The mainstream media (other than The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, Herald-Sun, Daily Mail, Sky News After Dark, Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and their ilk who usually obsess about border protection) has at last picked up on Dutton’s failure to secure our borders. Dutton now holds the record as the Immigration Minister under whom Australia received the largest number of non-genuine asylum applications (see here and here). It is time now to ask Dutton more detailed questions on what he has done about this over the last three years and what he will now do given he has failed to stem the surge?
The current surge in onshore asylum seekers started around three years ago when applications doubled from 9,554 in 2015-16 to 18,290 in 2016-17 and 27,931 in 2017-18 (we do not know if this trend has continued in 2018-19 as Home Affairs will not release the data). Previous articles on this from last year give some background to how this may have come about (see here). (NB Onshore asylum seekers are a different cohort to overstayers. The former are legally in Australia while the latter have overstayed their visa.)
So when did the relevant junior officers in Home Affairs alert the Home Affairs leadership to the start of this surge and what did the Home Affairs leadership then do about it? What strategies did they put in place to address the surge and what (limited) impact did these strategies have?
Given the importance of border protection to this Government, when did the Home Affairs leadership advise Dutton of the surge and did Dutton take the matter to the National Security Committee (NSC) of Cabinet. When did he advise NSC of the massive surge in asylum seekers who are in the community, most of whom have not had their criminal records checked by Government and will not have it checked for months if not years? If NSC was not advised, why not? If it was advised, what did it decide should be done and why did its actions fail to stem the surge?
When did Home Affairs first identify and investigate the travel agents in Malaysia and China most associated with the visitors from these countries who subsequently applied for asylum? When did Home Affairs first identify and investigate the migration agents and labour supply companies in Australia who were organising the asylum applications onshore? When did Home Affairs first identify and investigate the employers in Australia for whom these asylum seekers are working? When did Home Affairs first identify and analyse the patterns in asylum claims being used?
What is now the size and age profile of the backlog of asylum seeker applications – at the primary decision stage, at review, seeking Ministerial Intervention, in the community but not yet located, located and in detention, removed and/or departed from the time the surge started?
What has Home Affairs done to deal with the backlog more quickly; when did these actions start and how effective have they been? What additional resources have been allocated to deal with the backlog, at both the front end and the back end to ensure the backlog stops growing? What additional resources have been allocated to the AAT to deal with its growing backlog of asylum applications and the major flow-on to the AAT that is still to come from the surge in 2016-17 and 2017-18?
What additional resources have been allocated to locating failed asylum seekers? Has additional detention centre space been set aside to accommodate failed asylum seekers who are located and awaiting removal as clearly the Christmas Island detention centre cannot be used for this purpose? What arrangements have been put in place with the Malaysian and Chinese authorities to streamline removal processes?
What is the overall estimate of the additional cost Government will incur to deal with its negligence in not dealing with the problem earlier? Will this cost be in the hundreds of millions of dollars or will it be greater than a billion dollars (or more)? A breakdown of these estimates would help the Australian public understand the issue better?
If the backlog is still growing, what is the Government’s timeframe and estimate of the size of the backlog when it is forecast to peak and when (ie in which year) does the Government estimate it will have reached a point where it considers the bulk of the failed asylum seekers will have been removed?
What does the Government propose to do about the massive backlogs in other visa application types that are contributing to the problem by attracting the spivs; carpetbaggers and people smugglers?
Given the widespread inefficiencies and low morale amongst visa processing staff in Home Affairs, due largely to poor leadership, does the Government consider it can ever get on top of the asylum seeker application backlog? Or is it inevitable Australia will become more like Europe and the US with a large and growing permanent underclass of failed asylum seekers living in the community?
When will the Government ask the Auditor-General to investigate the full extent of the negligence of the Home Affairs Department?
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.