers.

I will deal with these pull factors in more detail. For example, in August last year Minister Evans announced that from now on there would be no consideration of how a person arrived in Australia in terms of their asylum seeking. The treatment of that person’s visa application would be the same, even if they had spent nine or 10 years in Indonesia running a small business in the interim since they left their home country. They also announced, much more recently, the abolition of the 45-day rule. This means that, for example, if you have been a student, perhaps studying community welfare services or cookery or hairdressing, at the end of your course, you could apply for asylum in Australia, knowing that you would have work access rights during the time it would take to perhaps reject your vexatious claim. It is a further pull factor for people to clog up the system. Then we had the complementary visa announcement within the budget. We do not know exactly what that means; we were not given details. Is a complementary visa holder someone who has not met the UNHCR criteria but who will enjoy the same rights and privileges as another asylum seeker who has met the UNHCR criteria?

What, indeed, does that mean? We know it means additional resources for DIAC to do the processing. What we have in this budget is a huge contraction of resources. We know the task, for example, of processing so many more of the people-smuggled clients at Christmas Island is growing and will continue to grow, but what we see is a contraction of resources to deal with that and so a starving of other very legitimate areas supporting refugees in the country. They are being squeezed all the time.