Senator David Pocock – Estimates questions regarding visas for people fleeing Gaza

May 29, 2024

Thank you for your time this morning. Yesterday some questions were asked about the number of tourist visas that have been issued for people fleeing Gaza since the 7 October attacks in 2023. How many of the people issued tourist visas have actually arrived in Australia?

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Paterson. We’ve run out of time. Senator Pocock, you have the call.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Thank you for your time this morning. Yesterday some questions were asked about the number of tourist visas that have been issued for people fleeing Gaza since the 7 October attacks in 2023. How many of the people issued tourist visas have actually arrived in Australia?

Ms Foster : Mr Kilner will be able to help you with that. We did canvass this a little bit yesterday also.

Mr Kilner : I have some updated statistics from yesterday, as requested.

Senator Shoebridge interjecting

Mr Kilner : As Senator Shoebridge requested.

Senator Watt: Great to have you back, Senator Shoebridge. Excellent first contribution for the day!

Mr Kilner : There have been 1,044 arrivals since 7 October, up until yesterday.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: And that’s of how many visas issued?

Mr Kilner : 2,686.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: How many humanitarian stay subclass 449 visas have been offered to people fleeing Gaza?

Mr Kilner : I will ask my colleague Mr Kiley to join us.

Mr Kiley : The answer is zero. That visa has not been made available to Palestinians. The visitor visa is the visa available to individuals.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: How many 449 visas were granted to people fleeing Ukraine?

Mr Kiley : In the situation for individuals fleeing Ukraine, again, visitor visas were used in that instance. The government at the time made available a temporary stay for three years using the 786 visa. To move individuals from a visitor visa onto a temporary humanitarian stay visa, which is a 786, it’s a two-step process which involves moving people from the visitor visa onto the 449, as a technicality, to move people onto that visa. So the technical answer to your question is, yes, individuals from Ukraine did move through the 449 visa, but that was for the purposes of the three-year temporary humanitarian stay visa.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: How many 449 visas were made available and how many 786 visas?

Mr Kiley : Again, I wouldn’t class it as 449 visas being made available. I’d answer the question in the context—

Senator DAVID POCOCK: So there were no 449 visas made available?

Mr Kiley : The 786 was made available and to get to the 786, as a technicality, we had to provide the 449 on the way, but those individuals were already in Australia, and—

Senator DAVID POCOCK: How many of those 449s were offered on the way?

Mr Kiley : The offer of a temporary humanitarian stay through the 786 visa was available from 8 April 2022 until 31 July 2022. There were 4,877 individuals who accepted the offer of a temporary humanitarian stay through the 786 visa and, at 31 March, there were 3,738 Ukrainians who were on that visa.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: That’s how many accepted. How many were offered? Was there a quota set by the government for people fleeing Ukraine?

Mr Kiley : The offer was made available for that time period that I specified, from 8 April to 31 July, and those two numbers indicate the individuals who accepted the offer: 4,877 accepted the offer of the 786 visa and, at this point in time, 3,738 individuals are on that 786 temporary humanitarian stay visa.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: During that time there was no cap? Was there just an open offer to people fleeing Ukraine or had the government said, ‘We’re willing to give up to’—

Mr Kiley : No, the offer was available for that time period.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Unlimited—as many applications.

Mr Kiley : For that time period.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: How many were granted to people fleeing Afghanistan?

Mr Kiley : The 786 visa was not made available to individuals fleeing Afghanistan. The 449 visa was used to support individuals at the fall of Kabul. I’ll have a look to see if I’ve got the data available. I don’t have the exact number of 449s issued, but it was upwards of 5,000. I can take on notice the exact number, but it’s upwards of 5,000.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: So, for people fleeing Ukraine, there was a period of time where people could apply for 786 via 449 visas, and there were upwards of 5,000 visas for people fleeing Afghanistan. Why have these visas not been offered to people fleeing Gaza?

Mr Kiley : That’s ultimately a matter for government—as to what supports and visa pathways are made available in the event of a crisis.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: I’ll ask the government. Minister Watt, sorry, I know you were busy there. I just heard that there was a time period where there were unlimited visas for people fleeing Ukraine, upwards of 5,000 for people fleeing Afghanistan and nothing for someone trying to flee Gaza. What’s the difference? What’s going on here?

Senator Watt: The reason I was talking to the secretary is that I was just trying to clarify exactly what option was being offered to people from Occupied Palestinian Territories. I think Ms Foster may have some—

Senator DAVID POCOCK: I know what is being offered, but I’m interested in why there are no humanitarian visas—

Senator Watt: Can I just get Ms Foster to add something here.

Ms Foster : So, Senator, I was trying to make sure I had my facts a little bit straight. With the cessation of the 786 program, people fleeing from Ukraine are being offered a BVE, a bridging visa E, with work rights and Medicare. That is the same offer being made to people from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: How do they get here? What is actually being offered to them? We heard about humanitarian visas for people fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan. We heard that there has not been a single humanitarian visa issued to people fleeing Gaza. This is clearly a political question. So, Minister, what’s going on? Why the difference?

Senator Watt: Again, I’m sure that ministers will give these issues consideration.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Well, I’m asking you now.

Senator Watt: Yes. An obvious difference is that the Ukraine war started some time ago and is ongoing. I’m not aware of the government having made a decision within the first couple of months of the Ukraine war to do that—to make that change. I’m sure that ministers and the department will keep these issues under consideration should the dispute in the Middle East continue as well. But what you’ve heard from Ms Foster is that the same offer has been made to people from Occupied Palestinian Territories as was made to the Ukrainian people leaving Ukraine, being a bridging visa E with work rights and Medicare.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Mr Kiley, can you give me those dates again for when the Ukraine humanitarian visa program was open?

Mr Kiley : The offer was open to Ukrainians who were in Australia for the period 8 April 2022 to 31 July 2022.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: So, Minister, the Ukraine war began on 24 February 2022. On 8 April, humanitarian visas started flowing. So you’ve—

Senator Watt: Well, I’m not sure when that decision was actually made.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: You’re totally skirting around the issue here. Why is your government taking a different position on this conflict?

Senator Watt: I’m not sure that we heard the date that that decision was made by the government in relation to Ukraine. It applied to people who were here from April 2022 to whatever the later date was.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: That’s two months after the start of the war.

Senator Watt: Yes, but I’m not sure when that decision was made.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Well, it started on 8 April.

Senator Watt: It applied from 8 April. I’m not sure when the decision was made. It may have been retrospective.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Was it retrospective, Mr Kiley?

Mr Kiley : The offer was open from 8 April to the 22nd—

Senator DAVID POCOCK: So it was made before 8 April and announced. Minister Watt, what is going on here? There must be a political reason you’ve taken this decision.

Senator Watt: No, no.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: There’s none? So we’re asleep at the wheel here—we’re not making decisions?

Senator Watt: I don’t think you always need to look for political reasons behind government decisions.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: I was told by Mr Kiley this was a political decision.

Senator Watt: I think he meant it was a decision of the government.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Which is a political decision.

Senator Watt: It might be hard to believe, but not everything we do is political. Not everything we do is about political judgement; I know that’s hard for some parties to understand. We’re trying to take a principled position here. As I say, I’m sure ministers and the department will keep all these situations under review as the situation in the Middle East unfolds. What I’d like to see is, and the government’s position is, an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza—and we have lobbied extensively around the world—with a two-state solution. That is the ultimate solution here.

Senator Shoebridge interjecting

CHAIR: Senator Shoebridge, do not interject.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: That may be the solution but that doesn’t help Australians who have family wanting to flee. They look at what happened with Ukraine—within two months, a humanitarian visa program. They look at what happened with Afghanistan—evacuation airlifts occurring within the same month. What they see with Gaza is a totally different response from the government. I’ve got a Canberran desperate to try and get family out. He followed the department’s instructions and applied for tourist visas for 20 members of his family currently in Rafah, costing $3,800. Eighteen of those 20 were denied because the department says, ‘We’re not sure that they will only stay temporarily.’ What do you say to people? Why is there such a disparity in the Australian government’s response?

Senator Watt: I can’t add to what I’ve already said.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Maybe someone from the department?

Senator Watt: We have answered the question in different ways—the question was put in different ways—several times. I don’t think there’s anything we can add.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: So you’re essentially saying to Palestinian Australians, ‘Your lives are worth less than Ukrainians’, worth less than Afghanistan’s—

CHAIR: That’s a political question.

Senator Watt: When did I ever say that? That might be what you want to put in my mouth. I don’t accept that.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: No; I’m just saying your actions speak louder than words in this instance.

Senator Watt: That is your opinion but that’s not my view and not the government’s position.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Until the actions change on this I think the community will continue to—

CHAIR: What’s the question, Senator Pocock? This isn’t a debate in the chamber; it’s an opportunity for you to ask questions, if you have one.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: I’ve got many questions.

CHAIR: If you could put one.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Until we see action on this I think Australians are going to make their own minds up, and there’s this growing frustration. I’m interested in those who have arrived from Gaza on a tourist visa and how many remain on a tourist visa.

Mr Kilner : The figure I’ve got for those who are currently holding a visitor visa in Australia—this is to 31 March; I wasn’t able to get that figure updated—is 2,191.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: And how many have been subsequently granted a bridging visa?

Mr Kiley : Six.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Six.

Mr Kiley : Sorry—that was at 30 April.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: Maybe a more up-to-date figure on notice? Thank you. How many have been subsequently granted a subclass 866 protection visa?

Mr Kiley : I don’t have details on how many protection visas have been granted to individuals who have arrived in that group of visa holders.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: So it’s fair to assume none?

CHAIR: One last question, Senator Pocock. We are due to suspend for morning tea.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: I’ve got one more.

Mr Kiley : I’d have to take that on notice.

Senator DAVID POCOCK: How many have applied for subclass 866 protection visas?

Mr Kiley : Between 1 July 2023 and 30 April 2024, there have been 348 applications from Palestinians for a protection visa.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Pocock—

Senator DAVID POCOCK: On notice, could I just get that total—

CHAIR: Senator Pocock, stop speaking over me. I can’t say it more times. We’ve been here for an hour and I have been repeatedly spoken over. Do not speak when I’m speaking. I’ve called you to order. I’ve let you know you had one last question. We will be suspending.

Proceedings suspended from 10:00 to 10:16

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