Parliamentary speeches

Home Affairs portfolio issues

November 12, 2020

The work of these portfolio agencies has never been more important. I want to acknowledge the contribution of the minister for emergency management and the agencies that he's responsible for within this portfolio. The work that individuals did in that agency in conjunction with the states and many Australians over the summer is something all of us in this place acknowledge and pay tribute to.

But of course there are many broader issues in the Home Affairs portfolio that are particularly important right now. The work that people in that department do and have been doing to keep us safe through the pandemic and the work that needs to be done in a policy sense as well as an operational sense to restart a migration program are going to be fundamentally important to not only our economic prospects but also maintaining our social cohesion as the world's greatest example of a multicultural society. There are very significant challenges there that my colleagues and I are keen to explore in terms of the matters contained in these budget statements, particularly when it comes to the great threat that is posed to these issues by the rise of right-wing extremism and racism more generally. My colleague and friend the member for Cowan will be exploring that.

There are other big challenges at a processing level. I'm concerned, as many others are, by the ongoing issue of citizenship delays. I acknowledge that there has been progress, but that progress has been too slow. In this area, as in so many other areas, we've seen the government very keen to announce its achievements before they have in fact been achieved. The area of citizenship, which is such an emotional and important issue, is a very significant exemplar of that. It is an area where the government needs to do much better. There is also the area of visas. I was very proud to have stood with my Labor colleagues in resisting the government's plan to privatise our visa system this year, and I'm pleased to acknowledge that in March of this year that plan was abandoned. That saved 2,000 jobs—2,000 critical jobs—involved in this work. But it also costs Australians $91.9 million. The problem remains. I ask the minister: are our systems fit for purpose? Has the case made for a visa modernisation process, as it was described, been met? Did the $91.9 million assist in managing visa wait times, particularly for partner visa? We've seen wait times almost double over the life of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. Minister, has this achieved value for money for the Australian people?

We also had the recent announcement of the acting minister for immigration about a digitisation of the incoming passenger card and visa simplification. In estimates it was revealed that this will cost $75 million. That's not the capital cost; that is the cost of procurement, as I understand it. Perhaps the acting minister for immigration can confirm that: is it the case that the $75 million is just for a procurement process? Minister, can you more broadly assure Australians and this place that systems will be in place to ensure our visa system is as it should be to meet the needs of restarting a migration program that's so fundamental to who we are and to our economic prospects, or has the $161 million been wasted on a fool's errand?

One hundred and sixty-one million dollars and nothing to show for it in an area that is so fundamentally important. There is no indication that we have the systems that are fit for purpose, nor fit to do the work with the fantastic hard-working public servants who do such important work and, as we all know through our electorate offices, have been under such pressure during these unprecedented times.

Another very significant issue in this budget is the cut to our humanitarian program, a 20,000 person cut over the forward estimates. This is a cut characterised, like so many other issues in this portfolio, as something that's taken place without consultation and without any particular focus on what it means, other than presumably its impact on the bottom line. There is also some uncertainty in remarks as to whether the number 13,750 is in fact a cap. I ask if the minister could directly address that? Could the minister also advise us when he is going to take up New Zealand's generous offer to resettle, and otherwise update the House on his progress in third country resettlement options for refugees? The minister should be able to tell this place and the Australian people that he is as committed as we are to being tough on our borders without being weak on humanity.