“We are bringing the 457 Visa class to an end,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday. “It’s lost its credibility.”

To take the Prime Minister at his word, this has been a serious failing of the Coalition government, which has overseen the 457 visa program since its election in 2013. Indeed, the Coalition commissioned a review of the program in 2014 that was completed in September 2014. And the government responded to that review in March 2015. The reforms, the government said at the time, “will be progressed before the end of the 2015-16 programme [sic] year.”

But two years later, the government says it has lost credibility. So someone has stuffed up on the Coalition’s watch — particularly as the 2014 review identified plenty of opportunities for the Department of Immigration to improve its monitoring of the program to ensure greater compliance with program requirements.

Peter Dutton has been Immigration Minister since December 2014. Immigration Secretary Mike Pezzullo has been in charge there since October 2014. The 457 visa program has “lost credibility” under them, according to the Prime Minister; evidently they failed to properly implement the review recommendations.

Normally, to have the Prime Minister himself declare that a critical skilled worker program that thousands of businesses rely has been administered so badly that it has “lost credibility” and needs to be abolished, would be a serious black mark for the minister and secretary that have overseen the program — and particularly the latter. Peter Dutton, after all, doesn’t process visa applications and monitor compliance personally. That’s the Department’s job — and one that evidently it has spectacularly failed to do, if the Prime Minister is to be believed.

In fact, if you tote up the Department of Immigration’s failures in recent years, the list is almost Brandisian in length. The offshore processing management flaws savaged by the auditor-general. The strange way Transfield kept winning  badly run tender processes and the regular and massive cost blow-outs for those contracts. A howler in its annual report. The Operation Fortitude farce. Attempts to cover up and gag people who revealed widespread abuse of offshore detainees, and not one but two apologies and compensation payouts to contractor Save The Children and its staff for a fictional claim that they had encouraged detainee self-harm. The lie that the murdered Reza Barati had been trying to escape the Manus Island facility. The secrecy and deception surrounding Operation Sovereign Borders and the repeated attempts to hunt down whistleblowers and journalists. Pezzullo’s hysterical attack on refugee advocates and the media for causing problems in offshore detention camps. The failure of Pezzullo to consult with counterparts in other countries about Astralia’s citizenship-stripping proposal.

Most of these events have happened on Pezzullo’s watch. Pezzullo has overseen the militarisation of Immigration, and has been behind the persistent push to transform Immigration into what is inevitably called a “Homeland Security-style” domestic security agency, despite the constant flow of evidence that his department is fundamentally incapable of some of the most basic tasks public servants are asked to undertake, like running a tender process without breaking the law or triggering major probity concerns. Now, one of the most important migration programs has “lost credibility” on his watch too. Perhaps at some point the government will get the message about the problems at Immigration?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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