IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION PORTFOLIO
This chapter summarises some of the matters raised during the committee's
consideration of the budget estimates for the Immigration and Border Protection
Portfolio for the 2015–16 financial year.
Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal (MRT-RRT)
The principal member of the MRT-RRT, Ms Kay Ransome, updated the
committee on developments in the organisation's operation and the effect of
ongoing reforms. In her opening statement, Ms Ransome provided details
regarding the ongoing caseload of the tribunals, statutory reforms which have
enabled the fast-tracking of claims, the development of the Immigration
Assessment Authority and the implications of the Tribunals Amalgamation Act
The Tribunals Amalgamation Act 2015 integrated the MRT-RRT and
the Social Security Appeals Tribunal into the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The committee questioned officials from the MRT-RRT about its current
caseload, with specific inquiries regarding the types of visa claims heard, the
average overturn rate for decisions and the primary reasons for overturning
Ms Ransome indicated in her opening statement that the tribunal finalised
19,500 cases to date this year, and is on target to reach its yearly target of
The MRT-RRT detailed that at the date of the hearing it had 14,000 active
cases, this is where an application was lodged but no final determination had yet
Officials detailed that the bulk of the caseload currently managed by
the tribunals stemmed from student visa refusals, partner visa refusals and
temporary work visas.
Officials further explained that the overturn rate across all categories is
approximately 30 percent, which is typical of the rate in previous years.
The committee sought details about the implications of the Tribunals
Amalgamation Act 2015, which was passed on 13 May 2015. Ms Ransome
indicated that work was being undertaken to ensure the tribunal could 'present
to the world as a single organisation' on 1 July 2015.
The focus of this effort primarily consists of streamlining 'back office'
functions, as well as coordinating the operation of various existing registries,
so that they may operate as one organisation.
Whilst it was noted that it was unlikely this process would be completed in its
entirety by 1 July 2015, the amalgamation was proceeding smoothly.
Australian Border Force (ABF)
Officials from both the Department of Immigration and Border Protection
(DIBP) and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Services (ACBPS)
detailed the measures currently being undertaken to establish the Australian
Border Force (ABF). The ABF will come into operation on 1 July 2015. The stated
purpose of the ABF is to manage the flow of people and goods across Australia's
borders in a manner which maximises travel, trade, prosperity and social
cohesion, whilst minimising threats to community safety and national security.
The committee questioned the ACBPS about existing measures and processes
which are employed to regulate the movement of several prohibited goods,
including asbestos, illegal firearms and illicit substances. The Chief
Executive Officer of the ACPBS, Mr Roman Quaedvlieg, detailed that whilst the
importation of prohibited goods cannot be prevented in all cases, advanced
targeting regimes exist to identify high-risks goods, industries and countries.
Mr Quaedvlieg explained that effective customs regulation does not solely rely
on greater staffing and funding numbers, but also required the application of
better industry engagement, analytics, intelligence queuing and targeted
In relation to the detection of illicit firearms and drugs the ACPBS has increased
its number of consignment inspections, as a means of implementing its 'tackling-crime
The committee inquired into the new funding arrangements for the
establishment of the ABF, with a particular focus on new expenditure assigned
for additional equipment and training. Mr Quaedvlieg explained that the
additional funding would be directed towards investment in mobile technologies
and the skills of employees in utilising these. This is designed to increase
the capabilities and judgement making ability of staff operating in the field. 
Mr Quaedvlieg also discussed the rollout of new technology such as
SmartGates, which have the capacity to collect biometrics through facial
The utilisation of this technology will enhance customs capabilities, allowing the
application of analytics to passenger manifests and assisting in the making of real-time
The committee questioned both officials from the ACBPS and the DIBP on
further matters, including incidents within domestic detention centres, the
disciplining of staff, the implementation of new measures regarding the
disclosure of information, the number of customs officials who are authorised
to carry firearms, the regulation of motor vehicle imports and exports, and
investigations into matters regarding Ausfreight Global Logistics.
Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB)
The committee questioned officials from the DIBP, the ACBPS and the
Joint Agency Taskforce (JATF) about the budgeting and implementation of
Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB). Matters discussed included ongoing measures
employed to intercept and turn-back Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMA), the steps
being taken to disrupt international people smuggling rings and the cost of
The commander of the JATF, Major General Andrew Bottrell, explained in
his opening statement that the primary purpose of OSB remained:
ensuring the continued safe conduct of on-water operations to
prevent and deny illegal boat arrivals, the implementation of disruption and
deterrence activities through transit and source countries to target people
smugglers and inform the vulnerable people they would take advantage of, and
support to the governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea as they administer and
control their respective processing centres.
Major General Bottrell detailed that since 18 September 2013 there have
been no successful arrivals in Australia, with 18 successful turn-backs.
Since the additional estimates hearing in February 2015, there had been one
turn-back and one take-back.
A turn-back refers to a case where a vessel has been safely removed from
Australian waters, whilst a take-back involves Australia working with a country
of departure to see the safe return of passengers and crew.
The committee questioned officials about whether they had any requests from
or engagements with European authorities on the methods employed in OSB, considering
recent developments in the Mediterranean. The secretary of the DIBP, Mr Michael
Pezzullo, indicated that there had been interest in the methods of deterrence,
disruption and multi-agency cooperation which have been utilised in the
Australian experience. It was explained that certain commonalities exist in the
motivations and operation of international people smuggling syndicates.
Further questions were raised about the ongoing funding of OSB. It was
detailed that portions of OSB funding had been earmarked for measures including
investment in enhancing Ocean Shield's operational capacity, funding for
an anti-people smuggling strategic communications campaign and the provision of
return assistance packages.
Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP)
Cross-Portfolio, Corporate and
The DIBP provided the committee with details regarding cross-portfolio
management of the department. Matters discussed included the measures being
adopted by the DIBP to ensure the efficient delivery of its services, issues
concerning internal management and the steps being taken to invest in new
The committee questioned the DIBP about how it was to achieve the
scheduled savings of $270.1 million over the next four years
Mr Pezzullo indicated that such savings would primarily derive from the
consolidation of functions such as IT, legal services, financial services and
property arrangements, as well through the efficiencies arising from the
greater use of technology.
It was explained that the consolidation of these functions would be due in
large part to the integration of the DIBP and the ACBPS.
The committee also inquired into matters regarding the department's
internal management. This included questions concerning the number of Senior Executive
Service (SES) who have left the DIBP and the implications of a new dress code.
Mr Pezzullo explained that whilst some SES had departed, recruitment
processes were ongoing.
In regards to the departmental dress code, the committee was assured that this
was only intended to apply to ordinary professional work wear.
The DIBP was also questioned about further internal matters, including
the current amount of funding assigned to its litigation caseload, the introduction
of new ICT platforms, enhancement of airport security, the development of
e-passports, the rollout of eGates and the enhancement of Townsville airport as
an international airport.
Border Enforcement and Management
The committee questioned the DIBP on matters relating to its border
enforcement policies, including the operation of its onshore and offshore
detention facilities. The issues covered included the flow of correspondence to
detention centres, allegations regarding sexual abuse, the number of and
conditions for children in detention, the numbers of those still currently in
detention and the forms of legal assistance available to those IMA's currently being
The DIBP was questioned about the treatment of correspondence sent by Mr Julian
Burnside QC to detainees on Nauru.
The DIBP explained that these could not be delivered for a number of reasons,
including that detainees were no longer located at the centre, a number chose
not to receive the correspondence and in some cases the recipient could not be
The standard process for delivering correspondence is handled by the centre
service provider, letters are not directly distributed to the addressee but
they are provided an opportunity to come forward and collect any mail.
The committee questioned DIBP officials about several allegations
regarding incidents in detention centres. This included allegations regarding
the production of crystal metamphetamine in the Maribyrnong detention facility.
It was explained that vulnerabilities exist in any system and that measures
were being taken to reduce the potential inflow of contraband.
Questions were also raised regarding allegations that have arisen from the
Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. Mr Pezzullo indicated
that where situation reports are issued these matters are investigated.
The DIBP also stated that officials were cooperating in relation to historical
allegations raised by the royal commission.
The DIBP explained the measures taken with regard to children in
detention, stating in relation to cases of extreme risk that:
Obviously, there is a significant amount of work that goes
into monitoring and managing the welfare of children, particularly children who
are determined to be at risk which involves, obviously, healthcare
professionals being brought in to manage and help plan in relation to how we
manage those risks in the detention environment. Our intention always is to get
children out of detention, if we can. That is what we want to do, is get the
children out of detention, particularly children at risk. In cases where we are
unable to do that because one of the family members is being held due to an
adverse security assessment, for example, and the family do not want to be
split up then we have got to manage that within the detention environment.
The committee pursued questions regarding measures being implemented to
fast-track the legacy caseload of IMA's. Officials explained that fast-tracked
procedures apply where an applicant is requested to provide the DIBP with
further information or a response to adverse information. It was explained
Essentially, if a fast-track applicant is found not to engage
Australia's protection obligations, departmental decision makers will apply
additional factors to determine if the applicant is an excluded fast-track
review applicant. Subsection 5(1) of the Migration Act defines who is an
excluded fast-track review applicant. It includes, among other things, persons
who have made manifestly unfounded claims for asylum; persons who have
presented bogus documents, without a reasonable explanation; and persons who
have previously had an application for protection refused in a third country.
If found to be an excluded fast-track review applicant, the fast-track
applicants case will be finalised and they will not have access to merits
Officials faced questioning about the numbers of those still currently
held in detention facilities. The legacy caseload of those in detention at the
time of this hearing was 30,448.
Mr Pezullo explained that whilst the total number of people in detention had
reduced, the average time for processing had increased. It was detailed that:
....the earlier number was smaller because there was a larger
group, just in mathematical terms, that was being put through the permanent
protection process, and now we are to a group that has more complications
associated with it. So the number in detention is smaller, but the average
length is increasing. 
Questions were also raised regarding the level of legal assistance
afforded to people whose claims are being processed. It was explained that the most
assistance comes through the Primary Application Assistance Scheme, which is
applicable only in cases of particular vulnerability.
It was explained that:
Last year, on 14 March 2014, the former minister for
immigration removed access to the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance
Scheme for illegal arrivals. At around the same time the minister also approved
the formation of the primary application information services case to assist
the most vulnerable illegal arrivals to apply for a protection visa. The
service is provided under the pace to vulnerable cases. Essentially they are
typically provided by a registered migration agent or lawyer and include that
they meet the applicant to explain the agent-client relationship, explain the
protection claims process, get claims and documentation to support an
application for a protection visa—all the immigration and legal assistance to
these vulnerable cases in the IMA legacy caseload.
Further matters which were discussed with the committee included the
training standards required for Serco guards, the budget funding allocated for
offshore resettlement programs, the number of legal settlement claims made by
the DIBP and the circumstances and conditions in which departmental staff
Questions were also raised about regional processing on Nauru; however, this line
of questioning was limited by the standing orders, which stipulate 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.
Visas and Citizenship Programmes
The committee raised questions in relation to outcome 2, which seeks to 'support
a prosperous and inclusive society through the effective management of the visa
and citizenship programmes.'
Matters discussed included newly proposed citizenship laws, the implementation
of new visa arrangements, the management of existing working, student and
humanitarian visas, and the oversight of visa fraud cases.
Questions were raised about the government's proposal regarding the revocation
of an individual's citizenship in relation to terrorist activities. Departmental
officials detailed the existing legal framework regulating the revocation of citizenship,
noting that a person's Australian citizenship automatically ceases by operation
of law if they are the citizen of another country and serve on the armed forces
of a country at war with Australia. The committee was informed that specific
details regarding the current proposal were still under consideration. 
The DIBP also explained the reform measures being implemented to
streamline the visa processing system. Information was provided regarding the
introduction of the new class of Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV). This class
of visa is a means of granting IMA's a pathway to permanent residency if they
commit to living, learning or earning in a regional area of Australia for over three
and a half years out of a five year period. Officials detailed that the SHEV
scheme was designed to assist with the processing of the IMA legacy caseload.
The committee inquired into which categories of visa applications were
expected to rise. Mr Pezzullo indicated that the DIBP was planning to issue a
record five million visas for visitor and temporary residency purposes this
The DIBP further elaborated that there had been significant growth in the
number of tourist, visitor and student visas.
With the increase in the number of visa's granted, the department's focus had
been on monitoring breaches of visa conditions which are also expected to
increase as a matter of scale.
Further questions were asked about the steps being taken by the DIBP in
relation to the management of existing working, student and humanitarian visa
programmes. The DIBP elaborated on the conditions and oversight applied to 457
working visas, the level of Australia's current humanitarian intake and the
measures in place to ensure the integrity of certified education providers
under the student visa program.
Specific questions were put to the DIBP about cases where visas were denied due
to circumstances of fraud. Departmental officials clarified that in the case of
student visas, 771 applications had been refused on the grounds of fraud at the
time of the hearing. This was out of a total of 250,000 grants.
Other matters discussed included the amount of funding allocated to
combatting human trafficking, the compliance oversight of labour hire
organisations, the continued management of settlement programs and the methods
of appointment to and operation of the Ministers Council on Asylum Seekers and
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