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Monday, 26 May 1997
Page: 3964


Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Why, over two budgets, has your government increased—and I emphasise—independent skilled migration by 50 per cent, which is untargeted and not matched with skills and labour market shortages, while, at the same time, slashing $269 million from vocational and industry training programs and more than $2 billion out of jobs programs aimed at getting the unemployed back to work? Prime Minister, how is this keeping faith with the battlers whose job security is threatened and who are worried about skilled jobs for their kids and their grandkids?


Mr HOWARD —Are you a high immigration man? No, you are not, are you? What are you going on about? Are you supporting the stance taken by your leader on our announcement? I do not think you are. I think you have a different view.

Let me say in answer to the member for Batman that you have already heard from the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs a very strong and definitive explanation of the rationale behind the government's decisions not only last year but also this year. What we are determined to do is reassert the authority of the elected government over the immigration program of this country.


Dr Theophanous —You lied to the people!


Mr HOWARD —You allowed it to get out of hand. Go back to all of the landmark reports that were brought down while you were in office.


Dr Theophanous —You lied to the people!


Mr HOWARD —Re-read the FitzGerald report that was brought down. If sense had obtained in relation to the FitzGerald report—


Dr Theophanous —You said that you would not change it and you lied to the people.


Mr HOWARD —Then perhaps the immigration program would not have been the play-thing of political posturing under your administration—


Mr SPEAKER —The member for Calwell will withdraw that remark.


Mr HOWARD —But the immigration program, when you were in power, might have been—


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The member for Calwell will withdraw that remark.


Dr Theophanous —I withdraw, Mr Speaker.


Mr HOWARD —If you had taken the advice of the FitzGerald report, which of course you did not, then the immigration program may not have been in the chaos that it was when we took over.

We have taken a decision in relation to immigration that we believe is in the national interest. The decision that was announced last week was consistent with the new trend that was established in the first decision that was taken. I note with interest the support delivered by the Australian Labor Party to the government's decision in relation to the totality of the migrant intake. I note that with great interest. It was confirmed here in the parliament by the Leader of the Opposition.

I do not know where that leaves people like the member for Calwell. I noticed that the Leader of the Opposition said by way of an interjection that his attitude on immigration was Keating's attitude on immigration. I wonder whether it was the Keating attitude on immigration communicated to the current member for Kalgoorlie when the current member for Kalgoorlie was a member of the Australian Labor Party and the member for Kalgoorlie was being solicited for Keating's vote when Keating was trying to knock over Bob Hawke in 1991. If my mail on Keating's attitude is any guide, I think in 1991 he said to Graeme Campbell, `I am against high immigration. If you make me Prime Minister, I'll cut it in half.'


Dr Theophanous —A point of order!


Mr HOWARD —When he didn't deliver on that promise, Graeme Campbell got very cranky and that led to his expulsion from the Australian Labor Party. Is that the Keating policy the Leader of the Opposition supports?


Mr SPEAKER —The Prime Minister is straying.


Dr Theophanous —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Earlier today you made some new rulings in this place about relevance. The Prime Minister has ignored all of those rulings as he did just now when he went to total irrelevancies in relation to addressing the question.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! We are not going to debate the issue.


Dr Theophanous —He should have addressed the real question, which is the fact that he misrepresented this issue in the election of 1996.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Calwell!


Dr Theophanous —He misrepresented the issue to the people of Australia.


Mr SPEAKER —Resume your seat! Unfortunately I could not catch the Prime Minister's eye because his back was towards me.


Opposition members —Oh!


Mr SPEAKER —Order! There is no doubt that the Prime Minister was painting on a very, very broad tapestry. It will take several days, I am sure, for the impact of my statement to sink into both sides. Immigration, as we well know, is a very emotional debate and, whilst I encourage a robust question time, I will not allow emotion to intrude unnecessarily into rational questions and answers.