ABUL RIZVI: Is Dutton Undermining Birmingham’s Tourism Campaign?

Jan 20, 2020

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has announced an additional $25 million to market Australia to international tourists in response to the impact of the bushfire crisis. He says this is necessary to ‘save Aussie jobs’. But his counterpart Peter Dutton has been dramatically reducing approval rates for visitor visa applications for Asian tourists. Are they not talking to each other?

Since early 2017, Dutton has been steadily reducing grant rates for visitor visa applications from Asian countries (see Chart 1). The Department of Home Affairs defines the visitor grant rate as the ‘total number of visitor visas granted divided by the total number of visitor visa applications decided’.

Source: DHA Visitor Visa Reports.

While Birmingham’s extra international tourism marketing money may well target visitors from Europe and North America, the reduction in grant rates for visitors from Asian countries is likely to completely swamp any increase in visitors from Europe and North America. Tourists from Asian countries now significantly exceed the number of tourists from Europe and North America.

But if Birmingham’s international tourism marketing campaign also targets Asian countries, Dutton’s declining visitor grant rate for Asian tourists may well ensure this is a total waste of money.

With almost a million tourists from China every year, the seven percentage point reduction in the grant rate since early 2017 means around 60,000 Chinese tourists are being denied a visa for Australia each year. These are not people who need to be encouraged to book a holiday in Australia, they have already committed to doing so but are being refused a visa by Dutton’s Department.

For Indian tourists, the grant rate has declined from 95.6 percent in the June quarter of 2017 to 84.5 percent in the June quarter of 2019. India is one of Australia’s fastest growing sources of international tourists, now ranking as our sixth largest source and with an application rate growing at over 16 percent in 2018-19 over 2017-18.

But because Dutton has significantly reduced the grant rate, the increase in visitors from India in 2018-19 over 2017-18 was just 4.5 percent. In other words, an extra 30,000 potential tourists from India are now being refused a visitor visa by Dutton.

With a middle class that is now growing as rapidly as that of China in the past 20 years, Australia cannot afford Dutton’s ham-fisted approach to managing visitor visas from India.

We have also seen a significant reduction in the grant rate for visitors from Thailand, the Philippines and other Asian countries.

Malaysia is another country where the visitor grant rate has declined. Malaysia is Australia’s fifth largest source of tourists with over 326,000 visitors in 2018-19. But the grant rate for tourists from Malaysia has declined from 99.7 percent in 2017-17 to 98.7 percent in 2018-19.

While a one percentage point decline may seem minor, it has flow-on implications for where Malaysians choose to holiday. It has undoubtedly contributed to the decline in visitors from Malaysia of almost 20,000 compared to 2016-17.

Much of the decline in the grant rate is very likely a response to the surge in asylum applications from Malaysia, China, India and Thailand in recent years.

But the blunt response of increasing visitor refusal rates in an untargeted way; not recognising the honeypot effect of a large and rapidly growing backlog of asylum applications in Australia; and doing little to nothing about the growing number of unsuccessful asylum seekers in Australia means that Dutton is just compounding the costs of his incompetence.

These costs are not just the budget costs, which will eventually run into the billions; but also the negative impact on Australia’s labour market through the exploitation of around 100,000 vulnerable people currently in Australia; and now a job destroying impact on Australia’s tourism industry at a time the Prime Minister says “Australian tourism is facing its biggest challenge in living memory”.

Yet Dutton continues to be allowed to pretend this all just a red herring.

Abul Rizvi was a senior official in the Department of Immigration from the early 1990s to 2007 when he left as Deputy Secretary. He was awarded the Public Service Medal and the Centenary Medal for services to development and implementation of immigration policy, including in particular the reshaping of Australia’s intake to focus on skilled migration. He is currently doing a PhD on Australia’s immigration policies.

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10 thoughts on “ABUL RIZVI: Is Dutton Undermining Birmingham’s Tourism Campaign?

  1. My friend from PNG has twice been refused a visitor visa since the Coalition formed government. Her three-week visit to stay with me in April 2013 went very smoothly with a visa being acquired in Port Moresby within the advertised 10 days. I am a well-credentialled friend vouching for her bona fides; any genuine enquiry would quickly establish this.

    We are in the process of trying again.

  2. The guy who couldn’t even count his numbers to realise his addicted aspiration some 17 months ago now cannot count the number -110,000 – of Chinese, Indian and other Asian tourists who are now so desperately needed to offset the economic and social devastation which this same guy denies the cause of.

    Such is the sheer public incompetence of this Dark Triadist.

  3. Take the $25 million from Birmingham and pay it in compensation to those denied tourist visas by the racist arm of the government – the Dutton so-called Border Force/Homeland whatever. He more than almost anyone – the PM perhaps excepted – is doing more to harm Australia’s reputation and turn it into an International pariah than even the old White Australia days – which he is now bringing back into operation. Thanks again Abul RIZVI for these significant statistics…proving yet again that the “right” hand doesn’t even know what the other “right” hand is doing – this LNP mob (McKenzie included) are simply incapable of “managing” anything!

  4. What else can you expect from this rotten, dishonest and immoral government?

  5. The increase in refusal rates may be an effort to reduce the rorts to extend their stay in Australia, to undertake illegal work and to abuse refugee application arrangements to stay and work longer in Australia. Major users/abusers of this system are PRC and Malaysia.

    1. I think that is precisely what the article suggests, but the question being posed here is whether it’s an effective and sensibly targeted strategy

    2. I agree but its a very blunt response that is having little impact on stemming the flow of asylum seekers from countries that produce few refugees.

    3. If the restrictions on entry were to reduce migrant worker exploitation, there are better ways of doing it. Currently employers who observe wage laws are potentially run out of business by those who don’t, and PWC estimates the latter group as covering 13 percent of the workforce. Prof Fels says the situation is endemic, not addressed by picking off the lawbreakers one by one. It seems that data matching and AI deployment can pick this up comprehensively and address privacy issues, without the cost of extensive physical workplace inspections. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/fels-backs-calls-to-use-artificial-intelligence-as-wage-theft-detector-20191223-p53mep.html Christian Porter says workplace exploitation “will not be tolerated by this government”, so get on with it!

      1. Yes migrant worker exploitation is a major issue facing Australia. It does not get the attention from Government that is required.

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