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ADDRESS TO THE MIGRATION INSTITUTE OF AUSTRALIA REGIONAL CONFERENCE
FRIDAY, 29 MARCH 2019
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First I would like to begin by acknowledging the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains, the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respects to the Elders both past and present.
Thanks to the Migration Institute of Australia for allowing me to speak yet again – in particular CEO Peter Vymys and National President John Hourigan as well as Bronwyn Markey who helped me be here today with you.
I also would like to welcome the Honourable Zoe Bettison MP – the South Australian Shadow Minister for Trade, Tourism & Investment.
Hopefully this is the very last time I speak to you as the “Shadow” Minister for Immigration.
I have spoken at MIA conferences on many occasions and I think that joke is pertinent but having been a member of the Labor Party since 1983 and a campaigner and Member of Parliament since 2007, elections are always tough, closely fought, and I don’t make that claim lightly.
Labor is acutely aware of the task that’s ahead of us – and the election we have to fight to win.
Labor is steady, stable, and united – Bill and Tanya have done a great job and we have been that way for the past six years. We are focused on delivering a fair go for all Australians.
At the beginning of last year, we saw the promises of a “new” plan for regional migration begin to flow from the current Government and into the media.
As the year unfolded, stories about regional migration were being drip-fed to newspapers as the Government attempted to appease division in their own ranks.
Migration – particularly from overseas – swiftly became the scapegoat for pressure on infrastructure and essential services, traffic congestion, and rising house prices.
One former Prime Minister was calling for the permanent migration intake to be slashed to a level which would destroy the Australian economy as we know it.
Migration is good for jobs and economic development; it’s good for our country.
Throughout last year, the likes of Peter Dutton, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and even Scott Morrison as Treasurer were signalling they were working on a plan to overhaul Australia’s immigration system to shift people to the regions.
At the same time, the visa system passed through the hands of Peter Dutton, to Alan Tudge, to David Coleman in less than one year.
The uncertainty and instability of the current Government played out in the administration – the maladministration – of our immigration program.
It’s bad governance from a bad Government I would contend.
Last week – after 15 months and over 15 front page news stories spruiking regional migration – the Government finally released their migration plan.
Their illustrious and glorious plan included:
Whilst this announcement might be particularly underwhelming for many of the people in this room, we have to look to the problems that have been created behind the scenes by the Liberals.
Following the Government’s underwhelming announcement last week, it is worth pointing out there is already a permanent visa subclass available to encourage people to live in regional areas.
The Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme – or the RSMS.
The RSMS is a permanent residence visa for skilled workers who want to work in regional Australia. You know about it; you’ve worked with it.
It is only available for jobs in skills shortage – meaning there are no local workers who can fulfil those roles.
Despite the Government’s plans for two new regional visas with 23,000 places, the Liberals have abysmally failed at administering the RSMS.
Under the Liberals, processing times for this visa – like all visas – have ballooned out of control.
It can take up to two years to have these visas processed – preventing migrants from resettling in regional areas, even when they want to do so.
In 2017-18, the scheme saw just over 6,000 people resettled in regional Australia.
This was a 39 per cent decrease on the 2016-17 year – in which 10,000 people settled in regional Australia.
In fact, the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme has slid backwards year-on-year since the Liberals were elected in 2013.
I’d like to highlight the demand for the scheme has not subsided.
As at 30 June 2018, the RSMS pipeline – people waiting for their applications to be processed – was over 22,500 applications.
This was an increase of over 21 per cent compared to the pipeline as at 30 June 2017.
Scott Morrison has proposed 23,000 new visa places in regional Australia… but that’s currently the same number waiting to be processed under an existing scheme.
How are we supposed to place any credibility in the Government’s plans for regional migration given their abysmal track record?
The failures of the Liberals don’t stop there.
There are over 188,000 people on bridging visas in Australia – waiting for their applications to be processed.
There are almost 1.6 million temporary visa holders with work rights in Australia – but underemployment is at record highs and regions are crying out for access to skilled labour. What’s going wrong?
Visa processing times are inordinately long and you deal with it every day in your businesses.
But the Liberals have announced they will privatise Australia’s visa processing system.
We’re opposed to it – Labor will not privatise the visa processing system in this country.
We won’t do it on national security grounds, we won’t do it because of safety of people’s information and we won’t do it because it will slash jobs. It’s not good.
I want experienced public servants who know what they’re doing, trained, who you know dealing with these processes – that’s the most important thing.
That’s in the national interest; not the interest of private profit.
That’s what Labor is all about – the national interest.
Given the Government’s failures, it doesn’t surprise me that local councils – and some State Governments – across Australia have turned their attention to DAMAs as if they are the silver bullet of immigration policy.
I think this is a symptom – or a chain reaction – of the current Government’s maladministration of Australia’s visa system.
In lieu of a properly administered immigration program, DAMAs have risen to the surface because they can be made, agreed to, and administered without any legislative changes.
In other words, we can’t stop them, we can’t amend them, we can’t make them ceases.
DAMAs have their place – and they should be one aspect of Australia’s migration program. They should not be the default of immigration in this country.
The two South Australian DAMAs announced last week received much fanfare and now I want them to have the proper scrutiny they deserve.
How are we supposed to consider the benefits of a Designated Area Migration Agreement if a State Government is holding them hostage and won’t release them in full?
How are we supposed to know that the agreements aren’t undercutting local wages with malicious concessions?
Are the agreements limited to jobs in skills shortage – or are they allowing for skilled visas to be issued for jobs that Australian workers could be doing?
Why won’t the Liberal Government here in South Australia or their Federal counterparts release the details of the DAMAs they have entered into? What have they got to hide?
One thing we must ensure is that we are not pitting region-against-region.
DAMAs should not be a race to the bottom to undermine the wages and conditions of all workers.
Labor will never let DAMAs undermine the wages of migrant workers or Australian workers.
This is about making sure we can be fair to migrant workers – because being fair to migrant workers is good for all workers in Australia.
Local workers should always be given the first shot at local jobs.
This is one of the reasons why Labor will establish the Australian Skills Authority – an independent, labour market testing body which will determine genuine skills needs and restrict temporary work visas to those only areas.
The Australian Skills Authority will work with State and Local Governments, industry, unions, higher education and TAFE sectors to determine which occupations will be listed on Labor’s Skills Shortage Occupations List.
For all skills on the visa list, a Labor Government will implement a plan and timeline to train sufficient Australians, with the aim over time to get as many of the occupations off the list as possible.
The Australian Skills Authority will also identify circumstances preventing local workers from meeting Australia’s skill needs – including in regional areas – and provide advice to the Government on skill bottle-necks.
The one thing I appreciate about South Australia is that everyone who calls this State home – particularly here in Adelaide – is focussed on the positives and benefits of migration.
Migration has built this country – it’s integral to the part of the Australian story.
Everyone’s families who have come to this country proudly calls this their home. Everyone who comes here has migrated from somewhere except for our First Nations people.
South Australians want the best for their state – and the State’s economy – and that is why responsibly growing the population of SA has become a focus.
This week the ABS released new data showing that from 2017 to 2018, capital city growth accounted for 79% of Australia's total population growth.
Yesterday, The Australian reported there has been a 12 per cent rise in job vacancies over the past two years in cities and regional centres outside Sydney, Melbourne and southeast Queensland.
The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities shows almost 60,000 jobs unfilled in the regions.
We need to be looking at ways to encourage people to be live in regional areas.
Regardless of whether it’s permanent or temporary migration – migration contributes billions upon billions to our economy each year.
We only have to look to how international education is thriving in Adelaide and more broadly in Australia, much to the envy of many other like-minded cities and countries.
Even in my home State of Queensland, international education is the second-largest services export.
There are always more ways we can be encouraging international students to come to established, credible, and respectable universities like you have here in South Australia.
I want to make clear that much more needs to be done to ensure international students are not being forced into breaching their visa conditions by unscrupulous employers.
The failure of the out-of-touch Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government to protect migrant workers undermines the integrity of Australia’s migration program and the wider labour market.
Migrant workers, including those on student visas, are some of the most vulnerable workers in Australia.
More than 90 per cent of migrant workers have suffered appalling and inexcusable wage theft whilst working on a temporary visa in Australia with the scale of unpaid wages said to be over $1 billion.
Fewer than one in ten international students and backpackers have taken action to recover wages they were owed.
The Liberals have allowed migrant workers to suffer wage theft in silence for close to six years before releasing their Migrant Workers’ Taskforce report on the eve of the election.
This wage theft doesn’t just damage migrant workers, but it undermines the wages of all Australian workers, citizens, and permanent residents.
Only Labor – and the values of our movement – is committed to ensuring the rights of all workers.
Not only does migration build our economy – it builds the society we want to live in and share with others.
Australia has always been – and should continue to be – a welcoming nation.
Anyone who claims otherwise or tries to perpetuate an “us versus them” mentality has no place in modern Australia.
As the Shadow Minister for Immigration, I have been particularly heartened to hear the stories of refugees – like Arian and Mahyar who started Ayla’s Café here in Adelaide – who have been welcomed with open arms.
Arian and Mahyar uprooted their lives, fled conflict, left family members and lives behind and sought protection.
Former Premier Jay Weatherill knew this when he declared all of South Australia a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa – or SHEV – zone for those people in Australia as part of the legacy caseload. That’s to his credit.
This provided so many vulnerable people the opportunity start their new lives in Adelaide and South Australia, to be building their connections and contributing to their local communities.
As the global humanitarian crisis has continued to grow, with over 25 million refugees worldwide, the Liberals have failed to improve Australia’s humanitarian response on the international stage.
Australians understand we can be tough on borders but treat people with humanity.
I believe we as a country can get the balance right.
This is why a Shorten Labor Government will reform the Community Sponsored Refugee Program so that State and Local governments – including here in South Australia – will be able to sponsor humanitarian entrants into Australia.
These places will be in addition to the Government funded humanitarian intake.
We have seen that refugees make a positive contribution to communities across Australia – including Nhill in Victoria, Toowoomba in Queensland, and even in Mt Gambier in South Australia.
Today, I am announcing that Labor will allow State Governments and local councils to actively support – financially and through support services – the settlement and integration of families like Arian and Mahyar and be a part of their lives as they make Adelaide and South Australia their new home.
But these commitments will always be underpinned by Labor’s strong border protection policy.
We will never let the people smugglers back in business.
Labor’s policies ensure Australia does its fair share to meet humanitarian need, plays a leadership role in our region, and treats genuine refugees with dignity and humanity.
If a Shorten Labor Government is elected, I’m excited to see South Australia and Adelaide help address the global humanitarian crisis at a local level as you get, what some would describe in my meetings here in South Australia, your fair share of refugees.
No single measure is going to be enough to make sure our migration program helps encourage people settling in regional areas.
The setting of Australia’s immigration program and visa system must be continually assessed and amended as required.
These changes should come with consultation – particularly with industry – as we have all seen the effects of sudden or unexpected changes.
That means decisions made in consultation with you. Not just new policies dumped in your lap – like the 457 visa changes in April 2017.
Knee-jerk changes or using the media to formulate policy will always lead to bad policy outcomes for Australia’s migration program.
I want to assure you, if elected, my door is always open – as it has been during this term of Opposition.
A Shorten Labor Government will always consult with you to ensure the integrity of Australia’s visa system and the best possible outcomes for our country’s immigration program.
Thanks for having me today.