Parliamentary speeches

Consideration in detail - Home Affairs

September 18, 2019

Before I address my question to the Minister for Home Affairs, I acknowledge the contribution of the member for Herbert and associate myself with all of his remarks. There are many things that he and I disagree on and maybe some of them will be flushed out over the next hour or so, but the sincere way in which he has spoken about a community he loves is something that I've been personally affected by previously in this place. I acknowledge all his work and also that of his predecessor, Cathy O'Toole, in the circumstance of the floods.

I would like to address a question to the Minister for Home Affairs, but I'd like to begin with an acknowledgement of my deep appreciation of the extraordinary work—and often difficult and challenging work—done by APS employees in Border Force and other agencies connected with Immigration and Home Affairs functions. All of us in this place appreciate the challenges they face and support them in all of their endeavours. In doing so, though, I acknowledge that there are some challenges which relate to the policies and administration of this government, and these are things that we need to raise in this place and have answered by the minister. When we think about this week in Home Affairs, we think it's been a bad week for the department and the government. We think about the ASIO warning revelations; we think about the evidence of public opinion on medevac, which heartened many of us who want to see more humanity applied to the challenge of maintaining strong borders while treating people in our care with decency and in accordance with medical advice; and, of course, the revelations exposed about the assistant minister for customs in question time today, which I hope will be properly answered very, very shortly.

But, the issues with Home Affairs don't come down to a bad week or a bad day in this place; they come down to a series of deliberate decisions which have run down the functioning. I was actually shocked by the recently released APS staff census, which revealed not just that Home Affairs had the worst staff engagement across the entire Public Service but how profound the loss of confidence appears to be in this most vital agency of the Australian Public Service. The statistics are frankly shocking. They ranked 97 out of 97 for engagement and 94 out of 97 for wellbeing. It gets a bit better, Minister: 91 out of 97 for innovation. The survey also revealed that less than half of Home Affairs employees believe they have the tools and resources to do their job. That's something all of us should reflect on in this place but particularly those responsible for the administration of the portfolio. They should have the tools and resources to do their work well, and the processes should allow them to be productive. We note that these findings are some way below the average across the Public Service—about 10 points below—and this has all happened after the minister cut another $150 million from the department's staff budget in this year's budget. We see evidence of what this is doing to core functions. The number of people on bridging visas has more than doubled since 2014 to 230,000 people—enough people to fill the MCG more than twice over. As of 30 June 2018, we have now a backlog of over 80,000 partner visa applications. Rather than taking steps to deal with this backlog, the minister has started to cut down on the places available, despite the law requiring spouse visas to be managed on a demand driven basis.

Minister, was it your belief that the best method of dealing with the blowout in waiting times that has occurred under your watch was to cut funding from your own department? And, Minister, what steps have you taken to improve conditions, tools and resources for the department's staff members or is your only solution to cut another $150 million from the department? I also note that it doesn't end here, because we on this side recall the $7 million allocated in the last budget for a strategic review of the portfolio with the aim of integrating capabilities, reducing duplication and maximising efficiencies within the department. Minister, perhaps you can expand on what's come from that $7 million investment that could have been better applied to supporting hardworking staff in your department to do their important functions in all of our national interest?