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Thursday, 9 March 2000
Page: 14335

Ms GAMBARO (3:11 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the importance of maintaining a balanced migration program? Minister, what would be the cost to the taxpayer if Australia allows family migration to dominate the migration program?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank the honourable member for Petrie for her question, and I note the very considerable interest that the member for Petrie has in the need for a non-discriminatory and balanced migration program. I think it is important to recognise the way in which the migration program has changed to ensure that it is balanced, and what was the situation that we inherited when we came to office. The fact is that when we came to office the program was dominated by family reunion applicants. Seventy per cent of the places went to family reunion applicants; 30 per cent went to skilled applicants. I note that, at times when the Labor Party recognises that it is losing the argument on these issues, it says, `If we were there we would have a balanced program.' And it is important to recognise why that is the case. The first reason is that if you bring people to Australia under a skilled migration program, the impact on the budget is positive. It is something of the order of $36.7 million per thousand on the forward estimates. But if you bring people through the family migration program, the impact on the forward estimates is negative—and negative by $1.8 million per thousand. The fact is that skilled migrants have unemployment rates at about half the national average. Family stream migrants have unemployment rates at about twice the national average. So the argument is that if you bring more people through family migration to Australia, you are bringing them here essentially to be welfare dependent and without employment.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr RUDDOCK —That is the case. And it is totally non-discriminatory to make that point, and to allege that any suggestion about those differences is in some way racist is quite—

Mr RUDDOCK —If that is the sort of allegation that you want to make, you will live with that as part of your reputation. The point I want to make in relation to this is that I am very disappointed that the Labor Party appears to be rethinking its position in relation to this matter, because the honourable member for Batman the other day had to say that he thought it would be appropriate to look at making family arrangements more flexible for regional initiatives. What people need to understand is that if a skilled migrant comes to Australia under the skilled migration program, they bring with them their wife and their dependant children automatically as an entitlement.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Prospect, the minister is entitled to be heard, and heard in silence. Standing order 55 still stands.

Mr RUDDOCK —If honourable members are saying that we need to expand the program to attract skilled migrants so that they can bring their brothers and their sisters and their uncles and their aunts and their cousins, without any form of skill testing, they should recognise that those family members are entitled-and there are special initiatives in place in relation to regional Australia-to come under the Australian skill linked category. All that ensures is that they have English language competency and a skill that would enable them to get a job in the Australian labour market.

If the Labor Party is rethinking its position on this matter, let the Leader of the Opposition make it clear. He wanted to go out and parade that he had a virtue in this area by supporting the measures that the government has put in place. He was out there saying to the Australia Israel Review back in June last year that he would increase substantially migration programs `but I would want to test the employment issue'. He went on to say `I would want to see really quite high levels of success in entry to the employment market.' If you are out there arguing that the brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and parents can come to Australia as part of a family reunion scheme to get skilled migrants here without testing them against the labour market, make it very clear because, brother, you will all be in trouble in your electorates if that is what you are advocating.

Mr SPEAKER —I call the Manager of Opposition Business.

Mr McMullan —And Pauline Hanson has only been back in the House two days.

Mr SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business has not been recognised. I call the member for Pearce.

Mrs Moylan —Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question—

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Pearce will resume her seat.

Mr McMullan —If you are saying I have not been recognised I am quite happy to return to my seat, but how is it then that the call goes to the other side?

Mr SPEAKER —Consistent with the way in which I dealt with government members in the first sitting week, I expect people who come to the dispatch box to ask a question to ask the question. The Manager of Opposition Business did not do that, and for that reason—

Mr McMullan —It was a preamble.

Mr Beazley —Absolutely. We had a stack of them from the other side.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition!

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Manager of Opposition Business came to the dispatch box and did not ask his question, so I required him to resume his seat.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER —Does the Manager of Opposition Business have a point of order?

Mr McMullan —I do, Mr Speaker. We do accept that you did sit the member for Indi down during the previous sitting week after you had warned him and he had failed to take any notice of your warning. We accept that you should be consistent in the application of that principle to our side. But we do believe you should be consistent in the application of that principle to our side and act towards me and other members as you did to the member for Indi. I put it to you that the way in which you have dealt with this matter is not the same as the way in which you dealt with the member for Indi and therefore is not fair and that this question should be allowed to proceed.

Mr SPEAKER —The opportunity for the Manager of Opposition Business to ask his question has not been lost. But he has lost the call at this point in time because he defied what I expect from those who come to the dispatch box.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. That is inconsistent treatment. That is all there is to it.

Government members interjecting

Mr Beazley —It is. You have got here, Mr Speaker, a minister under interrogation in this place for manifest incompetence in her portfolio, which is what question time is all about—not dorothy dixers and cheerios, which is what we are getting from the other side.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition knows that I am exercising a great deal of restraint in hearing him.

Mr Beazley —Above all in those circumstances, equal treatment is required. Equal treatment has not been given to the Manager of Opposition Business. A warning was given to the member for Indi, which he ignored. No warning was given to the Manager of Opposition Business after the particular comments flung at this side—I might say in a fashion that was out of order—by the minister who just sat down, who was ignoring, of course, your rulings on how people ought to be addressed in this place when he did it. He was responding to that out of order proposition from the Minister for Immigration. He is entitled to exactly the same treatment.

Mr SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business has not been denied the call, as I said. But I will not recognise him at this time. I will recognise the member for Pearce.