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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6473


Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (11:42): I rise to follow the member for Dobell in this debate. I remind the member that he left the Labor Party and the government to sit as an Independent in this place because of his view that the government is not a competent government and it does not meet the standards that the Australian people expect of governance in Australia today. This Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013 is yet another example of that.

Not only have we heard this ridiculous contention that 547 visas or skilled migration workers are taking Australian jobs but we have also heard a minister and a government deceitfully claim figures that do not exist and arguments that are not real in an attempt to pit Australian against Australian. We see from the member for Dobell a false argument in the sense that he says, 'Well, in the immigration program, asylum seekers are not being dealt with fairly yet we are allowing skilled migrant to come to this country.' It is true to say that most of the Australian population felt most confident about our immigration regime at the height of the Howard government's successful border protection regime. That is what all the statistics show. People felt most confident about immigration in this country and our immigration program which was substantially increased, especially in the categories of skilled migration, when the government had effective control of the borders and who came here. That is the best way to build confidence in your migration program.

The 457 visas in this Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013 were introduced in 1996 in the Howard government. They are there to meet shortages and skills gaps in industries that exist today—gaps that have to be filled to enable companies, corporations and businesses to meet the demand in the economy at the moment. It is not a solution to say we will train people up for these jobs, because the demands are there now. Filling those demands with skilled migrants does not take away Australian jobs. Filling those demands with skilled migrants from overseas allows those businesses to continue to succeed, which creates more jobs, more wealth and more prosperity right now.

So this fallacious argument from the government that this is about taking Australian jobs bells the cat about what is really going on with this legislation. It is of course the unions behind this legislation. We are in the last days of a government—a very bad government, one that I think many people would acknowledge is the singular worst government in Australian history and probably for many decades and centuries to come—in this parliament. It is so bad that in the last days of this parliament and, potentially, of this government, all we see is legislation designed to try to get a poll bounce—measures implemented to cement unions in leadership struggles, which unions on which leader's side in the Labor Party.

The victim, of course, is the integrity of the Australian immigration program. We want skilled migrants to come to this country. We want businesses to have flexibility in the migration program to be able to say: 'We can't fill this category of worker right now. We need to grab some from overseas to keep our business and our projects going.' It works well. The government has made no substantive case for why it is not working well. Of course there will be abuses of any single migration category. Of course there will be problems. But then what do the government say to their own measures which have reduced the amount of money available for compliance in their budget cuts? On one hand they have cut money available for DIAC's compliance and on the other they have said, 'Well, there are some abuses going on, so therefore we need to change the system.'

The coalition has said quite separately that we will take and support any measure that improves the integrity of the system. That is our position. But we know what is going on here and what the government is all about. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship came forward and said there had been 10,000 cases—he put a figure on it—suggesting that he had some detailed evidence provided to him by inquiry, the Migration Council, somebody or anybody. He was then and is now unable to substantiate 10,000 abuses. It suggests that the government clearly has this very wrong and there is no evidence to support such claims.

The government's approach has been strongly criticised. It has been criticised rightly by industry groups, who need flexibility to keep our economy turning over; labour market experts; the Migration Council of Australia; and the government's own advisers. Everyone states there is no evidence to back up widespread rorting claims being made. If the government were serious about this matter or training people up to meet skills shortages in the economy, they would be addressing the VET sector. They would be addressing how we spend money in education and training. They would be doing those things in a coherent and proper way to ensure we have greater capacity and more people trained up in areas of skills shortages for the future. It is not really a valid approach to do what they are doing—to undermine the integrity of the migration system and the immigration process in Australia.

Their language and rhetoric have been so inflated and conflated, but I guess that is situation normal for this government. Everything has to be the biggest. Everything has to be the most historic initiative. The rorts have to be the most widespread we have ever seen. It has to be 10,000; it cannot be 1,000. It must be huge. It must be bigger. If you can think big, you have to think very big. And of course they failed to achieve all of their benchmarks and their initiatives because the scope of what they set out to do is completely wrong. The scope of what they are setting out to do in this bill is again pretty wrong.

We support robust integrity in the 457 program and we support measures that would strengthen the problem. But, in an attempt to justify the comments, Minister O'Connor referred in the House to a Department of Immigration and Citizenship document on strengthening the integrity of the 457 program. The document the minister referred to, of course, did not show any widespread abuses or rorters. I have heard many members of the Labor Party refer to these problems as small. I was on Lunchtime Agenda yesterday with Senator Lisa Singh from the Labor Party, and she referred to this problem as 'a minor problem with 457 visas'. I think she understood that she had made an error in the Labor Party dogmatic system by saying something out of the prescribed form of words, as she sought to correct it, but she saw it as of a minor nature.

Senator Lisa Singh is a Tasmanian senator of Indian descent. I know that she may consider this to be a problem of a minor nature because the figures about 457 grants are quite interesting. The biggest growth in 457 visas being granted in Australia today—of the top 15 citizenship countries for primary applications in 2012-13—is from India. That is about 20.5 per cent. I know, coming from Western Sydney, that there are seats across Western Sydney that deeply resent this bill and the implications of the government in putting this bill forward. They are somehow doing the wrong thing. Just because we are sourcing people from India and other places to fill skills shortages in our economy, the government is now saying those people are taking Australian jobs. Each one of those people I meet, whether it be in Lindsay, Chifley, Parramatta—all these seats across Western Sydney—are working very hard. They are model migrants. They are the kinds of people you want to come to this country, that work for a living, generating an income.

I find that people's biggest and deepest concern about the migration program here in Australia is that, when people come here, they will end up on the welfare system, not making a contribution. So what is the setting that this government wants to send to all of those migrants from India coming here and working so hard in places like Western Sydney? We do not want them to end up on the welfare program; we want them to work for a living. We want them to be part of the great story of skilled migration to this country that has benefited our country so overwhelmingly with the new skills, talents and mix of people from around the world. And working, of course, is the best way to validate the integrity of the migration system.

But from the government we have this dog-whistling on the behalf of the unions to suggest that these people are somehow doing the wrong thing. They are not taking Australian jobs; they are contributing to the Australian economy and to keeping the ability of business to have flexibility. That is where the arguments of the Labor Party and the member for Dobell in this place, I think, come a cropper, because they argue that this is about a secret industrial relations agenda and that this is somehow stealing Australian jobs, but also allowing for flexibility in the workplace.

You cannot argue that there should not be any flexibility for business in the Australian industrial relations system and then deny businesses the ability to meet workplace shortages in our economy. We have to meet these shortages. If these businesses do not meet these shortages and are unable to keep projects going in our country, all of us will suffer, there will be less employment for all Australians and there will be less prosperity.

The provisions of this bill and the concerns articulated by the government are deeply troubling for the coalition. We supported the 457 skilled migration visa system, and it has worked very well. It has worked well from an industry point of view. It has worked well from the Migration Council's point of view. It has worked well for all Australians and it has not attempted, in any way, to detract from Australian employment. In fact, you could argue overwhelmingly that it has enhanced employment and increased employment opportunity for Australians, as well as provided for skilled migrants to come to this country.

Once again from the government, we see this attempt to divide Australians—this awful and pathetic attempt to say that, just because you have come from overseas to work in a skilled migration spot, somehow you have taken an Australian job. I reject that notion.

You can go to any part of Western Sydney and find communities who have come here on skilled visas and ended up migrating here legally and lawfully. They are welcome because they contribute to our society. They contribute not just through their skilled migration visa when they are meeting a worker shortage but in a meaningful way as a part of the depth and breadth of our community.

If the government could get the borders under control and rein in the arrival of illegal people by boat, there would be a lot more confidence in our migration system generally. But what a government should not do at any time is seek to actively undermined confidence in the migration system and immigration. We are a nation of immigrants. We rely on migration, and skilled migration is overwhelmingly the best system for Australia to meet its workplace shortages.