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20 Mar, 2014

Australian Minister lists full range of measures to balance facilitation <> security interests

Scott Morrison MP, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Full text of speech delivered at the Tourism and Transport Forum leadership summit in Canberra, 19 March 2014

I would like to acknowledge the presence of The Hon Bruce Baird AM, Chairman of TTF, Ken Morrison, CEO of TTF and Trent Zimmerman, Deputy CEO of TFF and thank them for their invitation to speak to you this morning.

I note that many of my parliamentary colleagues and several of my Coalition colleagues are joining you today and I am very happy to have the opportunity to address so many industry representatives and leaders.

First and foremost, the border is a national asset and if it is not secure, our systems are not sound, if our control of what enters our ports and airports fail, trade systems and the legitimate movement of people cannot progress. We cannot facilitate these vital economic exchanges without a secure border.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service must work with a plethora of challenging issues that impact the management of our borders.

As trade volumes and complex global systems have expanded, and globalisation opens of up new markets, these challenges have increased.

Online market places and technological advancements have contributed significantly to these processes.

By 2016/17 we will see an increase in the volume of air cargo entering Australia of 85 per cent, an increase of 25 per cent in the number of international travellers crossing our borders and a 20 per cent increase in sea cargo volume.

Without secure borders, growth of activity on this scale could not be facilitated. Large numbers of visitors from trusted partner nations could not experience streamlined passenger processing, cargo could not clear customs processes in a timely manner and the entry into Australian markets of legitimate products could not be facilitated.

We must contend with the exploitation of this growth by international criminal syndicates, whose key business plans seek to shift people and illicit goods over borders. Trade in general goods serves as a vehicle for trade-based money laundering and many well-funded syndicates are able to buy the technology and people required to subvert laws.

A disorganised, patchy and compromised border management system would cripple these processes and extinguish the economic growth that Australian businesses have worked so hard to develop.

We have worked closely with trusted international partners to achieve significant success, streamlining passenger movement and enhancing border management practices.

Some of these successes are of significant practical benefit to both passengers and destinations countries, be it Australia or a trusted partner nation.

You will all be aware that on the 7th of February this year, the Prime Minister and the Rt Hon John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, concluded an agreement that permitted travellers travelling to both countries for the period of the Cricket World Cup in February and March 2015, to only apply for one, bilateral visa.

This visa will be issued in accordance with Australia’s existing visa framework and will streamline procedures for genuine Cricket World Cup spectators and participants.

My department will work closely with New Zealand counterparts to determine the best means of implementing the new visa arrangement.

Our relationships with other partner nations have also permitted the development of expanded functional performance and capability, and I am particularly excited by some of the significant enhancements the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service is developing.

The SmartGate System has continued to move from strength to strength, allowing passengers travelling on eligible passports to self-process through passport control and is in operation at all eight major Australian international airports.

We expect that uptake will continue to increase significantly and estimate that by 2016/17 more than 25 per cent of the 42.9 million passengers expected to pass through Australian airports will use the system.

January 2014 was a record month for SmartGate use, with over 500 000 passengers, a total of 28.3 per cent of all arriving travellers, using the system. This represents a 57.5 per cent increase in volume compared to January 2013.

We have continued to expand the physical presence of SmartGates in Australian airports. Additional gates were installed in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth in 2013 and further units in Brisbane and Darwin are expected to be installed by mid-2014.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service is working with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and other key stakeholders to expand SmartGate access to additional nationalities arriving into Australia.

Since November 2012, SmartGate has been open- either on a trial or permanent basis- to four countries- the UK, USA, Switzerland and Singapore. Including Australia and New Zealand this brings the total number of nationalities with access to the SmartGate system to six.

American, Swiss and Singaporean nationals currently have access to the SmartGate system on a trial basis, with Singapore the most recent participant, commencing access in February this year. We expect however that by mid-2014 these nationalities will be able to progress to permanent access, assuming the continued success of the trial.

We will continue to work towards identifying and testing additional nationalities that may be offered access to the SmartGate system, with the aim of commencing additional trials in the near future. Our goal is to provide all major ePassport holders access to self-service arrivals processing by the end of 2015.

On the airport departures front, we continue to explore the possible introduction of automated border processing. Late last year, the Customs and Border Protection Service completed stage one of a Feasibility Study into automated departures processing. This phase examined the selection of new eGate technology that could facilitate the expansion of automated systems. After detailed assessment, in-house testing on two units has commenced in-house, with live trials expected to start in Brisbane airport in July 2014.

Expansion of automated border processes, including enhanced physical capacity and foreign passport access to automated systems, will deliver significant benefits for travellers, and the development of these systems form a core component of the Customs and Border Protection Service Blueprint for Reform. I believe we can achieve some fantastic outcomes that balance innovative approaches to both passenger service and strong border integrity management, and look forward to facilitating Australia’s continued global leadership in this space.

In order to maintain its attractiveness as a destination in the global tourism market, Australia must continue to develop competitive visa products. As I have stated, this need must necessarily be balanced with a wider concern to preserve the integrity of our borders and uncompromising regard for national security issues.

As Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, along with my assistant Minister, Minister Cash, I balance these concerns. Since the Coalition’s election to government last year we have worked carefully to develop streamlining policies that match or exceed the standard of client service offered by key foreign tourism and business competitors, whilst not jeopardising the integrity of Australia’s immigration systems.

The timely introduction for example, of expanded electronic lodgement options for visa applicants that is able to accurately identify risk but also streamline applications accordingly, is crucial in maintaining a competitive edge.

Currently, 73 nationalities are eligible to lodge online visitor visa applications. Further expansion of online lodgement is being managed as part of a phased global rollout.

Beyond expanded functional capacities, our visa products continue to be developed and reactive to key market trends and evolving economic conditions.

The Working Holiday Maker programme serves as a key example of a product that successfully blends substantial benefits to the traveller, tourism industry, local economies and macro, net national economic development.

Australia’s Working Holiday Maker visa programme is a large, popular and growing option for young adult overseas travellers to Australia, with more than 258 000 visa grants in 2012-13, a 15.8 per cent increase from 2011/12.

Remarkably, this is larger than all three of Australia’s main Working Holiday Maker competitor markets combined – Canada, New Zealand and the UK.

Established in 1975, the programme has evolved from largely Commonwealth based origins to span 28 countries across the globe, covering Europe, Asia, the United States, Canada and, more recently, expansion into Latin American, following the addition of Chile, Argentine and Uruguay to the scheme.

In terms of participation of travellers from partner countries, the programme has tripled in size over the last decade.

My department is currently in the process of negotiating new and more liberalised Working Holiday Maker visa arrangements with thirteen new partner countries. These include Poland, Mexico, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Vietnam, San Marino, the Czech Republic, Israel, Latvia, the Slovak Republic and Andorra. These new countries will provide fresh impetus for growth within the programme itself but also facilitate broader opportunities for tourism engagement.

Providing a unique cultural exchange experience to young adults during their formative years can only enrich the lives of participants, both Australian and partner country nationals.

The economic benefits of the programme too are considerable.

On average each Working Holiday Maker spends $13,218 during their stay in Australia.

Approximately 71 per cent of this expenditure occurs in the three interrelated areas of tourism, accommodation and transportation.

Holiday Makers generally tend to spend more than they earn, making a small but important contribution to the creation of Australian jobs. For every 100 Working Holiday Makers who arrive in Australia there is a net gain to the Australian economy of 6.3 full time jobs. This means that the 258 000 Working Holiday arrivals in the last financial year generated more than 16 000 additional Australian jobs.

In addition to the substantial funds Working Holiday Makers spend during their stay on tourism related activities, the programme also assists the tourism sector with its seasonal labour needs. Around 69 per cent of Working Holiday Makers engage in some form of employment, with research indicating that more than 34 per cent of those who engage in work during their stay in Australia, do so in the area of accommodation and food services.

The Working Holiday Maker programme however, is not a proxy pathway to a labour visa. The employment movement requirements are one of the most important provisions of the scheme and if this aspect of the programme were removed, the tourism industry would lose one of its most important visa assets. No one benefits from a young traveller spending two years in Sydney working in a kitchen.

I am aware that many in the tourism sector would like to see substantial changes to the programme.

These will be potential considerations for the government going forward.

We also anticipate that participation in the programme will continue to grow into the future, as will the support it provides to both the tourism sector and those sectors which are crucially interrelated.

The review of the 457 visa programme recently announced by Minister Cash, will seek to examine existing labour visa systems and identify where improvements can be made. I am well aware that the 457 programme has for a considerable period of time, been of significant value to the tourism industry, and of particular importance within the hospitality sector.

Allowing employers to address skill gaps with qualified overseas sourced employees is not a substitute for Australian workers, but an integral part of the economic machinery that creates Australian jobs. They are vital in so many cases to the ongoing success and even existence of many Australian businesses.

A business that closes will employ no-one, a lose-lose situation for the employer and for Australian workers.

The types of attacks that have been made on this scheme by those who would seek to undermine it, seek to take it down, go to the very heart of attacking the viability of so many Australian businesses that employ so many Australians.

The government supports the absolute requirement that Australian workers have priority, but not needless and inefficient union red tape which hampers productivity and adds significant costs to business.

An effectively managed temporary labour migration program will secure the future of business, enabling them to ultimately employ more Australians.

The government has commenced several measures that will increase the efficiency of the 457 program and foster legitimate growth within critical sectors, such as tourism.

Principally these changes include removal at present of nomination ceiling requirements.

Standard business sponsorships approved on or after February 14th this year are no longer subject to a nomination ceiling. Sponsors are still required to provide the number of persons they wish to nominate in applications and sponsorships that were approved between 1st July 2013 and 13th February 2014, will still cease when their nomination ceiling is reached.

These functional improvements are a result of the Coalition government’s broader efforts to reduce unnecessary union red tape for businesses. This particular reform is part of our commitment to reduce the red tape costs to business by $1 billion dollars every year.

Whilst the program will benefit from these improvements, in light of the significant number of changes which the 457 program has had in recent years an independent review of the integrity of the 457 system is necessary.

The review will evaluate the regulatory framework of the 457 program and determine whether the existing requirements appropriately balance a need to ensure program integrity against the costs to employers endeavoring to access the program. I look forward to receiving the recommendations of the review and reinvigorating this vital element of our economy.

Key market targeting and appropriately adaptive products and systems, should form the basis for sound visitor immigration policy planning. The international tourism market is an incredibly competitive space, further complicated by fluid economic factors, not the least of which has recently been the relative strength of the Australian dollar.

The products and services that are offered to key developing markets must reflect emerging trends in passenger movement and objectives that may expand beyond the provisions of a standard visitor visa.

Growth in visitor visas from China has been unprecedented in recent years, with visitor visa grants (including tourist and business visitors) nearly doubling in the past three years from over 243 000 in 2009/10 to more than 473 000 in 2012/13. In the last six months, application rates increased at an even more significant rate, with an increase by 21.6 per cent in applications during the first 2013/14 quarter, from the same period in 2012/13. China has now overtaken the UK’s historical dominance as the top source country for visitor visa application to Australia.

Our visitor visa services in China are advanced and compare very favourably with our market competitors. We finalise 68 per cent of visitor visa applications within five working days of lodgement and 91 per cent within 10 working days. With more than 80 000 visas finalised in China during the peak period in the month leading up to Chinese New Year 2014, it is clear the visa system is supporting growth in business, investment and tourism from China.

The Australian government is anxious to facilitate the easy movement of people, with as little red tape as possible, whilst maintaining visa integrity. It is with this objective in mind on February 7th this year, together with my colleague, Minister Robb, Minister for Trade and Investment, I announced that Chinese business visitors are now eligible to apply to apply for a three year multiple entry visa, increasing the prospects of repeat visits to Australia.

This proposal has been broadly welcomed by the tourism sectors and will provide increased flexibility and ease of travel for Chinese business visitors, who will now not have to apply for a new visa every twelve months.

Whilst the standard validity period will be for a three year visa, allowing multiple entries to Australia of up to three months each visit, in all cases the specific visa validity granted will be determined based on the individual circumstances of the case.

Whilst market demand has an impact, it is definitely not the only influence on visa policy. These changes would not be possible without the good compliance record of Chinese visitors.

It is very important however that it is understood that this visa is not available to all Chinese visitors, simply by virtue of their nationality. Processing of a multiple right of entry visa necessarily requires a more exhaustive examination of the applicant than standard single entry visa. In order for my department to reasonably expend these resources, there must be a sound justification for doing so, demonstrated principally by a record of recent travel to Australia. This visa is a valuable commodity and I intend to insure that its administration upholds the integrity of the programme.

We have seen similar growth in other developing tourism markets, with Indian nationals emerging as a particularly fruitful tourism related traveller group.

As with China, growth in the number of Indian travellers has been substantial and we have seen a increase in these figures of approximately 20 per cent in the last few months to March 2014 alone.

As I have stated, I am keenly aware of the importance of offering low-risk travellers the most efficient visa application and processing systems possible. We have made considerable inroads in this area since the Coalition’s election to government and I have been very pleased to see a marked improvement in processing times for Indian tourism visa stream applications. During the period from 1 October – 31 December last year, we were able to bring the average processing time down from 16 days during the equivalent period in 2012, to just 11 days, for 75 per cent of Indian tourism visa stream applications.

I am delighted by this progress and aim to continue to work with Ministers Robb and Cash to providing further improvements to tourism visa processing systems for key market applicants.

Earlier in my remarks I stated that I would speak about the operation of Australia’s immigration programmes within the broader context of national security and I will briefly do so now.

Like all Australians and indeed, as this is clearly an international event concerning the citizens of many countries, people around the world, I am deeply troubled by the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370 and cannot begin to imagine what the families of those who are missing are currently experiencing.

I am aware that there has been some recent media speculation around exactly which databases and information systems are used by Australian border and security agencies.

Multiple systems are used by these agencies to provide a very comprehensive survey of individuals, documents and transactions.

In our region we are have taken a proactive approach to the promotion of innovative border management systems. Australia is a foundation member of the Regional Movement Alert List, an APEC initiative which currently shares alert information about travel documents of concern between Australia, the United States and New Zealand and which will shortly be extended to cover the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia.

Our network of Airline Liaison Officers overseas works to both directly to check the identities of travellers coming to Australia and to improve the checking practices of airlines. Additionally, we maintain a rigorous infringement regime that penalises airlines which persist in carrying improperly documented passengers to Australia.

All the initiatives, enhancements and priorities I have discussed today are pursued under the umbrella of an exhaustive border management and security system. My first priority will always be the maintenance of the integrity of these systems and safety of the Australian public. No programme or policy will be pursued at the risk of our nation’s security.

1,000 immigration red tape rules to be cut

Wednesday, 19 March 2014 – Joint media statement with Scott Morrison – Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Michaelia Cash – Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

The Immigration and Border Protection portfolio is contributing to efforts to cut red tape, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection the Hon. Scott Morrison and Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash said today.

The government is committed to easing the regulatory burden on the business and not-for-profit sectors. The Immigration and Border Protection portfolio is making around 1000 regulatory changes.

The red tape reductions in the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio include streamlining the process for businesses that use the APEC Business Travel Card by reducing costs and helping facilitate small businesses travelling to APEC economies.

In 2010 there were 25 000 Australian APEC Business Card holders. As of December last year this had plummeted to barely more than 18 000.

Minister Morrison said the changes will improve access to the APEC Business Travel Card by removing the requirement for certification through an approved body for Australian citizen applicants.

‘This small but essential change will mean the $330 fee per business will be dropped. This will also lead to an estimated annual saving of $760 000 in compliance costs and charges,’ Minister Morrison said.

‘Further, migration agents will benefit from the government’s red tape repeal measures with the removal of the English language proficiency requirement for re-registering migration agents, saving each agent more than four hours of their time in unnecessary testing and travel,’ he said.

Minister Cash said student visa holders are also better off under this government thanks to the extension of streamlined student visa processing to more non-university providers.

‘But there is more work to be done. The recently announced independent review of the 457 visa programme will provide recommendations on how to maintain the integrity of the programme, while not placing unnecessary administrative burden on business,’ Minister Cash said.

Transition to the new arrangements for the APEC Business Travel Card will occur in the coming months with full implementation expected before the end of the financial year.