There remained more to be said. The Age’s Home Truths series in July detailed other damning examples of abuses. One man was brought to Australia on an education visa then used as a slave. Albanian organised criminal figures were living large on temporary visas while dominating the drug trade.
And we found entrenched corruption in the Pacific countries at the heart of the former government’s signature policy, offshore detention.
All this occurred under the watch of ministers Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton, and a senior public servant in Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo, who was fond of making speeches about the “dark universe” from which his department was protecting us.
Power Player, our third series, showed Pezzullo himself was as obsessed by boats as his political masters, even while the immigration compliance function of his department was withering from a lack of resources and attention.
Sustained investigative reporting has cracked open these failings of public policy. But with Pezzullo now stood down and under investigation over his prolific and political messages to a Liberal operative, and with the Parkinson and Nixon inquiries shedding light on the system’s failings, the Albanese government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move beyond the tiresome politics of immigration and fix it.
O’Neil, alongside other ministers, has made a start, promising extra money for visa processing, to attack the massive backlog of people pretending to be asylum seekers after arriving by plane, to clean up the overseas education system, and to put serious resources back into enforcement.
While they are at it, they should provide a pathway to permanent migration for the thousands still in limbo in Australia after being through Operation Sovereign Borders.
Anyone who believes that would start the people smuggling trade up again has been listening too long to Dutton and Pezzullo.
There are big issues at stake here. The government must balance the economic need for temporary migrants, who vastly outnumber permanent arrivals, with the human need to prevent exploitation, as well as an acute housing shortage.
It must crack down on education rorts without wrecking a huge export industry. It must do all this in a way that serves the millions already here and those yet to come.
As it attempts this, the government should move carefully and avoid more quick fixes, Band-Aids, and hyper-politicisation. This policy area is simply too important. And whatever happens we will be watching carefully.
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