Since 2015, people who came by boat on or after 13 August 2012 go through a different procedure, which the government calls ‘fast tracking’. 13 August 2012 was the date of an Expert Panel report, after which the Australian government effectively suspended processing refugee claims.
When the Coalition government won the 2013 election, there were around 30,000 claims that had not been processed (which it refers to as the ‘Legacy Caseload‘). The government decided that these people would be ‘fast tracked’, but the procedure has been neither fast nor fair.
Changes to the procedure
This process still involves an interview by the Department. However, there are shorter timelines for the process, and stricter rules relating to evidence and identity.
More limited review
The procedure still involves review by an independent tribunal, but the review is much more limited and is conducted by a different body, the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA).
Unlike the Refugee Review Tribunal, the Authority only reviews the evidence that was given to the Department (’on the papers’), and does not usually conduct a hearing with the applicant. If new information comes in, it is not accepted unless there are exceptional reasons to include it.
This means that it is much harder for the Authority to make a different decision, or for the person to explain their story or to address any concerns they have with the original decision. The effect has been to reduce significantly the number of times a decision is returned (’remitted’) to the Department.
The fast tracking process has not been fast. The laws were not passed until December 2014. Then, the government took another few months to set the process up.
As these people did not have a right to apply for asylum, they were first ‘invited’ to apply in batches. Priority was given to those in children and in detention. Others were invited in the order they arrived in Australia at first. However, after only a few batches, all people were ‘invited’ to apply.
Ending of legal advice
This process was further delayed because the Department ended funding for legal advice or assistance for these people. Legal advice was funded only for a very small number of highly vulnerable people.
This left many people waiting for the free legal help, and meant that specialist legal services were forced to spend time looking for new funding and pro bono help. These services had to reduce the time they sepnt helping people to fill in their applications, and most did not have time to go to any interviews.
The October deadline
Then, in May 2017, the government decided without warning that everyone had to apply by 1 October 2017. If people did not apply, they would no longer be able to apply for protection at all.
This happened even though the government was not processing the applications that it had already received quickly.
This meant that already stretched legal services had to work even harder to get everyone’s applications in. In a heroic effort, the legal services and the refugee sector made sure that almost everyone got their applications in on time.
Decisions are still being made
Despite this, in 2020 there are still thousands of decisions that have not yet been made. Although the fast track procedure began in 2015, many of the people affected had already been living in Australia for years. This means that many of them have taken nearly a decade to get their first decision under the ‘fast track’ procedure.
Even then, these people only get a temporary protection visa for either three or five years. As the first temporary protection visas were granted in 2015, this means that the government is now facing a second wave of applications for a further visa, while it has not yet finished processing the first wave.