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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1742

Mr DANBY (4:33 PM) —In this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011, I will focus on population, migration and foreign policy—including the proposal of the opposition to cut out Australian Indonesian education partnership—as well as a number of other areas. In the coming decades, the proportion of Australia’s population aged 65 and over is expected to more than double. As a result, our pension and health care costs will rise massively while the working age population shrinks. Australia’s hitherto bipartisan skilled migration policy plays a significantly positive role in addressing this. Last year, Access Economics modelling done on behalf of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship—and it is on my website so people can have a look at the figures—showed that in 2008-09, for instance, immigration intakes had a net benefit to the Commonwealth budget of $380 million in the first year. That includes all the humanitarian and family reunion programs—people who were initially a cost to the budget bottom line—but overall, even in the first year, because of the overwhelmingly skilled nature of our immigration intake there was a net benefit of $380 million.

On these figures, in 20 years time the budget will enjoy a positive impact from this same year of immigrants of $1,770 million. So over the 20-year period, from that year of migration alone the Australian people have gained simply, if one looks at it in terms of economic benefit, $20 billion in net tax from that one year’s intake of immigration.

Last year the coalition sought to conflate the population issue in immigration with asylum seekers. I have spoken on this topic before but I feel that it deserves our attention again. In 2008-09 there were 171,318 permanent migrants—not, as the member for Cook suggested, over 300,000. He did not understand—or he deliberately did not understand—or he tried to exaggerate the numbers so people would be afraid of 300,000. During the global financial crisis, many Australian passport holders whom even the member for Cook cannot keep out of Australia returned to Australia because the economic prospects in this country were much better than they were in London, Boston, New York or wherever they were. Of course New Zealanders also have a different arrangement by which they come to Australia. This made up the scare figure of 300,000.

In 2007-08, it was 158,000; the previous year—the last full year of the Howard government—148,00. In 2005-06, it was 143,00. The increase has been driven by demand for skilled migrants. Throughout all that time, two-thirds of the permanent arrivals came here under the skilled migration category. The remainder came under family migration and a small proportion, 13½ thousand, under the special humanitarian program. The 300,000 figure he has got by counting temporary migrants such as temporary skilled migrants, overseas students and Australians returning home and then minusing temporary migrants and Australians who are leaving.

Access Economics estimated that in 2007-08 Australia’s international education industry was worth over $14 billion and provided 122,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Additionally, an Access Economics study of our immigration program showed that in 2008-09 the migration program had a net benefit to the federal budget of $830 million in the first year. In 20 years time the federal budget will be $1,760 million better off thanks to these immigrants who arrived in 2008-09.

In the 40 years between 1945 and 1985, Australia’s population grew from 7.4 million to 15.8 million—a 113 per cent increase. If the current rate of migration continues in the 40 years from now until 2050, Australia’s population will grow from 22 million to 36 million, only a 63 per cent increase. These figures put the population debate in perspective.

We should not forget that Australia is a sparsely populated country by world standards even if we consider the most closely settled areas. Victoria is the most densely populated state. Its population density is 23.87 per square kilometre. Australia as a whole has a population density of 2.8 people per square kilometre. To put that in context, the US has a population density of 32.11; Malaysia, 85.8; Germany, 229.3; and the Netherlands, 399.9 people per square kilometre.

In relation to the population debate, it is not the growth and urban population that is causing water problems but the waste of water in agriculture and the fact that we need to farm water in our cities and around our cities much more efficiently. The key policy is to buy back water rates from uneconomic irrigators. Obviously, that is not such an urgent issue now with the big floods we have had and the revival of the Murray-Darling Basin but it is an important economic and environmental issue in the future.

Australia now has some of the most water-efficient cities in the world, particularly Melbourne, thanks to the former minister for environment, John Thwaites, who was the member for Albert Park, one of the state seats in my electorate.

In 1934, Melburnians used an average of 277 litres of water per day. Over the next 50 years that rose so that in 1981 the average Melburnian used 500 litres of water per day; however, recent decades have seen restrictions and, more importantly, cultural change in the way we use water.

In 2007, the rate of water usage had sunk back to 277 litres per person—the same rate it was in 1934. On a dry continent like Australia, the way people use massive amounts of water in metropolitan cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or even here in Canberra is surely very important. However, in my view our problems regarding water usage are political, not demographic, in origin. On 25 July 2010, an article on coalition population policy by the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, appeared in the Daily Telegraph. He claimed in the article that if population grew through immigration it should be immigration that makes us stronger, not weaker. He said:

Boat people are only a small percentage of our immigration but they powerfully reinforce perceptions that immigration is out of control because they are chosen by people smugglers, not by the Australian government.

Here we see the coalition confusing those seeking refuge with migration. The two are simply not related. He went on to say:

By stopping the boats, the Howard government could increase immigration …

This is the policy that they took to the last election. We have seen over the last week that some in the Liberal Party are not afraid to use concerns in the electorate regarding migration for political point-scoring. This is very much against the national interest, in my view. The non-partisan support we have had for our migration policy is something that is a massive benefit to us all around the country. We can see, literally in front of our eyes, how skilled migrants contribute. After the recent floods, the Queensland government and Queensland businesses said that they need skilled immigrants to help with some of the flood recovery up there. We know that in the mining areas in Western Australia and Queensland there is an insatiable demand for skilled migrants. They feed straight into the system. They are not educated in Australia so you do not have the costs of providing for them; therefore, we are great beneficiaries of their immigration to Australia—particularly since there are so many young and educated people amongst them.

Could I briefly turn to another area of concern of mine, and that is Australia’s foreign representation. I believe that consecutive governments of all stripes have underfunded the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There are now about 20 per cent fewer DFAT employees in overseas posts than there were 20 years ago. In my view, this is really affecting the representation of a growing, important and confident country like Australia. I am thinking in particular of two areas of the world that I am very familiar with. The first is the area of the former Soviet Union south of Russia; that is, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan. They are represented by Australia from Moscow. The impossibility of adequately representing those important countries that have some antagonism with the government in Moscow is very manifest if you are there. Ukraine, for instance, is a country of over 50 million people. It is full of mining engineers—exactly the kinds of people who ought to be suitable for certain economic projects in Australia under skilled migration. They have to apply for a visa to get to Moscow before they can apply for a visa to get to Australia. So our representation in that part of the world could certainly be lifted.

The second area is the Arab Maghreb. The 100 million people who live in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco are very poorly represented by having just a trade office in Libya. Of course, that has been abandoned. We are represented in Morocco from Paris, of all places, and in many of those other places from Cairo. It is simply inadequate, and it is embarrassing that both Ukraine and Morocco have embassies here and there is no equivalent representation in their country. It is important as Australia grows that political leadership stands up to that sort of Hansonite element in Australia—or even that element in the Australian press which is constantly questioning the expenditure of federal governments—and says, ‘Yes, we do need serious representation overseas because we are a serious country.’

I turn to the Indonesian education project in my last few minutes. The Indonesian education partnership is a program that I am very familiar with. With an Australian parliamentary delegation I went to Aceh after the tsunami and saw that you could build a new school for 400 kids in Indonesia for $250,000. I cannot tell you the expressions of the teachers and the parents and what a great impression it made on all of us to see how Australian public money had been used in exactly the right way. Of course we need to spend money on pensioners, poor people, education and flood relief—all the kinds of worthy projects that we have in Australia—but this was the cutting edge of Australia’s national interest. If you were there and saw the alternatives that the Indonesians were faced with, you would understand why this is in the Australian national interest.

The prospect of cutting this program is so against Australia’s foreign policy interests and, indeed, national security interests. I want to elaborate. In places like Java and Aceh the alternative is a school perhaps funded by Saudi Arabia where there is rote learning of the Koran by poor Indonesian kids. When this is presented to them, what do the Australian people think is a better alternative: doing that and going on to be the graduates of Abu Bakar Bashir’s infamous madrasahs or learning computing science; English; their own language, Bahasa; and emerging with some economic hope for the future? Fortunately, the past Australian governments, including the Howard government, and this current Australian government have had a massive program of building schools. We have built 330,000 new school places and 2,000 junior secondary schools between 2005 and 2007. It is a program we can be very proud of and which under no circumstances should be cut.

There is probably no-one in this parliament who is more concerned with the effects of international terrorism than me. I defer to no-one on that issue. But this is an issue where the mutual benefit of the two countries is very clear. I think it is embarrassing that the idea of cutting the Indonesian program was made just after the Queensland flood, when the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Marty Natalegawa, came to Brisbane pledging $1 million from the poor people of Indonesia towards the Queensland Premier’s flood relief program. What kind of image of Australia does that send to the hundreds of millions of Indonesians?

Two weeks ago police in Indonesia arrested six teenagers, four of them enrolled at one of these extremist schools. If these teenagers had been enrolled at a school built by Australia where they had the opportunity to learn English, Bahasa and perhaps computing science, perhaps they would have had a different view of the world. I urge the opposition to rethink this kind of policy and have a broader vision of the Australian national interest.