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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 101

Senator BARTLETT (6:50 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

A lot of the public debate around migration matters in Australia and in tribunals tends to focus on refugee issues. That is understandable in many respects but it sometimes obscures the fact that there is a huge range of other migration decisions made each year. The operation of the Migration Review Tribunal assesses appeals against those migration decisions that do not deal with refugee issues. There are a few aspects in this report that are worth pointing out. The interesting one at the start of the report is that the case load for the tribunal of a little under 8,000 cases represented a decline of 11 per cent in the number of cases lodged from the previous year. The tribunal suggests a number of reasons for that, including changes of visa criteria, strengthening integrity measures relating to migration agents and reductions in case loads.

Whether or not those reasons given are the only reasons or even whether they are valid ones could perhaps be tested elsewhere. Nonetheless, in most respects it is a positive sign that fewer appeals are being considered as long as that means that there are fewer mistakes being made. I hope that is the case rather than other hurdles being put in the way, but there is certainly nothing that I am aware of from the previous 12 months in terms of extra hurdles that would make that the case. That should mean that, overall, the decline in the number of cases lodged should be an indication that perhaps there are fewer erroneous decisions being made or fewer vexatious appeals being lodged. That may be the issue in relation to migration agents that are mentioned. It may also be a matter of better education amongst people about which areas are worth appealing against and which areas are not.

It should be noted that an appeal of a decision to the Migration Review Tribunal does incur a fee. I am fairly sure that fee is $1,400, which is refunded if you are successful. That in itself can be quite a significant hurdle for people wishing to appeal a matter as they are basically risking $1,400 to get a matter considered. There is scope for waiving that if people make a case for it but it is certainly a factor that can come into account.

The other big issue in relation to the Migration Review Tribunal is the length of time it takes to finalise a case. It is definitely a welcome sign in the report that the average time taken from lodging an appeal to finalising that appeal has clearly dropped in the last couple of years. It is still a fairly significant time, I might say—320 days is nearly a year—but it has dropped from 362 days the year before and 387 days the year before that. That is certainly a welcome sign. There are other examples. For instance, 585 days is the average time taken to resolve refusals for permanent business visas and 601 days is the average time taken to resolve an appeal for a skilled visa refusal. It is still far too long but, in the same way that I am certainly quite willing to criticise aspects of the migration regime when I believe it appropriate, I also think it should be acknowledged when there is a positive move, and clearly there is a move in the right direction here.

Overall, I think the percentage of successful appeals would, on one hand, show that the tribunal is able to be independent. On the other hand, it also shows that, when nearly 46 per cent of appeals of decisions set aside are successful, that is still a pretty high rate of what one could call errors in the different decisions made at the departmental level. That is an area that is still of concern. It is up from the previous year and in some categories, such as partner or visitor visas, over 60 per cent of decisions are set aside. That is an area that is still of concern and is something that needs further attention. One of the key frustrations of appealing to the Migration Review Tribunal is the length of time it takes. That being said, the improvements being made are certainly going in the right direction. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.