Immigration and Border Protection

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November 09, 2017






Thank you for inviting me to speak at the Migration Institute of Australia’s National Conference for the second time.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to elders past and present.

I’d also like to acknowledge immediate past-President of the Migration Institute of Australia Johnathon Granger for inviting me here today.

Australia is a nation built on migration.

Australia’s non-discriminatory migration program has helped create our vibrant, multicultural nation.

As migration agents, you are well aware that the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio encompasses complex matters which have an impact on the lives of real – and often vulnerable – people.

Many times, migration agents will be the ones:

  • helping families to navigate the visa system so they can reunite; or
  • helping international students to come to Australia to study; or
  • guiding skilled migrants who want to take up a job opportunity here.

You have a hard job; no one can deny it and your industry only continues to grow.

It makes sense we’re in Melbourne today. When I looked at the numbers, Victoria has had the biggest growth in new registered migration agents since 2013, followed closely by New South Wales.

In total, the industry has grown across Australia by more than 2,000 registered migration agents in that time.

At the same time we’ve seen a significant growth in the number of migration agents, Dr Christopher Kendall released his 2014 Independent Review of the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority.

I actually remember at your conference last year being asked about when I thought the Government would bring forward legislation resulting from the OMARA review.

Those Bills were introduced into the House of Representatives in Parliament on 21 June.

You would be aware that recommendation one of the Kendall Report recommended:

“That lawyers be removed from the regulatory scheme that governs migration agents such that lawyers:

  • cannot register as migration agents; and
  • are entirely regulated by their own professional bodies.”

The case for removing lawyers from the registration process made by Kendall in the OMARA review was persuasive.

Labor took the proactive steps to refer these Bills to a Senate Inquiry to ensure stakeholders – like the Migration Institute of Australia and individual migration agents – have had the opportunity to review and comment on changes to the Migration Act brought forward by the Government.

The Law Council of Australia recommended in their submission to the Senate Inquiry:

“A 2-year transitional period be inserted into the Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2017 to apply to registered migration agents who hold a ‘restricted’ legal practising certificate at the date of enactment”

I know that many people in this room may hold differing views or concerns about this recommendation from the Law Council.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee handed down their report and made two recommendations:

  1. That the Government consider implementing a formal transition period of two years from the commencement of the bill for registered migration agents currently holding restricted practising certificates, who wish to complete their supervised training and obtain an unrestricted practising certificate; and
  2. That the bills be passed.

Labor’s position is that we should agree with the Senate Inquiry recommendation that the Bills be passed and we will continue to speak with the Assistant Immigration Minister about the recommendations in relation to transitional arrangements.

The Government has released a visa simplification discussion paper. This paper asked responders to consider substantial changes for the Australia’s visa system and, in turn, for you as migration agents.

Labor strongly believes that any reforms to Australia’s migration program should improve its integrity and make the visa system easier to understand.

This discussion paper is the start of a significant discussion for our country and it’s an important conversation to have because it will shape Australia over the next 10, 20 and 100 years.

I believe many Australians would be concerned by any change to our visa program that leads to inequality or create unfair barriers for migrants who want to call Australia home.

Some of the pejorative language used in the discussion paper has me concerned about what the Government is attempting to lead to with its visa simplification.

This included phrases such as “What requirements should underpin a migrant’s eligibility for permanent residence?” and “Should a prospective migrant spend a period of time in Australia before becoming eligible for permanent residence?”

In November 2016 I read with interest leaked Cabinet documents published in Fairfax about the visa simplification proposal.

These documents revealed that the Department of Social Services had raised concerns that the Government’s proposed visa changes may create a two-tiered society or even potentially increase the risk factors that may lead to violent extremism.

Labor won’t sit-by silently if there are any moves to erode or undermine the non-discriminatory nature of Australia’s migration program or make it harder for certain migrants to become permanent residents or citizens.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is also looking to make changes as to how – and who – processes visa and citizenship applications.

The market consultation paper released by the Government forecasts visa and citizenship applications to increase by around 50 per cent by 2026-27, to around 13 million applications per annum.

Any changes that are made to the Department – including the automation of visa systems or the potential outsourcing of business – signals warning bells for the people whose jobs are on the line.

The Government has cut 484 jobs in from the Department in the 2016-17 financial year and many of those jobs were cut from visa and citizenship teams.

It was recently revealed that there are more than 18,000 people who have been waiting for more than five years on a visa waitlist for a decision.  

One of the by-products of the Government failing to invest in their own people is that visa processing times get pushed out and your clients are waiting longer for decisions.

And this is occurring alongside plans for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to become the Department of Home Affairs.

These significant reforms that shape Australia’s future cannot move forward without broad consultation with business, community and industry.

I often have the honour of being invited to meet with members and leaders of our multicultural community. Without fail, those migrant communities raise the issue of family reunion and their desire to have Mum and Dad join them in Australia. – especially if there are grandchildren who may not have had the chance to meet their grandparents.

At the last federal election, the conservatives followed Labor’s lead and promised they would introduce a new temporary parent visa.

Labor has been disappointed by the Government’s broken promise to migrant families in Australia with their planned temporary sponsored parent visa.

Despite saying before the election that children would have to pay a bond rather than a fee, the Government announced a fee of up to $20,000 if families chose the full 10 year option – rather than the promised bond.

In May the Government announced the number of visas would be capped at 15,000 per year and the visa would be limited to one set of parents per household.

This means couples now need to have an awkward chat about which set of parents are able to come to Australia. There was no mention of that from the Government or Assistant Immigration Minister before the election.

The importance of Australia’s multicultural future has been in the spotlight in recent months with the conservatives attempting to try and redefine how a person becomes an Australian citizen.

Under the guise of “strengthening” Australian citizenship, the Government launched a full-scale assault, trying to make it harder for members of our multicultural community to pledge allegiance to this country.

The conservatives proposed a university level English language test.

A high level of English that would have meant great migrants might have been prevented from making meaningful contributions to our community.

They attempted to install a decade-long delay before people could make a commitment to Australia.

These proposed changes were snobbish in the way they excluded people from certain countries – such as Canada and the U.K. – from completing an English language test.

The Government’s changes looked to make an underclass of citizens.

Labor’s Shadow Minister for Citizenship Tony Burke led the charge in fighting these changes in what has been a huge victory for modern, multicultural Australia.

Labor vigilantly opposed these dramatic proposals by blocking these retrospective changes in the Senate.

We have since called on the Government to resume processing applications under the current rules and recommence citizenship ceremonies.

Labor will fight for migrant communities and Australia’s future if there are any further attempts to undermine what it means to be Australian citizen again.

It would be remiss of me to come here today without noting the ongoing – and concerning – situation on Manus Island.

It’s untenable for this concerning standoff to continue and I encourage those men to relocate to the alternative accommodation that has been made available.

The Government has a moral obligation to ensure refugees have access to essential services – including security, health and welfare services.

I again urge the Government to do what it can by working with PNG authorities to de-escalate tensions on Manus Island.

I, like so many members of the Australian community, am disappointed the Prime Minister has failed to show leadership and accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees whilst the U.S. refugee resettlement arrangements continue.

I know humanitarian visas only make up a comparatively small percentage of your business, but it is a big part of the pro-bono work your industry undertakes every year.

We are a better country for this vital work you choose to do.

Many of you dug-in alongside the community legal sector over the past months, working late nights and weekends to help asylum seekers meet the Government’s arbitrary October 1 deadline to apply for temporary protection visas.

Due to your hard work – as well as the work of our community legal services – only 71 people didn’t lodge their claim for protection before the deadline.

I wanted to thank you for helping reduce the pain and burden on this section of our community and for giving these asylum seekers the best chance at making an application for protection in Australia.

I know your industry and clients have experienced significant uncertainty as a result of unintended consequences of the Government’s skilled migration changes.

In April this year, the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister rushed to make an announcement on skilled migration.  

The Immigration Minister’s 457 visa announcement was almost instantly proven to be a con-job.

18 occupations removed from the Government’s list of occupations hadn’t been used in the past 10 years – the Government was getting tough on deer farmers, detectives and antique dealers.

I am sure these rushed changes had, and continue to have, a real impact on your work whilst the complete raft of changes won’t fully be revealed until March next year.

The Government failed to consult with stakeholders – the people these changes were going to impact the most.

Since the Government’s rushed skilled migration stunt, I have had numerous meetings with affected stakeholders, expressing their genuine concerns over the changes.

There is a place for skilled migration; no one denies that, especially in some of our regions; but it should not be at the expense of local people having the opportunity to apply for a local job first.

A Shorten Labor Government would restore integrity to the skilled migration program and commit to building a skilled Australian workforce.

This is because Labor believes it is only fair that Australians get the first shot at local jobs.

Labor will establish the Australian Skills Authority – an independent, labour market testing body. This is to ensure that temporary visas are only made available when a genuine skills gap cannot be met with local workers.

The Australian Skills Authority will be responsible for creating one Skills Shortage Occupations List in consultation with industry, unions, higher education and TAFE sectors and State and Local Governments.

Labor will work to get as many of the occupations off the list as possible by establishing a new SkillUP Training Fund to support training that will fill skills shortages.

The impacts of the Turnbull Government’s ill-conceived policy, devoid of consultation, also exposed how innovation was set to be forced overseas, preventing businesses access to talent needed to help build our economy.

Unlike this Government, Labor is not closing the door to bringing the best and brightest talent to Australia to remain a world leader in innovation, medical and scientific research and high tech industries.

Labor has led the way by announcing a four year SMART visa with pathways to permanent residency for the very best educators, innovators and researchers of global standing in Science, Medicine, Academia, Research and Technology.

By guaranteeing visa loopholes aren’t being used to undercut local jobs, by-pass labour market testing and exploit vulnerable workers, Labor’s plan will ensure the integrity of Australia’s skilled migration program well into the future.

Migration is inherently tied with Australia’s history and will continue to be an integral part of Australia’s future.

As Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, I can assure you Labor is committed to genuine consultation with the Migration Institute and migration agents.

As changes that impact Australia’s migration program and your industry take place, we will continue to share ideas and seek your feedback leading into the next election.

My door is always open to the Migration Institute of Australia and I thank you for inviting me here today. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.