Parliamentary speeches

Partner and Spouse Visa Applications

August 31, 2020

I mentioned earlier my hope that the member for Berowra would second the motion. He disappointed me on that, but I thought his contribution was a very interesting one. Typically for him, it was a thoughtful and decent contribution, but, frankly, irrelevant to the case that he appeared to be making against the member for Bruce's motion. The member for Berowra did not engage with the key issues that the member for Bruce has put forward—the key issues I think all of us are experiencing in our electorate offices as we deal with people going through very difficult times and engaging with the legislative framework. Of course, the legislative framework has to deal with integrity in the system and has to recognise that there have been issues in the past, but that has got absolutely nothing to do with the issues, as is made abundantly clear by the statistics set out in the motion, particularly those going to the tribunal.

I'm very happy to stand with the member for Bruce and all of my Labor colleagues in recognising some facts. The key fact is that we are a proudly multicultural nation. Until recent times we have also been travelling people. People form loving relationships with people who aren't Australian citizens quite often, including my mother and father, for example. Our legal framework has recognised this for some time. In the other place attempts to change that legal framework—to impose a cap—have been rejected on two occasions. This government has no such proposal. As in so many other areas, it lacks the courage of its conviction, so it seeks to do by administrative fiat what it will not do with its lawmaking powers. That is profoundly unacceptable. If government members have a different view, they should put it before the House in the proper way, through introducing a bill.

There is nothing fair in the present arrangements. I hope members opposite can acknowledge that and deal with it directly, as I'm sure they are dealing with constituents who are in a state of great distress. The inexplicable and unconscionable delays on the part of the department in processing thousands of visas are resulting in deep personal harm and this is compounded by the wider circumstances all of us are dealing with right now. The statistics set out in the motion tell a dreadful story, but they don't hint at the personal tragedies that are the real stories here. They are the real inequities. The member for Bruce has been such a passionate advocate for migration broadly, particularly for couples and families who have been separated through this unconscionable system, if it can be called that. I believe he said earlier that this is an unconscionable racquet.

There are particular issues that we are confronting now that impact on partner visa applications and their processing. That's why on 1 May I wrote to the acting minister requesting that he recognise the human dimension of this system and put in place a no-disadvantage approach while travel and other restrictions are in place—that he get rid of some of the present restrictions on visas being granted and put in place a consistent approach.

The member for Bruce recognises that we have seen some ad hoc decisions which have seen justice granted in particular cases, but people shouldn't be reunited with the person they love because they can get a story up in the SMH or their story told in this place. We should see justice done in accordance with the law. That should not be too much to ask. I wrote to the minister on 1 May; five months on I am yet to receive a response, and I think that speaks volumes about the acting minister's commitment to his portfolio. He's very interested in talking tough on border protection but not in managing his vital immigration responsibilities. The Prime Minister loves to talk about bureaucratic congestion. If he wants to fix that, he should start with that minister and this department. This is a department that is running away from responsibility and has made a series of decisions to devalue its immigration functioning, which is a really significant issue here. We are losing capacity as well as losing will. And what has the government's response been to this? The grand plan wasn't to take responsibility. It was to outsource our visa processing to the highest bidder, to outsource our visa system to the highest bidder. What an extraordinary thing for a conservative government that likes to talk tough about borders to seek to do.

In the face of a problem, an issue of bureaucratic congestion, what does it do? It doesn't fix the problem, it doesn't recognise its human dimension, it seeks to sell it off to big business to allow the tickets to be clipped. What an extraordinary neglect. Here, government members, there is an opportunity: you can act in the interests of decency, in the interests of justice, in the interests of love and in the interests of upholding both the spirit and the letter of the law.