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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7703


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (11:57): I rise to speak on the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018. The bill makes a number of amendments to the Migration Act, the Customs Act and the Passenger Movement Charge Collection Act. The bill is quite a broad-ranging bill. It is a miscellaneous bill that covers a whole range of aspects of the department, and I'm going to take the opportunity to talk about various aspects of the department and the administration of it.

The bill clarifies when a noncitizen is in the migration zone and ensures a bar on applying for further visas remains in place if the process of being removed is interrupted. It allows the department to provide information to visa applicants via their online ImmiAccount, reduces the risk of breaching the Constitution where refunds are mistakenly made from consolidated revenue, and establishes an ability to recover merchant fees for services.

Labor will support the passage of this legislation because it clarifies a number of minor issues across the vast range of the Home Affairs portfolio—which used to be called, of course, Immigration and Border Protection. The bill, however, does not explain or account for the Minister for Home Affairs' ongoing mismanagement of his own department.

Schedule 1 of the bill outlines amendments relating to the removal of a noncitizen from the migration zone and ensures a bar on applying for further visas remains in place if the process of being removed is interrupted. Section 198 of the Migration Act allows for the removal from Australia of unlawful noncitizens. Unlawful noncitizens can include those who have breached the conditions of their visa or have overstayed their visa. The removal of unlawful noncitizens is important for the safety and security of all Australians. At times, the removal of an unlawful noncitizen can be aborted or the removal can be complete but the person is not permitted entry into the receiving country. Some examples could be: an aircraft being forced mid-flight to return to Australia, or the government deciding to cancel the removal in response to an interim-measures request from the United Nations. If a situation such as this occurs and the person is required to return to Australia as a direct result, these amendments will allow for that person to have a lawful basis to return to Australia without a visa and ensure that, when such a person does return to Australia without a visa, there's a bar on the person from actually making a visa application for certain visas. In fact, it protects the integrity of the immigration system.

The Department of Home Affairs can already communicate with individuals applying for visas in a number of ways. This includes giving documents by hand, post, email, fax or other electronic means. Schedule 2 of the bill amends certain sections of the Migration Act to allow the department to provide visa applicants information and documents via their online ImmiAccount. The department describes this account as the front door to their online services. I hope these amendments improve the department's ability to process visa applications in a timely manner—something which is becoming increasingly problematic under the current minister, as I will allude to later in this speech.

Schedule 3 reduces the risk of breaching the Constitution where refunds are mistakenly made from consolidated revenue. Section 83 of the Constitution provides that no amount may be paid out of consolidated revenue, except under an appropriation made by law. The department currently operates mainly on a client self-assessment basis for the collection, refund and drawback of duty in an integrated cargo system. Due to this system, there's a chance refunds and drawbacks which aren't allowed are still being made and are currently in breach of the Constitution, particularly section 83. The amendment reduces the risk of breaching the Constitution and also implementing a requirement for the secretary of the department to report in the annual report any payments APS employees are aware of that are made for that financial year.

The amendments in schedule 4 apply to the Passenger Movement Charge Collection Act. Persons seeking to depart Australia are liable to pay a charge known as a passenger movement charge. Currently, the Department of Home Affairs incurs a merchant fee if the passenger pays the movement charge with a credit card. This cost is incurred by the department and, in turn, the Australian taxpayer. The amendments before the House allow the department to add a new paragraph to section 15 of the Passenger Movement Charge Collection Act allowing for regulations to recover this cost incurred by the department. This move is consistent with the fee-for-service that the department recovers for other current statutory portfolio charges, fees and duties which are paid by credit card or by PayPal.

Finally, there are a number of additional minor amendments outlined in schedule 5 of the bill which apply to the Customs Act. These amendments include some wording clarification, such as adding the words 'to an external place' to two paragraphs in section 58A of the act. The purpose of section 58A of the Customs Act is to control the movement of persons and goods between sea installations installed in an adjacent area and the coastal area of Australia or a resources installation attached to the Australian seabed or an external place. The words 'to an external place' were inadvertently omitted by the Customs Legislation Amendment Act. (No. 1) 1999. Of course, I welcome the current coalition government's attempts to fix the drafting errors of a previous coalition government.

The Minister for Home Affairs has been woefully incompetent in managing portfolio responsibilities. As I said, this bill deals with visas. I want to go into visa issues here. One of the consistent complaints I hear, along with many of my colleagues, is how visa processing times at the Department of Home Affairs have blown out under the minister and the Turnbull government. I'm sure that even members on the other side would have received numerous complaints about visa processing times, which their own government has control of. For the month ended 30 April 2017, the processing of 90 per cent of applications for partner visas, subclass 820, took 19 months. For the month ended 30 June 2018, a year later, the processing of 90 per cent of applications for partner visas, subclass 820, took 30 months. That's a blowout. That's an increase of 11 months in the processing time for partner visas. That's shocking and shameful. This means that there are Australians who now have to wait 2½ years and put their lives on hold while their partner's visa is being approved. Partner visas are just one of the many types of visas available in Australia. The minister must explain why visa processing times have slowed down on his watch and what his department's going to do to fix this growing backlog.

Recently, the minister has been beating his chest about cutting Australia's total migration program—the number of permanent migrants settling in Australia pursuant to visas. In the 2017-18 financial year there were 162,000 people granted permanent visas in Australia, including those on skilled visas who want to call this country home or people who've been granted family reunion visas, such as partner visas. This figure was a reduction of 21,000 compared to the previous financial year. It was splashed across newspapers and in the media as a 'cut' to Australia's permanent migration levels.

At the very same time, as of 30 June 2018, there were over 176,000 people on bridging visas in Australia—over 38,000 more people compared to the year before. Bridging visas are temporary visas that allow people to stay in Australia after their current visa ceases, while they're waiting for their next visa application to be processed or whilst they're making arrangements to leave the country. Since the member for Dickson became the responsible minister in 2014, the number of people on bridging visas in Australia has increased, if you compare each quarter, year on year.

Why has the number of people on bridging visas blown out of control under the minister's watch? How many of the 176,000 people currently on bridging visas are waiting for the Department of Home Affairs to process their visa applications? How many people on bridging visas are still in Australia as they wait to become permanent residents? The minister claims to have cut permanent migration, but it seems as though he's playing a game of smoke and mirrors with Australia's permanent migration level and visas in particular.

This bill deals with multiple aspects of the Department of Home Affairs. There have been multiple reports from the ANAO giving scathing indictments of the way the minister has failed to manage his department, the most recent of which was the report The integration of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, delivered on 6 June 2018. The Auditor-General's report found that, of the 33 consultant contracts—more than $1 million in total that were used as part of the department's integration only two were ever evaluated for efficiency. The department even then ended a two-year project worth $17.6 million one year early because it wasn't satisfied with the performance of the firm it hired. Despite being so unsatisfied with the performance of these consultants, the department has already paid 97 per cent of the value of the contract when it was cut short halfway through. This is really an out-of-touch and disgraceful act by the government, spending $17.1 million of taxpayers' money without considering where the money might have been better spent. The same Auditor-General's report found the department's record keeping in a critically poor state, and almost half of the senior executive service officers in the department in July 2015 were no longer there in July 2017.

Bear in mind that the member for Dickson became the responsible minister in December 2014. If the minister can't keep track of his pennies or retain senior executives in the department, how can he be trusted with Australia's domestic security agencies? Of course, in the short time since the minister took the reins of his megadepartment, we've seen political infighting, interference with national security policy, highly sensitive security documents being leaked, departmental jobs outsourced to multinational companies and the termination of the Australian Border Force Commissioner.

As part of the 2018-19 budget, the Treasurer announced that the government was going to spend $7 million to review the Department of Home Affairs. When the review was announced, the department—the pride of the minister and the secretary—was less than five months old. The strategic review of the minister's megadepartment is particularly telling given that there was no review that actually recommended the establishment of the Department of Home Affairs in the first place. The $7 million review was handed down in the same budget as the government stripped $250 million in administration costs from the same department.

The question remains: why did the Prime Minister grant this particular minister, the member for Dickson, such unprecedented powers in the first place, only to put him on notice nine months later? Is the Prime Minister so fearful of losing his job, as we've seen in the media today, that he had to appease at that particular time and continue to appease the member for Dickson? There's not even speculation—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Andrews ): The honourable member is now straying a little far from the bill. I know it's a miscellaneous bill, but this is a little far.

Mr NEUMANN: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I note you've pulled me up in relation to that, and in fact you've got me right to the end of my speech. We're going to support this bill and the minor amendments it implements across various parts of the Home Affairs portfolio. However, the bill does not and will not account for what I think is—and it is quite clear from the reports that I've referred to—a tick-and-flick attitude by the Minister for Home Affairs. We'll always hold the minister to account in his ever-growing list of failures relating to the mismanagement of his department. I commend the bill to the House.