|HOLDING PETER DUTTON TO ACCOUNT
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 smugglers' business model, and indeed the boats have stopped. In fact, this was Scott Morrison's achievement that Mr Dutton now takes credit for.
The reality is that under Mr Dutton the people smugglers have been allowed to evolve their business model from using boats to using planes. In the past four years the number of "airplane people" seeking protection visas has soared to more than 81,000 – far exceeding the 44,581 protection visa applications for boat arrivals over the previous five years.
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 more than 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.
I want to be clear – Labor will keep the people smugglers out of business and maintain our strong borders.
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 front bench 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.
This opinion piece was first published in the Courier Mail on Tuesday, 4 June 2019.
MEDIA CONTACT: TIMOTHY DUNLOP 0428 043 110