The number of people in Australia on bridging visas waiting for their visa applications to be processed has blown out to over 229,000, writes Kristina Keneally.
The number of people in Australia on bridging visas waiting for their visa applications to be processed has blown out to over 229,000, writes Kristina Keneally.

Bitter border skirmish erupts in war of words

SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY, OPPOSITION SPOKESPERSON FOR HOME AFFAIRS

For all of the Morrison Government's tough talk about border security, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton cannot hide from the fact that he is an incompetent Minister who has lost control of our borders, lost control of visa and citizenship processing, lost control of his budget, and lost control of his department.

Peter Dutton boasts of smashing the people smuggler's business model, and indeed the boats have stopped. In fact, this was Scott Morrison's achievement that Mr Dutton now takes credit for.

 

Kristina Keneally was named opposition spokesperson for Home Affairs by new Labor leader Anthony Albanese. Picture: Kym Smith
Kristina Keneally was named opposition spokesperson for Home Affairs by new Labor leader Anthony Albanese. Picture: Kym Smith

 

In the face of this surge of arrivals, Mr Dutton has presided over $300 million in budget cuts to weaken our border security.

He allowed the Australian Border Force fleet to stop patrols to save money on fuel, he cut frontline ABF staff at Australian airports, and he failed to fund the ABF Border Patrol capability - forcing the Australian Defence Force to pick up the slack at the expense of other operational priorities including reducing counter terrorism operations.

With these budget cuts, Mr Dutton has lost control of visa and citizenship processing, leading to massive backlogs.

Under Mr Dutton's watch, the number of people in Australia on bridging visas waiting for their visa applications to be processed has blown out to over 229,000 for the first time in March.

Compare this to just 92,906 bridging visas in December 2013. The wait time for partner visas is now running over two years.

 

Over 230,000 people who applied for citizenship and want to pledge allegiance to Australia are waiting because of Mr Dutton. An Australian National Audit Office report in February showed that citizenship applications have not been processed in a time-efficient or resource-efficient manner. Even more alarmingly, the audit found the Department had no processes in place to monitor application processing, nor to check the quality of the decisions they are taking.

Over the past few years, a series of highly critical Australian National Audit Office reports show systemic flaws in the Department of Home Affairs - and after each one Mr Dutton has shown no inclination to listen or respond. A most alarming Audit report in December revealed significant problems with the Cape Class patrol boat program, including a remarkable finding that the Department did not actually understand the patrol boat program or its risks, and could not control the costs associated with it.

And none of this is likely to improve. The 2019 Budget shows a $150 million cut to Home Affairs staff wages and salaries to June 2021, which could equate to a 15 per cent cut of the total workforce.

Labor will keep the people smugglers out of business and maintain Australia’s strong borders, writes Kristina Keneally.
Labor will keep the people smugglers out of business and maintain Australia’s strong borders, writes Kristina Keneally.

There is no difference between Labor and the Government on this point. Labor fully supports offshore processing, boat turnbacks where safe to do so, and regional resettlement.

These steps keep our borders secure and prevent deaths at sea. Labor will never allow people smugglers to exploit vulnerable people again.

Every time Peter Dutton lies about this, he is doing the work of the people smugglers.

Anthony Albanese's decision to introduce a Shadow Home Affairs portfolio to his frontbench sends a clear message that Labor will ensure Australians are kept safe and our borders secure.

We will hold the Government to account in Home Affairs because there is no excuse for Peter Dutton's incompetence and the Liberals' cuts when it comes to keeping Australians safe.

 

PETER DUTTON MP, HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER

RICHARD Marles was the obvious pick to be Labor's Shadow Minister for Home Affairs.

He has experience in national security matters, but Mr Marles didn't want the job and that's likely because he knows that modern Labor cannot stand for strong borders because of the internal division pulling their party apart.

The Medivac Bill and #bringthemhere campaigns were all evidence of the division in play.

On her first day in the job, instead of asking for a briefing from our security and intelligence agencies to understand a complex picture, Ms Keneally went straight to the press and conducted two train wreck interviews, in which she couldn't say what our national security priorities are and didn't even know the meaning of a temporary protection visa.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton at Australian Border Force Headquarters in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith
Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton at Australian Border Force Headquarters in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith

Ms Keneally has been vehemently opposed to offshore processing, but now announces she embraces it.

Ms Keneally has been one of Labor's strongest advocates for bringing refugees to Australia, but now says she is dead against it.

It just isn't credible and the people smugglers will be watching every twisted and contorted statement as Ms Keneally tries to convince people her latest position on border policy is believable.

Mr Albanese himself has a track record.

He was a central senior Cabinet figure when Labor sent people to Manus Island and Nauru.

He never had a plan to get people off the islands and we are working day and night to make that a reality without the boats restarting.

Mr Albanese will remember well the 50,000 illegal maritime arrivals under the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments between 2007 and 2013 where more than 80 per cent arrived with no documentation.

We did not know who they were or where they came from. Labor gave many of them permanent visas until they were overwhelmed by the extent of illegal arrivals and simply stopped processing them and left the mess for the Coalition to clean up - a mess that has so far cost Australian taxpayers $17 billion.

Many attempting the dangerous sea journey died doing so - at least 1200 that we are aware of - and others only survived by the courageous efforts of Australian Border Force and Defence Force personnel who put their lives and safety on the line to rescue people from the ocean and the flimsy boats they were crammed into.

Home Affairs is a much bigger portfolio than border protection.

We have the priority issue of managing returning foreign fighters and if Ms Keneally takes a briefing on this matter I hope she might change her party's opposition to the temporary exclusion orders.

Until this point Labor has

refused to acknowledge the reality of the Home Affairs department and in so doing has not confronted the many difficult challenges our nation faces.

Those challenges are complex and rapidly evolving and deserve a far more measured approach than Ms Keneally has displayed in her first days as the shadow minister.