Senator David Shoebridge – Estimates questions regarding visas granted to Palestinians since 7 October

Photo of Senator David Shoebridge
May 29, 2024

I want to ask some further questions about Palestinian visas. Through the secretary, thank you to the officials for getting the updated data. I understand your evidence was that since 7 October there have been 2,686 visitor visas granted?

CHAIR: Okay. Senator Shoebridge, you have the call.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: I want to ask some further questions about Palestinian visas. Through the secretary, thank you to the officials for getting the updated data. I understand your evidence was that since 7 October there have been 2,686 visitor visas granted?

Mr Kilner : There have been 2,686 visas granted. Of those, 2,428 are visitor visas.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: What about the other 258?

Mr Kilner : I don’t have a breakdown of those, but they’ll be a mixture of other standard visas—a combination of migration or other application types.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Things like family reunion, business and those sorts of things?

Mr Kilner : Correct. It could be any other visa type.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: So there were 2,428 tourist visas.

Mr Kilner : As at 27 May.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: You don’t have a breakdown of how many are from the occupied West Bank and how many are from Gaza?

Mr Kilner : No, we’re unable to definitively break that down.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: In terms of previous patterns of visas from the Palestinian territories, do you have any data that compares it to the previous 12 months?

Mr Kilner : What I can say is that, for visitor visas for 2022-23, there were a total number of grants of 237.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: I appreciate that. I think that, if it’s gone from 237 to 2,428, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to speculate that it’s overwhelmingly been people fleeing from Gaza and seeking access. That’s what the data would seem to suggest.

Mr Kilner : I would say that that’s probably true, yes.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Did you say that, of the 2½ thousand Palestinians who have been granted visas, 1,044 have come to Australia?

Mr Kilner : Yes, that’s correct.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: What date was that?

Mr Kilner : I’ll just clarify that. After 7 October, it’s 1,010.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: What was the 1,044?

Mr Kilner : That was for the rest of the financial year prior to 7 October.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: So 1,010 since 7 October.

Mr Kilner : Yes.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: You said that there’d been 2,686 visas granted. How many visas have been refused?

Mr Kilner : A total of 4,614 visitor visas have been refused.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: That is a massive increase from the numbers as at the end of March, isn’t it?

Mr Kilner : It is, but we’ve been continuing to process since the end of March. As I said in my evidence yesterday, we did prioritise early on, at the start of the conflict, those with the closest family links. We’re now working through those who primarily have limited or no links to Australia.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: It’s just under twice as many refusals as grants for visitor visas—

Mr Kilner : Yes.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: from people fleeing a genocide. That’s what’s happening.

Mr Kilner : That’s the number.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Do you have any explanation for why so many people fleeing a genocide are not being granted a visa?

Mr Kilner : The reason why people are being refused is that the decision-makers have come to the decision that they don’t meet the visitor requirements.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Is that because of the horrors in Gaza—that they’re showing an unwillingness to return to a genocide, and so they’re being refused a tourist visa?

Mr Kilner : No, I wouldn’t put it in those words. I would say that they’ve been unable to demonstrate that they’re able to meet the requirements for the grant of that visa. As I said, we’ve refused significant numbers and are continuing to work through our on-hand case load, where there are numerous applicants who have little or no direct links to Australia.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: That’s 4,614 people who have sought some kind of refuge in Australia and have been denied it. I’m trying to understand why Australia has denied 4,614 Palestinians fleeing a genocide in Gaza even the temporary protection of a visitor visa, and you can’t explain why.

Senator Watt: He just did.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: The generic statement of ‘They don’t meet the requirements’?

Ms Foster : That’s correct.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: What requirements are they not meeting?

Mr Kilner : Did they intend a genuine stay in Australia? That may be one of the requirements. There are multiple conditions and requirements of a visitor visa. That is the primary consideration.

Senator Watt: There are also security checks. There are requirements around health and character and national security checking criteria. There are a range of reasons that people from all around the world are rejected for visas.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: In the 5½ months that there was an opening for people from Ukraine to come to Australia from 8 February to 31 July 2022, I think you said some 4,877 visas were issued to people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Mr Kiley : That data that I referred to earlier was the number of Ukrainians who were in Australia in the period of 8 April 2022—

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: 8 February?

Mr Kiley : 8 April 2022 to 31 July 2022 who took up the government’s offer of a 786 temporary humanitarian stay visa.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: So 4,877 people from Ukraine were granted a visa between April and July 2022, and that was ultimately a 786 visa, which gave them work rights and Medicare rights and the like. Is that right?

Mr Kiley : That’s correct.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: How many were refused?

Mr Kiley : How many were refused the 786?

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Yes.

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

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: In terms of refusal rates for tourist visas, can you think of any other country in the world where Australia is refusing visa rates at a two-to-one ratio—twice as many being refused as granted?

Mr Kilner : There are high refusal rates in a number of different countries, but I’ll have to come back to you on that.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Globally, though, if we were to look at the refusal rates, it’s about one in ten, isn’t it?

Mr Kilner : It depends. The majority of visitor visas are low-risk visitors, so it’s well under one in ten.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Minister, what do you say to the Palestinian diaspora here when your government has refused twice as many visa applications for people trying to flee the horrors in Gaza—has refused 4,600 of them and only granted 2½ thousand? What do you say to the Palestinian diaspora who are saying their relatives and their families are being killed right now because they can’t flee? What do you say to them?

Senator Watt: I say a number of things. I say that the Albanese government, for many months now, has been calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and has worked with like-minded countries around the world to push that idea. We have made all sorts of public statements, including in the last 24 hours, about the actions of various parties in that dispute. I also point to the number of tourist visas that have been approved for Palestinian families, but we obviously need to follow the usual security checks, health checks and tests of the integrity of the applications, that we apply around the world. Senator Shoebridge, are you suggesting that we shouldn’t do security checks? Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t be doing all the normal checks that we do with every other country in the world?

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: I’m suggesting that you should open a genuine humanitarian visa class for people from Palestine that doesn’t require them to have to falsely assert they’re coming here as a tourist. Why don’t you do that?

Senator Watt: They would still need to pass a range of other tests, and none of us know—

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: They’re being refused because they don’t meet the test for tourists.

CHAIR: Senator Shoebridge.

Senator Watt: No, that’s your interpretation.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: It’s obviously what’s happening.

Senator Watt: What I’ve said is that there are a number of reasons that people from the Palestinian occupied territories and a range of other countries around the world are refused a visa. That may be one of them. There may also be security reasons. There may be health reasons. There may be other reasons. I don’t know, and I doubt the officials know, the reason for every single person.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Why won’t you open up a genuine humanitarian visa option for Palestinians fleeing the genocide in Gaza that is at least the equivalent of what the government did for Ukrainians fleeing the appalling Russian invasion in Ukraine? Why won’t you do the same for the Palestinian—

Senator Watt: I answered a similar question from Senator Pocock, and I said that I’m sure ministers always have these situations under review. But, Senator Shoebridge, why won’t the Greens say publicly that they support a two-state solution as the long-term solution to this conflict?

CHAIR: Minister, it’s not for you to ask questions at estimates.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Why didn’t your government vote for a Palestinian statehood today, which was absolutely implicit in it? Our party moved the motion for a Palestinian state that is critical for a—

CHAIR: Senator Shoebridge!

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: two-state solution, and your government—

CHAIR: Senator Shoebridge!

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: voted it down today!

CHAIR: Senator Shoebridge!

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: The hypocrisy of your government!

CHAIR: Senator Shoebridge! Order!

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: And the hypocrisy of you, Minister, is obscene.

Senator POLLEY: Point of order!

CHAIR: Order! At the start of estimates I make a statement about conducting these hearings in a respectful, courteous way. That includes me not being spoken over and witnesses not being interrupted, and if a senator has a point of order, like Senator Polley did just before, then I have to hear that point of order. You might not agree with the point of order, Senator Shoebridge, but I have to hear that point of order. I have to do that if you have a point of order.

Senator SCARR: Point of order!

CHAIR: Are you calling a point of order on the statement that I am making about conducting—

Senator SCARR: No, I’m calling a point of order generally in relation to this.

CHAIR: You can wait until I’ve finished.

Senator SCARR: Okay.

CHAIR: We are conducting this in a courteous, respectful way. If we can’t do that, we will have to suspend the hearing and have a private meeting so we can reinforce those behavioural standards that we are trying to meet. When someone is calling a point of order, I have to hear that point of order, and that includes the person who has the call stopping speaking at the time. Do not speak over me when I am calling you to order, Senator Shoebridge. I don’t know what the point of order is, Senator Scarr, but I hope it’s relevant to this.

Senator SCARR: The point of order is: that last exchange was triggered by the minister asking questions of Senator Shoebridge. It is out of order for him to ask questions of the members of the committee.

CHAIR: Senator Scarr, if you were listening intently to what I was saying and if I wasn’t being spoken over, you would have heard me call the minister to order as well. But, unfortunately, you and other senators continue to speak over me when I am speaking, and that is why I will have to suspend the hearing if we cannot conduct ourselves in a courteous, respectful way. Senator Polley, you had a point of order.

Senator POLLEY: I have a point of order based on the process of estimates. It’s not an opportunity to make political statements; it is an opportunity to ask the witnesses questions. I just wanted to draw your attention to that fact, because it was becoming unruly.

CHAIR: Senator Polley, thank you for your point of order. Senator Shoebridge, if you have a question for the minister, can you please put it. It will need to be a relevant question to these estimates. Unfortunately your time is coming to a close anyway, so if you’ve got one last question to put you can do that and then I’ll have to hand over the call.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Through you, Secretary, probably to Mr Kilner or Mr Kiley. The 1,010 people who have come from Palestine to Australia since 7 October, have any of them been granted some kind of permanent protection from the horrors that have been happening in Gaza? Have any been granted permanent protection?

Mr Kiley : Senator Pocock asked a similar question before the break, and I took on notice whether any individuals who’ve arrived since 7 October have applied for and been granted protection.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: It’s such an obvious question that we would ask today. You’re in charge of this, Mr Kiley, you must know whether or not even a single Palestinian has been granted protection?

CHAIR: Senator Shoebridge, the official has taken it on notice, and that’s the second time to the second senator that he’s taken it on notice. If you have a different question you can put it.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Mr Kiley, you’re in charge of this.

Senator Watt: He’s taken it on notice.

CHAIR: He’s taken it on notice, Senator Shoebridge.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Mr Kiley, You’re in charge of this.

CHAIR: He’s taken it on notice, Senator Shoebridge. I need to call you to order again, particularly in the way that you are speaking to the witness now. He has taken the question on notice.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Can I have a separate question?

CHAIR: If you have a separate question you can put it, but I would draw your attention to the way you are now addressing an official who has given you an honest answer and taken it on notice.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE: Mr Kiley, have you been in charge of this? Have you personally seen a single permanent protection visa granted to a Palestinian?

Mr Kiley : As I said before, I’ll have to take that question on notice.

CHAIR: I’m now handing the call to Senator Paterson.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard