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Mar 4, 2011

ASIO confirms resources

Questions are still being asked about the length of time taken by ASIO to complete security assessments of asylum seekers.

Tom Cowie

Crikey journalist

As the federal government rushes to increase the capacity of its immigration detention centres to relieve pressure on its overloaded system, questions are being asked about the length of time taken by ASIO to complete security assessments of asylum seekers — nine hundred genuine refugees continue to languish in detention awaiting clearance.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced yesterday that a new $9.2 million detention centre would be established at Wickham Point, 35 km south-east of Darwin. The facility would be ready to house 500 asylum seekers by the middle of this year, he said, before eventually moving to a capacity of 1500.

While much of the increased strain on the government’s has been attributed to an increase in asylum seeker boat arrivals, pressure is also beginning to increase on the role of ASIO. Each asylum seeker who arrives offshore is submitted to a security check by ASIO. They can be held indefinitely, as there is no time limit for ASIO to complete the checks.

A review into the administration of intelligence agencies is currently underway, with a submission from ASIO released today declaring that the agency had received 811 complaints last year about delays in security checks. In 2009–10, ASIO completed 38,438 visa Security Assessments (compared with 59,884 in 2008–09) — including 2,822 for “irregular maritime arrivals”.

In a senate estimates hearing last week, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) revealed that 900 people who have been accepted as genuine refugees are still waiting in detention centres because ASIO has not completed their security checks — a number which has grown from 330 last October. Most of these people are being held on Christmas Island.

Greens immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told Crikey that the situation is unfair and that it denies genuine refugees natural justice. Hanson-Young is pushing for a system similar to New Zealand, where she said the Inspector General has the power to review a security assessment that is rejected or takes undue time.

“What we are seeing is very vulnerable people who in all other senses are genuine refugees who remain locked up in detention centres,” Hanson-Young told Crikey. “Despite the constant political argy bargy about people being genuine refugees, what we are finding here is that these people are still being treated as criminals.”

According to a Lateline report, it now takes an average of 66 days for ASIO to perform a security check — about a month longer than it took in 2009. According to its submission to a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) review, ASIO found nineteen adverse security assessments in 2009-10. Fourteen of these adverse assessments were issued on counter‐terrorism grounds, with the rest relating to espionage or foreign interference.

Under the current system, DIAC do not control how ASIO conduct security checks. They can ask for a case to be prioritised, but the security agency is not obliged to act on the request. According to the Lateline report, the delays are causing frictions between DIAC and ASIO. ASIO did not appear before senate estimates last week to explain the delays.

Hanson-Young says this isn’t good enough. The Senator has been pushing for answers from ASIO about the time taken to complete security checks for two years, but to no avail.

“Two years ago I asked them and I got no answers. Now it’s clear that they have a total backlog which they can’t process,” she said. “They are keeping innocent children refugees locked up and they’re not prepared to give any answers.”

Resources were also of concern, said Hanson-Young. According to the senate estimates hearing, DIAC staff had increased from 35 to 170 in the last year. Hanson-Young could not find answers as to whether ASIO had provided a similar increase.

According to its submission, the security agency diverted resources to undertaking security assessment of asylum seekers for DIAC. Consequently, the resources available to assess protection visa and other refugee referrals were “limited” and this caseload experienced delays.

“Given these resource pressures, ASIO has implemented measures to ensure all security assessment cases receive attention, including quarantining resources in the form of a dedicated team responsible for protection visas and other complex non‐IMA visa cases; and working very closely with DIAC to ensure visibility of the overall visa security assessment caseload and agree priorities.”

Submissions to the PJCIS review have been made by advocacy groups, including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Refugees Survivors and Ex-Detainees. Both groups said they had made myriad complaints to both ASIO and the Inspector‐General of Intelligence (IGIS) about the length of time taken to compete security checks.

But in its submission to the PJCIS, ASIO claimed that an increase in complaints about security checks did not indicate an increase in issues or failings by ASIO and could be a motivated by advocates seeking to reduce visa processing times:

“The majority of these visa‐related complaints to the IGIS appear to be attempts to accelerate visa processing times and do not indicate problems in ASIO’s processes or significant levels of delay in reaching assessments.”

As of 4 February 2011, there were 6659 people in immigration detention, including 4086 being held on the mainland and 2573 on Christmas Island. Of these, 1027 were children. More than 3000 had been in detention longer than six months.

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44 thoughts on “ASIO confirms resources

  1. shepherdmarilyn

    The question is why ASIO have to do the checks in the first place because it is not legal to grant refugee status to anyone deemed to have committed war crimes or crimes against the UN and anyone in that category would be excluded.

    That is done before the grant is made so the time and money wasted on ASIO is just another ruse to try and reject people and they all know it.

    ASIO don’t check kids, they don’t talk to most of the people, they cannot check in the home countries so there is precisely nothing left for them to check.

    It is just another hoax and no-one bothers to ask the correct question which is “if people are not excluded under Article 1F of the convention why do they need more time wasted on ‘security checks’. They are refugees and once they have been found to be refugees they cannot be excluded later on down the track.

    It’s dumb and dumber in ASIO and DIAC running the show like two sets of deluded morons.

  2. Flower

    I’ve been trying to assist a neighbour. He’s been in Australia for nearly four years on a Visa 457. He is a skilled worker who is sent all around the state on jobs because of his work ethics and work efficiency. In addition and separate to his work position, he has a degree from Lebanon in electrical engineering.

    He made application for PR in 2009 though it appears the agency acting on his behalf did not submit the application to DIAC until June 2010. Nevertheless he still has not been granted permanent residency.

    He’s pays plenty of taxes, his wife works fulltime, his children attend the local state school, they all attend the local Baptist Church on Sundays and he has no plans to blow up the neighbourhood.

    He has a significantly generous deposit to buy a house. Waving his arms about like a mad Lebbo, he tells me: “I never do nothing wrong. I live in shit house – I wanna buy my own house. I pay big rent for nothing. How can I buy house without PR? Refugees get PR – not me!”

  3. John Bennetts

    What’s this about needing more staff? Clearly, the output indicates that ASIO needs fewer staff. Since last year only 75% as many cases were assessed as for the average of the previous 6 years, surely the response should be to CUT staff by 25%, commensurate with output.

    Only after subsequent reviews of productivity and workload should replacements be considered.

    Let the mandarins know that their inefficiency is eating at their power base, get rid of the surplus staff and redefine the way that the work is handled, before considering adding more slowcoaches to an already stuffed bunch of incumbents. The last thing that should be done is to add more feathers to an already stuffed bed.

    Have I forgotten the refugees? No way! Those who have UN clearance may just as well go on their way. 35,000+ of the more than 38,000 customers are already roaming our streets. What’s to be feared about another thousand or so, a meagre 3 percent or less, a large number of whom are kids in any case?

  4. shepherdmarilyn

    Flower dear your friend is not in danger and I am sick to death of clowns using every forum about refugees who have nothing to make up yarns about “friends’ who did different things.

    Grow up.

    It is not the fault of Afghan refugees that we have made their country unliveable.

    Your friend can go home and be safe.

    Now get over it.

  5. Flower

    Shepherd – I was alluding to ASIO’s delay and its skewed priority system in processing PRs.

    Three weeks ago I held a tea party. Among the mix of guests were Iraqi, Afghan and Somalian refugees (One Afghan friend does not know her year of birth). Added to that list were Lebanese Christians, one Pom, three Chinese and nine Australians. And what have you done Shepherd? Squawk, squawk, squawk?

    May I suggest that you and are part of the problem? And I suspect you may have been asked this question before: Do you have a problem with your hormones or is it just some sort of obsessive disorder?

  6. John Bennetts

    Oh dear! Ladies!

    You have significant common ground between you. While I take a fiendish pleasure from reading artistic insult, surely the time has come to let go of each others’ throats.

  7. Flower

    Yay John. Surely you alone would know that provocation and falsehoods incite my delicate sensibilities? And it must be therapeutic for you when you can unload some of that latent malice you have for the fairer sex and which you try so hard to suppress?

  8. Sir Lunchalot

    @ shepherdmarilyn

    Marilyn, they need to undertake comprehensive checks and its hard because the countries they come from dont have the systems we do. Also the illegal immigrants may change their name or have false papers or no papers.

  9. AR

    In this digital age, no competent officer needs more than a couple of hours to TOTALLY (and most citizen naifs would freak if they realised how completely) examine, document and evaluate a person.
    It is beyond ludicrous to claim that spooks need to contact o/s agencies in the refugees home countries.
    IF they existed, and weren’t utterly corrupt, partisan or incompetent, the belief that they would have anything useful to say is passing strange, given that these ‘undocumented’ people (tearing my hair out this afternoon listening to the Cadaver reiterating all his bile & b/s on Their ABC’sCounterpoint about refugees) have fled such regimes.

  10. Syd Walker

    ASIO’s budget has increased by approximately an order of magnitude (~10x) since 2001 – the start of the absolutely vital and thoroughly terrifying War on Terror (i.e. Bin Laden and all that, wink, wink, nudge, nudge – just remember… NEVER mention nanothermite!)

    As all Australians will doubtless recall, this rather meagre increase in annual funding had to be battled through Parliament at every stage – as our fearless elected representatives and the mass media openly debated whether more Australian taxpayers’ dollars should indeed be spent on what a few seditious cynics have described as cancerous growth in spookdom.

    Now it turns out we’ve actually been stingy. The valiant men and women of ASIO risk all daily to defend Australians’ freedom (ensuring envious Islamic fundamentalist terrorists have an enduring reason to hate us) – yet we can’t even provide our courageous defenders with sufficient resources to function at a minimal level of effectiveness! What a mean-spirited lot Australians are!

    A Government really concerned about national security would surely loosen the purse-strings. This should be above mere party politics – and incessant, well-publicised demands in Parliament to scrutinise the intelligence agencies more closely must stop!

    Sometimes it almost seems like Al Qaida has infiltrated Labor, the Coalition and the Greens. If only ASIO had enough funds to monitor all our politicians 24×7 (as well as trade unionists, peace activists, Arabs, Muslims, boat people, civil libertarians, environmentalists and other key threats to the Australian way of life). Then we all might feel a little safer…

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