Peter Khalil: I rise to speak in support of the member for Scullin’s motion calling on the government to stop this plan to privatise our visa processing system. Let’s start with the government’s track record, particularly on visa processing, and how it negatively impacts ordinary people every day. People in my electorate of Wills, down in Melbourne, speak to me about delays in just about every single visa category; it’s a common refrain. Almost every day at my electorate office in Coburg, someone calls or comes into the office because they are directly impacted by this government’s visa processing failures. They come into the office desperate for answers, asking: ‘Why is it taking so long? Why is there such delay?’ We have to tell them that, even though they might have put in their application 18 months ago, this is actually within the department’s listed normal processing times.
We see this widespread—I’m sure it occurs in electorates around the country—and it has real impact on people’s lives. A teenager who is in high school, wanting to go to university, is trying to get their citizenship locked in and finalised, and, unfortunately, the delay on their citizenship means they can’t go to study what they want unless they are ready to sign up to pay tens of thousands of additional dollars, because they are still classified as a international student—not a local or domestic student. These delays have a real impact on people’s lives. They’re holding people back from contributing to this country and to their communities in ways that will benefit all.
Let’s look at some of the processing times that the department lists on its website. A partner visa takes 24 months—two years! A citizenship application takes 22 months—not much better. What about a parent visa? Sorry, says the department, the official line is, ‘Processing times are not available for this visa.’ People who want to become Australians, people who want to be part of our country, part of Australia, not just as visitors but as citizens contributing to their community, are being delayed. As the member for Scullin has noted, there are more than 222,000 people on the waitlist for citizenship. That number is not just a statistic; it’s a number that represents people’s lives and thousands of people being impacted in ways that really have a detrimental effect on what they can do in their contribution to this country.
What is the difference between someone on permanent residency and someone who is a citizen? The people who are on permanent residency pay their taxes, and they work and live in their community. They’ve probably lived here for many years. They’re part of our communities. Yet, because they don’t have citizenship, there is one thing they don’t have—that is, the right to vote. Being welcomed into the Australian democracy with that really important right, the right to vote and participate in our democratic process—they pay their taxes but won’t be given the right to vote because all of their applications have been delayed.
What’s the cause of these delays? In 2017 the government tried to change the rules for people on permanent residency applying for citizenship. They wanted new rules that, instead of a year, would have extended the wait time to four years. They also wanted to add an English language test. I had a couple, two doctors, from India come into my office during that period. One of them fell on one side of the arbitrary date for this new rule and one of them fell on the other side. The wife could go straight to her citizenship ceremony, but her husband, whose application went in a couple of months later, had to wait another four years. It was absolutely ridiculous. This couple are not unique. They’re making a contribution to this country. They’ve raised their kids here. They’ve paid their taxes. They wanted to become fully-fledged citizens of this country. We opposed that bill. The community rallied—we had 38,000 signatures on a petition—and the bill, thankfully, didn’t pass the Senate.
Then there were more delays. Were they deliberate? I don’t know. Was it the minister’s way of trying to go slow? There might be another explanation. I don’t want to be too conspiratorial about it. Maybe it’s just mismanagement. Maybe the delays with the Department of Home Affairs have more to do with the fact that they’ve cut $150 million off their budget. Maybe it has got to do with that. Maybe it’s got to do with the fact that the staff in the department play a critical role in building our nation and yet the department is being denied the resources and personnel to do that core responsibility. That’s probably what’s happening.
It’s about time that this ends. We can’t allow this government to privatise the process, to outsource their core responsibility in the Public Service. We’re talking about 2,000 Australians losing their jobs and jeopardising data security. This is too important to allow it to happen with the Department of Home Affairs. We oppose this.