Chapter 2 - Immigration and Citizenship portfolio
This chapter summarises areas of interest and concern raised during the
committee's consideration of the budget estimates for the Immigration and
Citizenship portfolio for the 2008-09 financial year.
Migration Review Tribunal (MRT) and Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT)
The committee received an update from officers on the current workload
for both the MRT and RRT (the Tribunals).
Officers told the committee that for the period 1 July 2007 to 30 April 2008 the MRT received 5,280 lodgements, up from 4,809 for the same period in
For the period 1 July 2007 to 30 April 2008 the RRT had received 1,882
lodgements compared to 2,403 lodgements for the same period in 2006-07.
Officers told the committee that a range of factors affected the Tribunals'
workloads including overseas events and changes to relevant legislation.
The committee also received an update on the number of complaints lodged
against the Tribunals.
In relation to the MRT officers told the committee that:
In the year to date there have been 15 complaints against
members. These complaints are investigated internally and, of the complaints
received, three were upheld and 12 were dismissed. There were no complaints
Officers then went on to outline the number of complaints lodged against
the RRT, stating that:
...six complaints against members were received and investigated,
with two being upheld, one partially upheld and three dismissed. Again, there
were no complaints against staff.
Committee members questioned officers on the complaint handling
procedures for both the MRT and RRT.
Officers told the committee that when it receives a complaint about a member, a
senior member carries out an investigation, the results of which are
communicated to the complainant.
Officers went on to explain that members of the Tribunals have their
performance appraised by a senior member every 12 to 18 months.
Officers agreed to provide the committee with the details of the complaints received
Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC)
The committee continued lines of questioning from previous estimates
rounds concerning DIAC's financial position. Senators sought information about
efficiency initiatives referred to in Budget Paper No.2 for DIAC.
The Minister told the committee that the efficiency measures were a result of a
financial 'health check' sponsored by the Department of Finance and
explaining that the efficiency measures consisted of 'work that could be done
differently or ceased within the department.'
Committee members questioned officers on the effects of the one-off
increase in the efficiency dividend.
Specifically, senators sought details on how individual outputs and programs
would be affected. Officers told the committee that final decisions had not yet
been made in relation to the application of the efficiency dividend and
undertook to provide the information on notice.
The committee also questioned officers on staffing levels at DIAC,
seeking details of the projected reduction in staffing from 7,401 in 2007-08 to
7,176 in 2008-09.
Officers told the committee that the majority of the staffing reductions would
come from DIAC's national office in Canberra
with a reduction of 16 on-going staff at overseas posts.
Officers explained that the reduction in staffing was a result of a range
factors including the 'health check'.
Subclass 457 visas
The committee continued its interest from previous estimates hearings in
the subclass 457 visa. The committee questioned DIAC on the current backlog of
457 visa applications.
Officers told the committee that as of 13 June 2008 there was an on-hand
caseload of 10,359 applications and that of those, 3,999 were outside the respective
published service standards.
This compared with 14,300 on hand and 7,800 outside the service standard at the
end of March 2008.
Officers also told the committee that following a directive from the Minister,
extra resources had been allocated to the processing of subclass 457 visa applications
in order to improve processing times.
Senators also questioned officers on a decision taken to increase the Minimum
Salary Level (MSL) for subclass 457 visa holders.
Officers told the committee that the increase would apply from August 2008 and
that the MSL had not been increased since May 2006.
Maritime Crew Visa
The committee sought an update on the implementation of the Maritime
Crew Visa (MCV).
Officers told the committee that the MCV had been a 'terrific success'
and that DIAC had received 'terrific feedback from the shipping industry'.
Officers told the committee that over 300,000 MCV's had been issued which had
exceeded original projections.
Officers explained that 99.8 per cent of applications had been lodged
electronically resulting in savings of approximately $2.6 million.
During its inquiry into the provisions of the Migration Amendment
(Maritime Crew) Bill 2007 the committee received evidence from DIAC and
industry submitters that extensive formal and informal consultation had taken
place during the development of the MCV.
The committee is of the view that this consultation has made a significant
contribution to the success of the MCV. The committee believes that the
implementation of the MCV is a good example of effective stakeholder engagement
when developing and implementing new policies and encourages DIAC to continue
this into the future.
The committee sought an update from DIAC on the operation of the citizenship
test. The committee heard that the number of applicants undertaking the
citizenship test had increased significantly and that 15,000 applicants were
currently booked to sit the test.
Officers also told the committee that waiting times to sit the test had reduced
The committee also heard that humanitarian entrants continue to have
significantly lower pass rates than other migrant cohorts. The committee has
previously expressed concern at the lower pass rates for humanitarian cohorts
and awaits with interest the outcome of the Minister's review of the
During the hearings committee members questioned officers on how
increases in the migration intake would affect housing demand.
Committee members raised concerns that these questions went to the matters
currently under consideration by the Senate Select Committee on Housing
Under standing order 25(13):
A committee shall take care not to inquire into any matters
which are being examined by a select committee of the Senate appointed to
inquire into such matters and any question arising in this connection may be
referred to the Senate for determination.
Following a request from the committee, the clerk provided written
advice (Appendix 3) regarding standing order 25(13).
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