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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6468


Dr STONE (6:19 PM) —In following on a number of those issues, let me first take up the interception of people smugglers. The minister has been making much of the fact that the funding that has been identified is to be spent on being able to intercept the people-smuggler boats more cleverly and quickly. Well, the point is that if you have paid a lot of money to a people smuggler then your whole object is to be intercepted by Australian officials. That is what you aim to do. You are looking out for that interception, which will commence your process of asylum seeking in Australia, being taken to Christmas Island and so on. So every time there is a new boat arrival—and the most recent one was just two days ago—is not a time for a triumphal claim: ‘We’ve found another one.’ Rather, the issue is: what are the pull factors that have now brought more than 20 boats to Australia since August last year, with many more than 20 boats intercepted upon leaving Indonesia by the Indonesians? In fact, the funding you have been referring to in this area has not been giving much additional tasking at all.

I am also concerned, in terms of the funding of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, about the fact that the education agents I referred to had not been brought into the stable, if you like, of migration agents who have a very similar task—in other words, advising visa applicants of what the migration paths are into Australia. Education agents, who typically are on commission to a lot of Australian vocational and higher education and training institutions, could be required as part of their accreditation to give comprehensive and factual information, such as: what you do if you need to call out the police and what the 000 number is; what private health insurance is all about in Australia and why you should renew it; what is the experience of others in contacting the police; and the fact that, if you are assaulted or if you are a woman who is raped in Australia, you do not have to prosecute your case through in the courts if you do not wish to and your anonymity will be respected. All of that information would be part of what an education agent would be required to give if they were credited and brought under the umbrella of government scrutiny and monitoring in the way that migration agents are. That was the point I was making, and I think there was a deliberate misrepresentation of what I said.

Let me also say in the case of the guest workers that it is not a demand-driven program at all. There are 2,500 visas, we are told, which are to be delivered over the next three years. We also know that there was no work remaining in those three pilot areas which had been left for so long without the delivery of the workers, as promised much earlier in the year. By the time the workers arrived, the only work that could be found was in Robinvale, and you have probably seen the media references to locals now not being able to work in those areas because the guest workers are in those cash-paying positions. There is a lot of fallout now from the Rudd government’s mismanagement of the economy, with a lot of food manufacturers and a lot of abattoirs closing, particularly in northern Victoria. Those people could have looked for work in places like Robinvale, but they cannot now because others are in place there under the guest worker program. I think it is a great shame. There has to be more flexibility in this government as the circumstances change so dramatically in the workforce.

I began to refer to the 457 visa category inefficiencies in processing. We still have skills shortfalls in some sectors in our economy—for example, in the health sector, in IT, in some engineering sectors and in mining in Western Australia. The 457 employer applicants are being told they should look very much to labour workforce agreements. Some of those are taking 12 months-plus to process. They are asked for more and more information by DIAC, often information already submitted. It seems there is almost a conspiracy to make sure that the employers of the future cannot reach for those essential skilled people offshore. Often those offshore workers are going to make it possible for Australian employees to keep their jobs. So I ask the minister to tell Minister Evans about this problem and ask him to get much more in tune with what is really going on in areas like the 457 visa category.