Politics Analysis

Labor and AAT feeling pressure of Dutton's trafficking scam legacy

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The Albanese Government is still dealing with repercussions from Dutton's labour trafficking scam (Screenshots via YouTube)

As the Albanese Government tightens onshore visa policy, we are seeing the inevitable rise in appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), particularly against student and asylum refusals.

Appeals against migration (non-asylum) refusals

Appeals against migration refusals in the 11 months to May 2024 were 15,374 compared to 9,258 for the whole of 2022-23. Just in May 2024, there were 3,115 appeals, up from 1,868 in April 2024 and 1,564 in March 2024. Prior to March 2024, appeals against migration decisions averaged around 1,000 per month.

The backlog of migration appeals at the AAT at end May 2024 had grown to 18,680 up from 14,438 at the start of 2023-24.

(Data source: AAT statistics)

The big driver of the surge was appeals against student refusals which increased from 1,868 in 2022-23 to 7,703 in the 11 months to May 2024. Student refusals now represent around 50% of the AAT’s migration caseload compared to 20% in 2022-23. The backlog of student refusals at the AAT has increased from 2,100 (15%) at end 2022-23 to 7,730 (41%) at end May 2024.

The set-aside rate for student refusals in 2022-23 was 43% compared to 45% in the 11 months to May 2024.

There has also been rapid growth in appeals against student cancellations which increased from 189 in 2022-23 to 591 in the 11 months to end May 2024. This is likely to be the result of the removal of unrestricted work rights plus additional funding for immigration compliance work.

Migration decisions at the AAT have remained stable at around 1,000 per month. At that rate – and if the application rate remains around 3,000 per month – the backlog will continue to grow strongly. That would undermine the Government’s policy to reduce net migration.

Asylum cases at the AAT

The situation with asylum cases at the AAT in May 2024 was a bit more positive. While asylum appeals increased to an extraordinary 1,504 in May 2024, the number of asylum decisions made by the AAT increased to a monthly record of 2,446. That was after a monthly record 1,568 asylum decisions in April 2024 and 1,251 in March 2024.

That is the effect of the $160 million asylum package announced by the Government in 2023.

For the first time since the massive labour trafficking scam abusing the asylum system started under Opposition Leader Peter Dutton in 2015-16, the backlog of asylum cases fell from a peak of 41,859 at end March 2024 to 40,683 at end May 2024. While a long way to go for the AAT to get on top of its asylum caseload, it is a start.

(Data source: AAT annual reports)

Total AAT asylum applications in the 11 months to May 2024 was 10,739 compared to 9,792 in 2022-23. The risk for the AAT is that as the Government continues to tighten onshore visa policy, asylum applications at the primary level and at AAT will remain strong.

The AAT will need to maintain the high rate of processing in May 2024 and the Government will need to decide how best to approach the situation of refused asylum seekers who do not depart. The cost of locating, detaining and removing refused asylum seekers who have been living in the community for many years would be astronomical.

That is the legacy of Dutton ignoring the trafficking scam when it first started.

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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