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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 31


Senator WONG (2:40 PM) —My question is to Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training. I refer the minister to her remarks on the Sunday program yesterday, where she stated:

… immigration’s perhaps a shorter-term solution than more people through training, because training does take time.

Minister, isn’t this simply an admission that the government’s plan for increased migration is nothing more than a short-term, bandaid approach? Can the minister explain to the young people in regions such as the Central Highlands-Wimmera—which includes Ballarat, which has a youth unemployment rate of nearly 30 per cent—why the government is going for this short-term fix of bringing in foreign skills instead of investing in training and skills development for young Australians?


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the senator for the question. Senator, if there are young people who are looking for jobs, I am sure the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations or any employment service provider can help them. What comes to mind is the shortage of Australians who are prepared to pick fruit, which is a serious problem for the horticultural industry and one which I am sure Senator Wong would not want to diminish by regarding my comment as being flippant.

As to my remarks yesterday, it is obvious, and does not need a rocket scientist to work out, that training does take longer and that an immigration system can be used to bring in people in the shorter term. I do not agree with what Senator Wong says follows from that. She can put all sorts in interpolations on it, as she chooses. It is a simple statement of fact. But on the issue of immigration being used for assistance with short-term problems, I draw the senator’s attention to the 457 visas—the temporary work visas. The previous leader, for whom she voted, did not like these. He said that they were taking away jobs from Australians. I presume that is the senator’s policy. Nonetheless, these visas are used by industry widely to cater to short-term problems that they have. For example, if you were building some sort of plant that required very specific expertise but you did not need that expertise beyond the building of the plant, you would use one of these visas to bring in people for a temporary period. The banks, for example, have used these visas to bring in high level executives who want to work in Australia in particular areas for a particular period of time and then go.

The immigration system we have is regarded by many in the world as second to none. It caters for skilled immigration on a permanent basis. It caters for skilled immigration where it is sponsored by the states. If there is a particular problem in one area of a state, the state has the capacity to address that. It caters for family reunion. As the senator well knows, it has a refugee and humanitarian element, where 13,000 people a year are brought in primarily from off-shore—those most in need. It has temporary arrangements for people to fill short-term gaps. In addition to that, there is the working holiday-maker program, which obviously provides short-term labour in a whole variety of areas. The point of the interview was to convey that there is a whole-of-government approach here. You use training to provide for skills within Australia, but you do not shut the door on immigration and not provide skills through that means when it is available to you to do so.


Senator WONG —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Can the minister confirm that, if the Howard government had matched state and territory rates of increase in investment in skills and training, this would have resulted in an extra $833 million going into vocational education and training? Isn’t it the case that, over the period of this government, some 270,000 Australians, mainly young people, have been turned away from TAFE because of this government’s chronic failure to invest in skills and training?


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I was tempted to decline to answer the question because, as Senator Wong knows, if she wants to ask a question specifically focused on—


Senator Chris Evans —You are the directing minister—that is your problem, isn’t it!


Senator VANSTONE —It could be. Fortunately—


Senator Chris Evans —That is your problem—you are actually the directing minister!


The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, this is Senator Wong’s question. You are not helping the chamber and you are not helping me. Come to order!


Senator VANSTONE —Thank you, Mr President. I happen to have had the opportunity to be the employment and education minister. I will take the opportunity to send you a very detailed brief on the failure of the previous Labor government to provide real apprenticeships. There was a decline in apprenticeships and training under the previous Labor government. You turned your back on the kids that needed trades training and put all your time and effort into kids that were going to university. You turned your back on Australians who really needed your help. (Time expired)