Peter Khalil: I rise also to speak on this Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2019 and Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Amendment (Rates of Charge) Bill 2019. What’s the purpose of this bill? What is it? What’s it about? Well, it’s a bill you could say the purpose of which is to partially implement recommendation 1 of the 2014 review of the OMARA, which recommended the removal of lawyers from the Migration Agents Registration Authority’s regulatory scheme. This was specifically to allow legal practitioners to be registered as migration agents. We’ve heard from the previous speakers that we supported this bill several years ago when this legislation was first moved.
Mr Neumann: We’ve supported it many, many times.
Peter Khalil: Well, I’m getting to that, the member for Blair. You’re quite right. We’ve supported it many, many times, and we will support it now. However, we think these laws—and this was eloquently put by the previous speaker, the member for Cowan—deserve a proper inquiry, and we will wait and see the result of the Senate inquiry. Why? Because we did support it. We supported it six years ago. That’s a long time. We supported this back in 2014. The bill contained recommendations from the 2014 Independent review of the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority, and six years later the government is trying to pass a bill implementing the changes from a report six years ago—it’s remarkable!
Tony Abbott was the Prime Minister six years ago. And the government made a set of recommendations about migration agents when he was Prime Minister. Since then, we’ve had two Liberal prime ministers. They did introduce the bill again in 2017, not to pass it, but they let it sit on the Notice Paper in the Senate for years. It was not moved upon or acted upon by this government; it was just sitting there. I think it’s probably an apt illustration of the kind of effort this government makes around important bills. It also demonstrates a pattern of this government. Not only does this demonstrate that they sit on things for years and years and fail to pass them; it also demonstrates real failures, particularly in the migration and immigration portfolio.
What has this government been doing since 2014? They’re constantly spending their time infighting and tearing each other apart. I mentioned that they’ve gone through—what, two, three prime ministers? We’ve seen this week that it was all about themselves again. The National Party were tearing themselves apart. It overshadowed the visit of President Widodo. Last week on Monday, their leadership spill overshadowed what was a very important day, a day when this parliament was entirely focused on, or should have been entirely focused on: the bushfires, the victims, their families, and the firefighters that are still fighting those fires. And yet this government spent that time on themselves, fighting themselves. But that’s a pattern. We’ve seen this happen over the last six years. This bill is just an example of what happens when they continually follow this pattern. It’s all about themselves.
It’s all about them and their leadership and their changes and who gets what. While all this is happening, bills sit untended for three or four years. That describes it probably better than anything I can say. That kind of inaction is the best descriptor of this government and the way they do business—or don’t do business. They’re too busy watching over their own shoulders and fighting themselves to be bothered with the passage of laws. Unless of course, they’re trying to further delay processing times for visas. This Morrison government has consistently failed when it comes to migration. It’s not a surprise that it has taken this long to progress these bills.
On that point—and we’ve heard a bit about this from previous speakers as well with respect to processing for the permanent resident program. No wonder there are delays in this, given that inaction, given that self-centredness and given the fact they are solely focused on themselves rather than doing their job. The delays are severe when it comes to the permanent resident program and people waiting to receive citizenship or partner visas. It was not only that; the government actually went about making it harder and making it take longer for permanent residents to become citizens. I often ask myself: why? These are permanent residents who have been here for years and years in this country, who pay their taxes, who contribute to the community, who make a wonderful contribution to the society that they live in, the home that they have come to, to settle into, sometimes from very far away parts of the world. They’ve sacrificed their lives back in those countries of origin to settle in Australia. They’ve made a commitment. What does this government do for those people? It makes it harder for them. It makes it more difficult for them to actually move to the citizenship that they require and that they want so they can fully become part of Australia and feel like real Australians. They’ve probably been here five or 10 years.
I know families that have been here for over 10 years, and they’re still waiting—and waiting—for their citizenship because of these delays. It isn’t good enough. It’s not just inaction, it’s not just incompetence, it’s not just a focus on their own leadership battles and their positions and all the rest of it; it’s more than that: it’s a deliberate effort to delay, obstruct and obfuscate. And the people they’re delaying are the ones we want to become new Australians. They are the ones who have made a commitment and a contribution to this country, and this government is making it harder for them. It’s a disgrace. There is also the parent visa—the program that makes people choose between sets of parents. I mean, it’s difficult enough with your in-laws; can you imagine having to make a decision between mum and dad? This government forces people to make that decision.
There was a departmental review that was never released—a multimillion-dollar strategic review into the Department of Home Affairs. It was finalised last year. Maybe it had some answers to some of the questions we’re posing. Maybe it could have shed some light on the inaction, the delay, the inefficiency and the incompetence—maybe—but we’ll never know, because it wasn’t released; it was never made public. What are they hiding? What is the department hiding? What is the government hiding? I would say to them: don’t worry; we already know that you’re incompetent, we already know that you’re inefficient, we already know that you’re focused on yourselves rather than the people of Australia or doing your job, so you might as well release the report. It will confirm what we already know.
The other thing that really disturbs me, particularly in this portfolio, is the pattern we’ve seen of not only inaction but also deliberate attempts to delay and make things difficult. We saw it with the 457 visas. The Morrison government is putting out the line, ‘Oh, Australia is full,’ blaming the congestion of our cities on the migration program—which has, I think, a net migration of some 160,000 or 170,000—and fixating on asylum seekers and boat people, yet all the while we have over two million people on temporary work visas in this country. So when the Minister for Home Affairs—or the Prime Minister—laments about the strain on our capital cities’ infrastructure and how the cities are becoming ‘overcrowded’, his own department is contributing to that strain whilst making it harder for local workers to find jobs.
It’s like a shell game. It’s like a scam. It’s pulling the wool over people’s eyes. And don’t get me started on the lack of infrastructure spending that this federal government has been guilty of, particularly in my state of Victoria, which has some of the lowest per capita. So, again, this pattern is consistent. It’s a pattern of inaction, inefficiency and delay. Part of it is possibly largely because of the incompetence of this government, because they are focused so much on their own leadership squabbles and internal politics, but the other part of it is a very deliberate positioning on some of these issues. There’s a very deliberate effort to delay. I can’t find any other explanation for it. Maybe the report, if we ever get to see it, will shed light on that.
Then—this is a good one, another failure—there is the chaos of this government’s bid to privatise Australia’s visa system. It would be a disaster. Many organisations have warned of the effects of doing this. The CPSU has warned that the Morrison government’s plan to privatise the visa system could effectively lead to another robodebt. That was another debacle! We saw how the robodebt went: pinging the most vulnerable people in our society, innocent people, with debts that they didn’t owe. It’s throwing out the fish-net and catching all the dolphins with the sharks. That’s what this government is about. They don’t care. It’s like collective punishment. If they go down this path of privatisation of the visa system, we may get a similar debacle. Then we have the close mate of the Prime Minister, Scott Briggs, who donated to the Liberal Party a total of $300,000, putting in a bid to win this visa-processing contract.
I don’t think anyone but the department should be making decisions about our borders, our border security and our migration program. You don’t outsource that. It’s a basic principle in a democratic country like ours, where we understand that the Commonwealth has responsibilities that it needs to fulfil. That’s why taxpayers pay taxes. Defence, education, health care, border security, migration, immigration processing—you don’t outsource that. I think it’s not too much to say that these steps would lead to a real compromise of Australia’s national security. Even Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, has been critical of this proposal.
I’ve outlined the pattern of this government: inaction, inefficiency, incompetence. They are focused on themselves, fighting each other all the time, squabbling and dropping the ball, effectively—dropping the ball when it comes to their primary responsibilities. But coupled with that is a very real effort to delay and obstruct that is purposeful and deliberative.
With something like the immigration program, which has been of such importance to this country, we shouldn’t be privatising parts of it. The government should be doing their job to make sure that permanent residents can move smoothly into citizenship because they’ve made that commitment to this country. They should be rewarded, not punished. We’re a successful multicultural nation because the people who have come here, like my parents, made a commitment to this country and contributed to this country. My parents said to me as I was growing up, ‘Australia’s not the lucky country. We are the lucky ones to be Australian. Make sure you give something back to this country, because it’s given us such a great opportunity for a life of security, peace and prosperity through our hard work.’ That should be rewarded, yet we have a government which is doing the opposite—partly because they’re too busy fighting themselves and they’re incompetent and dropping the ball, and partly because they’re deliberately slowing things down for the very people that we want to make sure we make citizens of this country.
In conclusion, we will support this bill, like we did six years ago and like we did back in 2017. We want the government to embrace and recognise the strength of multicultural Australia, and the strength of that immigration program and the important part that it’s played in building this country and making it such a wonderfulcountry to live in. We will listen to that. We listen to people in the community. We hope the government does as well.