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Tuesday, 7 October 2003
Page: 20628

Ms PANOPOULOS (2:54 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister explain to the House how the government's immigration programs help migrants to settle in regional Australia, and are there any alternative policies?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for her question and acknowledge her real interest in creating investment and jobs in regional areas, because that is a prerequisite if you are going to try and encourage migrants into those areas. There are a number of immigration programs and measures in place now to encourage migrants to settle in regional areas. The now AttorneyGeneral has certainly put a lot of work into this over time. Those programs are not only being continually enhanced but also making a real difference. A number of them would include the increasing of a number of potential skilled migrants and the number recorded on the skill-matching database, and that has led to a three-fold increase in numbers on the database. In the middle of last year we increased temporary residence visas for doctors in areas of need for up to four years, and the numbers there continue to grow strongly. We have made changes to the longterm business category to make it easier to sponsor migrants to regional areas, and from July of this year there is a bonus points scheme—one that I know the now AttorneyGeneral put a lot of work into and that we talked about at great length—for overseas students prepared to study and work in regional areas for a certain amount of time.

I was asked about alternative policies, and I made the comment at the beginning that if you want to attract people into rural and regional Australia the first thing you have to do is make certain that there are some job and life opportunities there for them. I note that the Leader of the Opposition seems to have discovered this area over the weekend. While I note with approval his new found interest in the matter, I have to say that he will have to do a little more work if it is to come together for him. If he is serious, there are five areas that I can think of that he can really seek to address if he wants to see more job opportunities in regional areas. The first would be to walk away from the massive new taxes he wants to impose on the mining industry, because it is a major employer in rural and regional areas. Not only does it have a lot of existing jobs—the member for Hunter knows all about this; he understands small business and mining—it also offers the potential for a lot of new jobs.

Over and above that, he could cease Labor's obstruction to the workplace relations amendment bill so that small businesses can employ his new regional migrants with confidence. He could then also acknowledge that a major new industry that regional Australia wants to support is ethanol—and who is standing in the way of that with a scare campaign? The Labor Party. He could move on to have a talk to his state colleagues—the leaders of all the states—about their utterly pitiful support for regional Australia in the worst drought for 100 years.

Finally, as the member for Indi would know, nothing will destroy confidence for investment in jobs in regional areas more than the sort of ad hoc approach adopted in relation to the Living Murray that the Leader of the Opposition is outlining. Our approach, which will ensure that there is consultation, that there is science and that there is a recognition of people's property rights, will restore investment confidence in jobs—yours will undermine it. There are five areas where we will all wait with bated breath to see whether you do anything at all to secure some job and investment opportunities in regional Australia for migrants to enjoy.