At Senate Estimates this week, Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo denied the record number of (largely non-genuine) asylum applications under his watch is a crisis. This is like the black knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail insisting losing his arms and legs was just a flesh wound. But more seriously, Government allowing Pezzullo to get away with this denial suggests the size of the problem is going to get a lot worse.
Pezzullo argues some 100,000 (largely non-genuine) asylum applications under his watch is just to be expected as it is only a tiny portion of total visa grants over the last 6-7 years. He also argues that the surge cannot be dealt with without extensive negative impacts across the visa system.
Both arguments are a furphy.
His first argument could make sense if the surge in non-genuine asylum applications was evenly spread across the visa caseload and across source countries. But that is not the case. The surge started with visitors from Malaysia – a source country for around 6 percent of visitors to Australia – and has now extended to visitors from China.
If Pezzullo checked his Department’s files, he would find that small versions of such surges out of Malaysia are not uncommon. In the past these have been effectively dealt with through timely action targeting the relevant onshore and offshore agents as well as processing any applications quickly to reduce the capacity for the relevant agents to make a profit. By taking such action, the surges out of Malaysia rarely exceeded a few hundred asylum applications.
Pezzullo’s second argument, that the response would result in a negative impact right across all visa types, is also a nonsense. If the bulk of the surge is just two countries and one visa type, why Pezzullo thinks an across the board response is required was not explained at Senate Estimates.
As in the past, a targeted response is needed not the nonsense Pezzullo is pushing.
The key difference now is that Pezzullo’s negligence has allowed the caseload to grow to an unprecedented size and extended to Australia’s major source country for visitors.
His Department and the AAT now simply does not have the resources to deal the surge. And in such circumstances, denial and distraction become the only option.
This means the Government is now locked into Pezzullo’s denials and will not be prepared to invest the resources to get on top of the issue despite Pezzullo and the Government’s insistence they are strong on border protection. They are in fact only good at gratuitous cruelty and about as strong on border protection as Sargent Schultz in Hogan’s Hereos.
Pezzullo and Dutton’s incompetence means Australia is destined to develop a large and growing underclass of vulnerable and exploited labour.
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.