Two years have passed since Labor MP Julian Hill, member for the Victorian seat of Bruce, started pressing Peter Dutton for reasons as to why there were huge delays in the backlog of citizenship applications waiting to be processed.
Questions about the long waiting times for prospective citizens were asked, but answers have not been forthcoming.
Now, an official government audit has slammed Dutton’s super-sized Department of Home Affairs for failing to use its resources efficiently. As a result of inefficiencies, waiting times for Australian citizenship applications have fallen short of the government’s goal of processing 80 per cent of the applications within an 80-day period. These days, three quarters of prospective citizens need to wait up to 13 months before a decision is made on their applications.
There is currently a backlog of 244,765 applications – a portion of these from Greek nationals who have to wait for more than two years from the date of their application to the time when the department informs them of the results of their application.
Mr Hill said that the largest pile of paperwork at his office is the growing pile of letters waiting for temporary ministers to respond.
“Ministers have given up writing back. They’ve given up pretending to govern. This government is disappearing up its own black hole,” he said.
Mr Hill referred to the stress caused by the delays that have resulted in many newcomers living in a state of limbo, their lives on hold, not knowing what the future holds for them.
“We have every week in the foyer of my office grown men crying,” Mr Hill said.
“That is not an exaggeration – they come in a state of hopelessness and despair.
“They are people who want to formalise their commitment to this country. We should expect them to do so … and we should welcome it.”
The Victorian Auditor-General’s office – an independent body of the Victorian Parliament – used unusually strong language to condemn Mr Dutton’s department, calling it “a complete and total failure in administration”.
Minister for Immigration and Citizenship David Coleman said there was an 83 per cent increase in the number of citizenship applications processed in the last six months of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017. This spike is confirmed by data from the Department of Home Affairs at the end of January revealed that 239,413 people applied for citizenship by conferral – a method used by those who have permanent resident status – compared to 203,793.
However, despite the 17.5 per cent increase in applications from the previous year, the number of approved applications has been slashed by almost half. In November, there were 244,431 outstanding applications compared to 106,950 in July 2017.
The government states that the delay is due to more stringent assessments such as past criminal behaviour, and there has been an overhaul of the eligibility criteria that would bring in a tougher English test and longer waiting period before permanent citizens can apply.
Mr Hill does not accept this as an excuse. “Sure, ID checks are important, but there are nearly 250,000 permanent residents living, working and loving here,” if they are so dangerous, why are they here? Why have they been here for four to 10 years? You can’t just say ‘national security’ as if it’s a Harry Potter style spell,” he said addressing Parliament last August.
“The scandal is growing and the minister must explain himself,” Mr Hill had said back then. And he is still waiting.