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Wednesday, 18 September 1996
Page: 4562

Mr SLIPPER —My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Would the minister explain how the government can achieve its migration program of 74,000 places this year and at the same time respect the decision of all Australians to find a partner of their choice?

Mr RUDDOCK —I did see some comments by the shadow minister. He was not quite correct in terms of the size of the program announced. He thought it was 76,000 places; in fact, the program that the government has announced was for 74,000. He seems to be of the view that you can make adjustments to other parts of the program and accommodate as many other people who wish to apply to enter Australia on the basis of a relationship with Australians and that it will have no significant problems so far as delivering the government's total program.

It is important to understand the size of the preferential family stream. It has grown very considerably. It grew with a 33 per cent increase in the number applying on the basis of a spouse relationship or as a de facto partner or on the basis of fiances. There was a 74 per cent increase in the number of parents who were seeking sponsorship to Australia as well.

What we saw happen last year in relation to these numbers was that the former government had planned a total preferential family program of 42,000 and found, because of the very rapid increase in the number of people applying in the spouse category and in the area of dependent parents, that the numbers grew to 51,000 or 52,000. That increase was very rapid. It was unexpected by the former government. In relation to that matter it made some adjustments during the year. The former government made those announcements on 1 December. On that occasion, when it had to make adjustments it had to make them in relation to other parts of the program. It wanted to deliver the program at the same numbers.

What did the former government do? It introduced in relation to the independent category a cap, which it was complaining might be introduced in other areas, of 10,000 places. It reduced the numbers of people able to apply within the skilled category by 50 per cent. It effectively degraded the overall level—the skill level—of the immigration program.

Mr Kerr —That's not true.

Mr RUDDOCK —That's exactly what it did. There is something that needs to be understood if you are thinking of the wider national interest in delivering a migration program that gives you people who are going to be able to obtain employment when they come here. In relation to the preferential family stream, the employment experience is abysmal. We have seen a situation develop which is out of control in relation to the spouse numbers, where there have been significant numbers of people rorting the system. I do not like to use those sorts of terms because it only brings the whole of the immigration program into disrepute. Large numbers of people are seeking to access Australia in the preferential stream when they could not get here under any of the other categories.

We are seeing the sorts of increases that were reflected last year in the program. If the honourable member wants to keep challenging us to produce the evidence in relation to these matters—there is evidence available—

Mr Kerr —He is ignoring you, Pete; ignoring your question.

Mr RUDDOCK —Let me invite the honourable member, if he is given the call by his colleagues on these matters, to ask a question in this area to press that matter. There is a wealth of evidence available relating to the way in which that particular category has been manipulated—a lot of it anecdotal, and that we acknowledge, and some of it based on experience. There is also available other material, objective information, that demonstrates that there have been large numbers of people from particular countries entering Australia and quickly divorcing after their arrival.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Order! The member for Werriwa will not read a newspaper in the chamber.