The backlog of migration and asylum cases at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) reached a record 57,597 at end April 2019. That includes an astonishing 19,469 applications for asylum. The AAT is drowning. With the Dutton/Pezzullo engineered chaos in our visa system and loss of control of our air borders (see here and here), the situation at the AAT will get quite a lot worse before it gets any better irrespective of who wins the forthcoming Election.
The AAT deals with applications for review of migration and asylum decisions made by the Department of Home Affairs. Year to date, the AAT has made 16,561 decisions and is unlikely to make more than 20,000 decisions for the full year compared to around 35,000 applications. In other words, the AAT’s already massive backlog will grow by around 15,000 during 2018-19.
The largest and fastest growing part of the backlog are applications for asylum (around 34 percent of the backlog). Just in April, the AAT received 1,037 asylum applications and made 229 decisions. In others words, the asylum backlog at the AAT grew by more than 800 in April alone.
To end April, the AAT had made 3,207 asylum decisions in 2018-19 with a set aside rate of 9 percent. And while a small percentage of these have gone onto judicial review, we have no information from Home Affairs on what has happened to the remainder. Have they gone home? Were they removed from Australia by Home Affairs or have they just melted into the community?
But the bigger issue is that we are seeing a steady rise in the asylum application rate at the AAT. This is the flow-on from the record numbers of asylum applications at primary level in 2016-17 (around 18,000 applications) and in 2017-18 (around 28,000 applications) and an unknown number in 2018-19.
At the current AAT decision-making rate, and assuming the monthly asylum application rate continues at the current rate of over 1,000 per month, by the end of 2019-20 the backlog of asylum cases at the AAT may be approaching 30,000.
The overall migration and asylum backlog by end 2019-20 is likely to be approaching 75,000.
Remember decision-making at AAT is an expensive business. The cost to clear this burgeoning backlog will not be trivial.
At what point does the Government decide this is an issue it must address?
To do so, Government will at the same time need to deal with the chaos in our visa system and loss of control of our air borders. Without that, the flood of asylum applications to the AAT will continue once Home Affairs has processed these.
People smugglers will continue to exploit the vulnerable people they are bringing to Australia to work in appalling conditions while their asylum applications are processed.
It will cost many hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly in the billions, to get things back under control after the Dutton/Pezzullo mess. And it will take many years.
It will require Government and the Home Affairs leadership to acknowledge they have allowed such an appalling problem to develop over recent years and to explain how they are going to address it to the Australian public.
How much patience will the Australian public have with such an expensive and slow process? And what will it mean for the Australian public’s declining confidence in our immigration system?
Abul Rizvi was a senior official in the Department of Immigration from the early 1990s to 2007 when he left as Deputy Secretary. He was awarded the Public Service Medal and the Centenary Medal for services to development and implementation of immigration policy, including in particular the reshaping of Australia’s intake to focus on skilled migration. He is currently doing a PhD on Australia’s immigration policies.