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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17171

Ms GAMBARO (2:21 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Would the minister advise the House of the impact of the government's regional migration policies? Is the minister aware of any other policies?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank the honourable member for Petrie for her question on this matter. The honourable member for Petrie is, of course, the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration and is recognised for having a great deal of interest in these matters. She is very much aware that regional migration has been an agenda item of this government. We have worked very hard, in consultation with the state and territory governments, to implement a range of measures which are now having quite a significant impact.

Since 1996-97, some 24,000 skilled migrants and their families have made regional Australia their home. This has been a result of the government's determination to develop a mechanism for getting a better dispersal of the migration intake. I am sure members of the House would be interested to know that this financial year over 7,000 additional settlers will go to regional Australia, and that is in excess of 10 per cent of the total skilled migration stream. Through a range of initiatives that have been put in place over time, we are achieving very significant dispersal of the migration program.

We have a number of other initiatives in place now. From the beginning of March this year, the business skills program has a range of incentives for state and territory sponsorship consistent with state and regional development plans and needs. From 1 July, points testing arrangements for students will be introduced, whereby we hope to see a beneficial linkage between students who study in regional Australia and where they settle. Further, I will be consulting with state and territory governments on a possible two-stage process to encourage more independent skilled migrants to settle in regional Australia.

As I flagged in the beginning, there are some latter-day converts in relation to these matters. The parliamentary committee has looked at the question. I looked for new suggestions that I could follow up, and I have been dealing with those issues. But it has been suggested by those opposite that there may be other initiatives that could be followed. It was suggested that I might look to Premier Carr for some initiatives. The shadow spokesperson said yesterday:

I think what he's found from that dialogue—

speaking of Premier Carr's dialogue with me—

is that the government is really just fiddling around the edges when it comes to regional migration.

It might help the House to know that before the state election Premier Carr—keen, I think, to distract attention from some of his policies on migration—agreed to a working party with the Commonwealth to look at changes that might be put in place. The fact is that the work of that group has largely stagnated, and I think that was circumscribed particularly by the premier's unwillingness to grapple with hard policy decisions in an election environment.

Some of the suggestions that I put to Premier Carr at that time—which certainly were not `fiddling around the edges'—included consideration as to whether or not some limitations might be put on family reunion in Sydney. I also suggested that he might care to look at the humanitarian stream and put limitations on the number of people settling in Sydney in favour of people settling elsewhere. I also asked whether he wanted to discuss overseas students, but I have to tell you that each of those areas were quarantined by the premier during those discussions. The only area in which he was interested in any negotiations was putting restrictions on the skilled migration scheme—which is the part that would benefit Sydney in terms of growing it as a regional headquarters and making job opportunities for people involved in business. I have to say to the shadow minister that, if she thinks she is going to able to discuss issues of this character with the Premier of New South Wales and get meaningful advances, she will have a fairly barren route to follow.