IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP PORTFOLIO
This chapter summarises some of the matters raised during the
committee's consideration of the budget estimates for the Immigration and
Citizenship Portfolio for the 2012-13 financial year.
Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal (MRT-RRT)
The Principal Member of the MRT-RRT, Mr Denis O'Brien, updated the
committee on significant developments within the organisation since his last appearance
before the committee. He covered workload statistics and strategies to deal
with an increased workload, member recruitment and performance indicators.
The committee heard that for the financial year up to 30 April 2012
lodgements continued to increase for both the MRT and RRT compared to 2010-11, 30
per cent and 11 per cent respectively. Active cases also increased significantly
over this period, 47 per cent for the MRT and 59 per cent for the RRT. Mr O'Brien
advised the committee that he expected the total number of decisions across
both tribunals for 2011-12 would be close to 10,800, which compares to 9,181
for the previous year. 
The MRT-RRT was questioned about the impact of the transfer of reviews
for irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) to the RRT following Minister Bowen's
announcement in November 2011 that the government would be moving to a single
protection visa process for both boat and air arrivals, using the current
onshore arrangements for application and independent review through the RRT
The Minister announced on 19 March 2012 that '[t]he new system will apply to
asylum seekers who arrive in Australia from 24 March as well as those who
arrived prior to that date but had not yet had a primary assessment interview'.
Mr O'Brien advised that additional funds of $8.6 million were provided in
the 2012-13 budget to fund the increasing workload as a result of the new IMA
He also noted that there would be a return of some tribunal members from the
Independent Protection Assessment Office in the coming months as a result of
the changed arrangements.
In response to questioning, Mr Colin Plowman, Registrar, elaborated on the
arrangements that have been implemented to manage the new caseload:
Mr Plowman:...We have also got in place two working
parties within the organisation, one on case load management to ensure we have
the appropriate policies and processes in place. We have been liaising with the
department around that in terms of making sure we can manage that. Part of that
new principal member direction was part of the consideration of that and a few
other things. We also have a staffing infrastructure working party within the
tribunals to also manage those other matters to do with the new case load.
On request, Mr O'Brien tabled the Principal Member Direction 2/2012: Applications
for review made by offshore entry persons, to assist the committee.
The committee was informed that, at the time of the hearing, five
applications from IMAs for review of negative decisions had been received and
all had been allocated to members. Mr O'Brien explained that, while detention
cases would receive priority, not every IMA application is expected to be a
With the expiration of Mr O'Brien's appointment as Principal Member on
30 June 2012, the Minister and the committee acknowledged his service
and assistance to the committee, particularly through the estimates process,
over the previous five years.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship
Irregular maritime arrivals and
Senators again questioned the Department of Immigration and Citizenship
and Minister on the budgetary implications of the number of IMAs. The Minister,
Senator the Hon Kate Lundy, provided an opening statement to the committee
regarding IMAs and the impact on the budget. The Minister outlined the sequence
of events since the High Court of Australia's decision on 31 August 2011 in
relation to the Malaysia Arrangement. She also provided the details of arrivals
since this time and noted that, in 2012, there have been peaks and troughs in
the number of arrivals.
Senators sought an explanation of the revised budget figure of
approximately $840 million over the forward estimates for offshore asylum
seeker management since the additional estimates process. The Acting Secretary,
Mr Martin Bowles PSM, informed the committee:
If you have a look at the arrival numbers late last year,
they were very high. Then we had some quite low numbers in January and March.
Things were bouncing around quite a bit. We take every opportunity that arises
in the budget-setting process to look at our numbers and to feed in the latest
numbers and policy positions. The first opportunity, really, to get into the
2012-13 PBS is in the May budget, obviously. We have to factor in a range of
those issues. At the additional estimates process—the MYEFO process—we had got
so far. We now have another opportunity, nearly, what is it, 4½ or five
months past the additional estimates and MYEFO processes.
Officers confirmed that the 2012-13 budget figure is based on a rate of
450 IMAs a month as a budget projection, but noted that this is only one
Senator CASH: Can you then take me through from
February to May? What constitutes the [$839.9] million? Can you take me through
where the increases have actually been, given that the increase in IMAs is only
part of that?
Mr Bowles: It is an exceptionally complex formula that
we work out with the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
Senator CASH: All I am interested in is the 840-odd
million. What is encapsulated in that? How can we get a breakdown of what is
encapsulated in that? Where have the increases been?
Mr Bowles: It tries to factor in the cohorts of people
we have—their nationality, whether they are family groups, whether they are
accompanied or unaccompanied children, whether they are single adult males and
where they actually are. It is cheaper to have them in certain places than
other places, no doubt, through the system—
Senator CASH: More expensive, based on this figure.
Mr Bowles: As I said, we have adjusted for the change
in policy and we have progressively done that from MYEFO to the PBS of 2012.
Factoring all of those things in—
Senator CASH: Except the IMAs, because the IMAs have
not changed. That has to be put to one side because you state that that remains
Mr Bowles: That is correct.
Community Placement Network
The new Community Placement Network, which commenced on
26 March 2012, was the subject of extensive questioning. The program
will provide accommodation for clients released from detention on bridging
visas and will be delivered through the Australian Homestay Network. The
department advised the committee that, at the time of the hearings, 1400 potential
hosts had registered for the program, eight clients had been placed with a host
family, with a further 12 clients to be placed that day, and a group of 20
clients to be placed by 5 June 2012.
One area of questioning concerned the risk of placing a potentially
vulnerable client into a homestay arrangement. Officers explained to the
committee that, although people at risk are eligible for the homestay program,
more vulnerable people would be placed in community detention rather than on
bridging visas. Mr John Moorhouse, Deputy Secretary, provided further
context on the client group accessing homestay:
There is probably some other contextual information that is
useful to take into account as well, and that is that the people who are going
on to bridging visas in recent times are people who are not as
institutionalised from being in detention for an extended period of time. Some
of the early bridging visa releases were people who had been in detention for
two or three years. Now the people who are coming out and are likely to flow
into the Homestay Network are people who have only been in detention for a
relatively short period of time—five or six months.
The committee also explored a number of other aspects of the program,
including the timeline for the development of the program, departmental
liability, host insurance, screening processes, training for hosts, income support
for clients on the program and media coverage.
Enterprise Migration Agreements and
Regional Migration Agreements
Senators requested an update on the Enterprise Migration Agreements
(EMA) scheme which had been announced in the previous budget. The department
advised that, at the time of the hearing, one application was before the Minister
for consideration and three other applications had been received by the
department but had not yet been submitted to the Minister. Officers estimated
that another 20 projects may be eligible. While acknowledging that
commercial-in-confidence considerations are not grounds for a claim of public
interest immunity, Mr Kruno Kukoc was reluctant to provide detailed information
on the final application before the Minister and senators did not pursue that
line of questioning. He did advise in more general terms that EMAs could
include multiyear projects, spanning the lifetime of the project, and there
would be provision within each agreement for regular review of arrangements
every six to 12 months. 
In response to questions on the issue of workplace rights for EMA employees,
the committee was informed that foreign workers under the scheme would be
employed under the 457 visa program, and would therefore have all the rights
and obligations extended to them under that program. It was also noted the
English language requirement would be that of the 457 visa program, but may be
subject to some concessions if there are alternative risk mitigation strategies
in place to ensure workers have information about their rights.
Another area of interest to senators concerned the monitoring of sponsor
compliance with regards to conditions and salaries. The committee was assured
that the current sponsor monitoring program for the 457 visa program will be
fully extended to EMAs. When the issue of whether there were sufficient resources
to adequately extend the monitoring program to projects under the EMA scheme,
Mr Kukoc advised:
...There is no issue about the level of resources. I think the
issue is about the intelligent use of resources. We are implementing the risk
management strategy. We have developed the risk management strategy in the 457
sponsor regime, where we clearly identify the sponsors or employees, the
characteristics and who may be of high risk and we target our sponsorship
activities to the high rick areas.
Senator WATERS: Does that mean that low-risk projects
are not monitored?
Mr Kukoc: They are monitored but, like with any
risk-management strategy, you have more resources devoted to high-risk areas.
Senator WATERS: Will the EMAs be considered high risk
or low risk?
Mr Kukoc: It all depends on the employers and the
type of employees they employ under the EMA. So every EMA will be
different—because a EMA is just a deed of agreement that covers the project on
a range of employers under that deed of agreement. So all these employers will
have a separate labour agreement and will enter into sponsorship obligations
with the government under those labour agreements. So it will vary from
employer to employer or the type of employees they bring onshore.
The committee was advised that the March 2012 release of the Regional
Migration Agreement (RMA) submission guidelines had been delayed due to an
extended consultative period with the states and territories, and were now
expected to be released in June 2012. Despite the delay in publication of the
guidelines, Mr Kukoc confirmed that one RMA was currently being negotiated with
the Northern Territory Government. 
Security assessment processes for bridging visas
Senators sought details of the processes for the grant of bridging visas,
which at the time of the hearing, totalled 1780 visas, with 190 moved to
permanent residency. The committee heard that bridging visas had been granted
to persons at various stages of processing, with priority given to those who
had been in detention the longest or considered most vulnerable. The department
indicated that the criteria included people who had been assessed as '1A met'
status (a positive refugee status assessment) but had not completed the remainder
of their processing, including the final Australian Security Intelligence
Organisation security check. It was also confirmed that the grant of bridging
visas may include persons who had not attained '1A met' status:
Senator CASH: Does that mean that there are some
people on bridging visas who may not have received a positive assessment—they
might be either pending an assessment or on a negative RSA assessment?
Mr Kelly: There certainly are people who as the
processing continues—so those people who may have been released, who were not
through the initial process and who have subsequently been found not to be a
refugee either at the primary stage or at the review stage—would still be in
the community on bridging visas. So, yes, that is absolutely the case.
The department addressed concerns raised about the identity and security
checks of persons on bridging visas released into the community:
Senator CASH: The question that I think arises is:
these individuals are not subject to surveillance whilst they are in the
community on bridging visas; why is there a lower bar for people on bridging
visas that are all out in the community than, say, for people who are on a
Mr McCairns: A protection visa is a permanent visa, so
we would want to be much more sure of the facts, if I can put it that way,
before the grant of a permanent visa.
Senator CASH: But these people are still out in the
Mr Bowles: Bridging visa holders have to report in, so
they are not like a permanent protection visa holder.
Senator CASH: At the discretion of the minister,
though. The minister, under the bridging visa conditions—
Mr Bowles: Under the bridging visa arrangements we
have in place, bridging visa holders report.
Mr Bowles: ...We are not talking about identity as a
singular issue. We are talking about identity. We are getting an initial
assessment from ASIO and we have already done at least that first part of our
entry interview process and well into, probably, the second part of that
particular stage. So there are a whole series of things that we go to, not just
one particular issue.
Senator CASH: I think what we have established at the
moment is that, in terms of the identity checks, we know who they claim to be
but we do not know who they are when we are releasing them into the community.
Mr Bowles: In some cases that could be correct, but we
still go very quickly into the detailed checking. As I said, we are not just
going by one single thing being an identity check. There are a series of these
checks—the security assessment and others.
Other matters of interest
The committee also questioned the department about a wide range of other
matters, including costs of international charter flights, details of an
irregular entry vessel off the Cocos (Keeling Islands), visa arrangements for
overseas-based flight crews, incidents of self-harm in immigration detention
centres, alleged fraud in the migration program raised by the ABC program 7.30,
the migration program for
2012-13, costs of Northam Immigration Detention Centre and Pontville
Immigration Detention Centre, the Adult Migrant English Program, the cap on the
Humanitarian Settlement Services, and the funding decrease for the National
Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters.
Answers to questions on notice
The committee acknowledges a slight improvement in the timeliness of the
provision of some of the answers to questions on notice for the Immigration and
Citizenship Portfolio for the additional estimates 2011-12 round. The committee
set 30 March 2012 as the due date for answers to questions on notice
and received 214 answers in response to a total of 519
questions by that date. As noted by the committee in its previous report on
estimates, no answers to questions on notice have been provided by the due date
over the five previous estimates rounds for the Immigration and Citizenship
The Acting Secretary in his opening statement remarked on the large volume
of questions on notice in recent estimates rounds, as well as the burden placed
upon the department by its participation in other parliamentary committee
inquiries, most notably the recent Joint Select Committee on Australia's
Immigration Detention Network, which tabled its final report on 30 March 2012:
...This was a very extensive inquiry into what is a complex and
challenging area of public policy and administration. Throughout the inquiry,
the department worked with the committee in an open and transparent manner. To
this end, the department answered over 1,300 questions, provided 4,000 pages of
written material, responded to 306 questions on notice, provided 16
supplementary responses, facilitated site visits across the immigration
detention network and appeared before the committee on 10 occasions.
The department continues to respond productively, openly and
transparently to the various reviews, oversight bodies and a number of other
parliamentary committees. Many questions to the department seek detailed
information on a range of complex and sensitive issues. All responses are
carefully checked to ensure that all information provided is accurate, current
and addresses the matters raised. This takes time.
This also carries with it a significant workload. For
instance, in the budget estimates hearing in May 2011, 794 questions were taken
on notice. This compares with only 136 questions on notice being asked at the
2010 budget estimates hearing. At the additional estimates hearing in February
this year, the department received 519 questions on notice. It is also a
challenge for us to deal with the many questions between estimates hearings.
However, I want to stress that we try our best given the level of complexity we
are working with.
While the committee is encouraged by the recent improvement in providing
at least some answers by the due date, it notes that the majority of answers
remained outstanding as at this date. The committee hopes to see a continuing
improvement in the timeliness of answers in future estimates rounds.
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