Yesterday I was alerted to an already three day old article by Michael Safi in The Guardian. Essentially Michael’s article concentrates on changes to the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) which are indeed a worry, although expected given the recent inhumane and illegal, under international law, changes to this county’s treatment of asylum seekers. What drew my attention even more was one small sentence.
It [the RRT] will be merged with the Migration Review Tribunal and three other bodies as part of a government efficiency drive.
Most readers visiting this site are aware of our experience with both the refugee and later partner visa systems of this country. The RRT hears appeals by asylum seekers who have been denied a protection visa by the Immigration Department. The Migration Review Tribunal (MRT) is the body that hears appeals against other visa denials/refusals: partner visas, student visas and so on. I recently did an investigative series covering current processing of partner visas and appeal hearing timelines.
The articles in that series are:
- What price justice for love?
- Love numbers – Partner Visa statistics
- Are decision makers adequately resourced?
- We live in a racist culture
- Punitive and deterrent delays of spouses and children
- How Australian families become collateral damage – a professional perspective – a guest post by a migration lawyer
These articles show the system is already in crisis. Through the grapevine this week I also heard the Immigration Department is reducing, or has possibly already reduced in November last year, the number of partner visa staff. I can’t confirm that, but if it is true then we can expect the backlogs to increase.
Very specific experience and training is required for the RRT. The Minter Ellison assessment (discussed in Are decision makers adequately resourced?) recommends debriefing and access to mental health professionals for Immigration Department staff so it is logical this would also be a recommendation for RRT members. Perhaps not quite so much training and support is required for the MRT members, but certainly cultural intelligence training is an absolute must. The breadth of international and domestic law, which members need to have a working knowledge of, is quite astounding.
The government’s plan is to merge these two tribunals (which already share staff of a mere 420) with THREE other bodies as part of an efficiency drive. According to the budget papers, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, the Refugee Review Tribunal and Migration Review Tribunal, and the Classification Review Board will all be amalgamated into one review body. I am happy to see the advice, “Details of the new arrangements will be developed in consultation with key stakeholders”. I wonder who are classified as key stakeholders. The asylum seekers or partner visas applicants and sponsors? Why do I doubt that?
I am all for efficiency. Economies of scale can be very effective in improving outputs. My main concern here is the vastly different skills and experience required to decide an appeal for NewStart versus an appeal for refugee status. The Classifications Review Board? I fail to see any synergies here at all.
I am not denigrating the skills of existing staff of these bodies. I am definitely questioning the wisdom of amalgamating such different bodies and expecting quality outcomes. There are massive backlogs throughout the immigration/refugee system before anyone even reaches the appeals process (see investigative series above). How is this amalgamation of such diverse bodies contributing to processing those backlogs?
The mainstream media would do well to watch this development closely. I don’t expect the best outcomes for the real stakeholders, people like my family.