Politics Analysis

Dutton's fearmongering over asylum seeker arrivals is overtly hypocritical

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(Asylum seekers off the coast of West Timor | Screenshot via YouTube)

Despite the Opposition's continued fearmongering, Labor's immigration policy appears to be slowly decelerating the number of unprocessed asylum seeker applications, Dr Abul Rizvi writes.

AS THE HYSTERIA of a boat with around 40 potential asylum seekers has started to die down and the armada of boat arrivals Opposition Leader Peter Dutton yet again warned of hasn’t arrived, it’s time to get back to the real asylum seeker issues — those who arrive by plane.

In January 2024, the number of primary asylum applications fell to 1,769. This was the third successive decline in primary asylum applications since Australia received 2,322 asylum applications in October 2023 — but still well below the record of well over 2,700 per month set under Peter Dutton in 2017-18.

The source countries were broadly stable, although we are seeing fewer asylum applications from Pacific Island nationals as well as a decline in asylum applications from Vietnamese nationals.

The decline in asylum applications from Pacific Island nationals may be due to the creation of the Pacific Engagement Visa (PEV) pathway to permanent residence, although it is unlikely many Pacific Island nationals temporarily in Australia will be lucky enough to get a PEV.

The decline in Vietnamese nationals applying for asylum may reflect increased scrutiny of visitor and student applications from Vietnam and increased nervousness in the migration agent/lawyer community about the risk of being caught pushing a large number of unmeritorious asylum applications.

Primary asylum applications processed in January 2024 increased to 1,479. That was the highest number of primary applications processed since August 2023. Despite this, there is a long way to go to get back to where things were before former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton allowed the biggest labour trafficking scam in Australian history, which ran from 2015 until international borders were closed.

On this basis, things appear to be heading in the right direction:

(Source: Department of Home Affairs - Onshore Processing | homeaffairs.gov.au)

The primary backlog of undecided applications was 32,340 and the Government needs to get this down to below 26,405 — the level it inherited at the May 2022 Election.

That will not happen until a large number of new asylum processing officers are recruited and trained to process closer to 3,000 asylum applications monthly. We should start to see the impact of faster processing over the next few months as the $160 million package announced in late 2023 starts to take effect.

At the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), asylum applications increased to 726 in January 2024. While asylum applications to the AAT have been declining since September 2023, a temporary increase is inevitable as applications are processed faster at the primary level. It will be essential that the additional funding kicks in soon to enable faster processing at the AAT.

The asylum backlog at the AAT in January 2024 was 41,590. The Albanese Government will want to see additional funding reduce that backlog.

The aim will be to get this below 36,708, which was the level at the May 2022 Election:

(Source: AAT Annual Reports and Caseload Statistics | aat.gov.au)

The total number of asylum seekers who have been refused at the primary level but have not departed increased to a new record of 77,065. This number was 67,855 at the May 2022 Election.

The Government first has to stop this growth before considering reducing the number. To achieve that, not only must there be faster processing at both the primary level and the AAT, but there also has to be some material increase in the number of finally refused asylum seekers being removed.

In January 2024, only six refused asylum seekers were removed:

(Source: Department of Home Affairs - Asylum Seeker Report | homeaffairs.gov.au)

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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